The words of North Pole High School’s automotive instructor helped the unbeaten and third-ranked Patriots football team roll to a 43-9 win Saturday over the Kenai Kardinals.
Patriots head coach Richard Henert, whose team improved to 4-0 with the win in the nonconference game at Patriot Pride Field, invites a speaker each week for a talk with the team.
Jerry Million, the high school’s automotive teacher, was Thursday’s guest and he spoke more about humility than about counteracting the ball-control offense of the winless Kardinals of the Northern Lights Conference.
Million lectured the Patriots on paying attention to details.
“His world is a lot about details,” Henert said after Saturday’s nonconference contest. “He gave the guys an analogy that a car can have a really nice paint finish, but if you didn’t take care of the work before the paint, it’s going to come through pretty quickly, it’s going to chip apart.”
“How well we hold our character and all those little values together over the last stretch of the season is going to be important to how we finish,” Henert added. “We might have a nice shine on us right now, being 4-0, but if we don’t hold together, we could fall apart pretty quickly.”
The Patriots were solid offensively Saturday, particularly senior quarterback Moo Rogers, who accounted for four touchdowns and more than 400 yards in total offense.
Rogers completed 11 of 17 passes for 254 yards, including second-quarter touchdowns of 95 yards to Lance Wright and 51 yards to fellow junior wide receiver Austin McCoy.
“It’s tough to match up with an offense that has guys that can get deep on you,” Kenai head coach John Marquez said. “They did, and we knew they were going to do that.”
Rogers connected with Wright on a fly route, when Wright got behind two Kardinals defenders and streaked down the left sideline with 6:54 left in the second quarter.
“I noticed that he (safety) was too far inside and the corner was playing like a cover-2,” Rogers said. “I put it on the far outside so only he could get it. He took it and he did what he did.”
What McCoy did was capitalize on a seam route with 23 seconds left before halftime after the Patriots had second down and one yard to go from their 49-yard line.
“There was no safety in the middle and it was just get it to him like a level-one ball,” said Rogers, who was averaging 213 yards passing per game before Saturday’s contest.
Rogers got his feet into the end zone on a 40-yard run for the only touchdown in the first quarter and with a 76-yard run with 3:17 left in the third quarter, breaking several tackles along the way. He finished with 153 yards on seven carries.
The Patriots’ ground game delivered in the second half, as senior Matt Wentland contributed a 4-yard scoring run with 9:54 left in the third quarter and Deondre Campbell scored on a 27-yard sprint with 7:55 remaining in the fourth.
The Patriots ran only 11 plays in the first half compared to 39 for the 0-4 Kardinals of the Northern Lights Conference.
The Kardinals used 14 plays and took 8 minutes, 19 seconds, off the clock on their first series of the game, which ended Kenai senior quarterback Andrew Barcus running 5 yards, 2 yards short of a first down on a fourth-and-seven scenario from the Patriots 21.
Kenai compiled 220 yards on the ground, mostly on junior Jason Daniels’ 105 yards on 21 carries.
The Kardinals’ only touchdown also came on North Pole’s thick grass, a 5-yard scamper up the middle of the field by sophomore Kyle Foree with 1:02 left in the second quarter.
North Pole finished with 265 yards rushing.
Kenai got its other points on a safety with 26 seconds left in the third quarter, as the snap to North Pole punter Daniel Gibson went over his head. Gibson recovered the ball but he was tackled in the end zone by Kardinals defensive linemen Steven Young and Duncan Brewer.
That, however, wasn’t Gibson’s worst moment in the game.
The senior sustained a knee injury with 11:47 left in the fourth quarter. North Pole was facing third-and-eight from the Kardinals’ 39 when Gibson caught a pass and took it close to the 20-yard line when Foree, playing defensive back, grabbed the lower part of Gibson’s jersey in attempt to tackle him. Gibson slipped on the grass, which had become moist by light rain, leading to the injury.
Besides losing a key player, the Patriots also were penalized for holding on the play.
“He’s our utility guy, he plays everything and he provides primary depth in the secondary,” Henert said of Gibson. “He’s got skills to be on offense and defense, and he does all the special teams stuff. That’s a huge hit for us.”
Before his injury, Gibson had handled kicking duties, converted three point-after kicks and caught a two-point conversion pass following Wentland’s touchdown.