Soldotna lost to the Palmer 27-7 in the Stars’ opening game of the season Saturday afternoon at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
Playing under sunny skies, Soldotna had trouble holding back a potent Palmer offense, as junior James Nisbett rushed for 114 yards, including an 80-yard run on the first play of the game.
“It’s really satisfying because we hadn’t won here in six or seven years,” Palmer coach Rod Christiansen said. “Last time we played here it was a rainy mess, and we had our chances and it was close but we lost.
“We have a ton of respect for those guys, we know it was closer than what the score says, it could have been 14-14 easily.”
Palmer led Soldotna in both passing and rushing yards on the day, 388 total to 274 for the Stars. Soldotna also suffered nine penalties, four more than Palmer.
“We stopped ourselves three times within the 5-yard line, and teams that do that usually don’t win football games,” Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “We need to figure out a way to finish, and find a few players who want to step up and make plays when we get close to the endzone.”
After Palmer’s opening 80-yard score, Soldotna went six possessions without scoring.
The Stars had an opportunity late in the first half, making it to Palmer’s 25-yard line, but were unable to break through.
“To me, that was the turning point in the game,” Brantley said. “We were down 14, and we kind of shot ourselves in the foot, it could’ve been 14-14 going into halftime, and we came back out with the ball and had another mental mistake. They got the ball back and scored, and that put a lot of pressure on us.”
It wasn’t until their seventh drive down the field that senior Reid Schmelzenbach broke through Palmer’s defense and scored an 18-yard touchdown to put points up for Soldotna with 4:26 remaining in the game.
Even being down 20 points, Soldotna didn’t give up, successfully regaining possession with an onside kick that was recovered by sophomore Zach Hallford.
The biggest play Soldotna had after that was a 43-yard run by junior Colton Young, but ultimately came up a yard short on a fourth-down attempt with under two minutes remaining.
“A lot of mental toughness goes into it, and it’s knowing who to block, and knowing we need to get it done now,” Christiansen said about his resilient Palmer offense. “My assistant coach knows what works against defenses. This was a big nonconference challenge for us.”
Soldotna tight end Zane Miller had to leave the game early with flulike symptoms, and Brantley said his departure was not what Soldotna needed.
“He’s an important player for us, and losing him hurt,” Brantley said. “He’s one of our linebackers, and one of our starting tight ends.”
Soldotna quarterback Noah Fowler completed 6 of 10 pass attempts, and was solid in the debut game, including two plays of 23 and 43 yards in the first half.
Soldotna will face Ketchikan next Saturday at 2 p.m. at home.
Moose 27, Stars 7
Palmer 7 7 6 7 —27
Soldotna 0 0 0 7 —7
Pal — Nisbett 80 run (Wells kick), 11:47
Pal — DeLay 50 pass from Christiansen (Wells kick), 10:42
Pal — Merrit 2 run (kick failed), :05
Pal — Merrit 1 run (Wells kick), 5:47
Sol — Schmelzenbach 18 run (Grothe kick), 4:26
First downs 12 9
Rushes-yards 46-251 31-180
Passing yards 137 94
Passing 6-9-0 6-10-1
Punts 1 3
Penalties 5-50 9-50
Rushing — Soldotna: Fowler 10-54, Young 5-46, Schmelzenbach 11-45, Gibbs 5-35. Palmer: Nisbett 16-114, Aumavae 13-67, Meritt 10-53, Christiansen 4-14, Myers 2-3.
Passing — Soldotna: Fowler 6-10-1—94. Palmer: Christiansen 6-9-0—137.
Recieving — Soldotna: Gibbs 1-43, Miller 1-23, Young 3-20, Streiff 1-8. Palmer: Myers 3-57, DeLay 1-50, Niekamp 1-25, Aumavae 1-5.