Hanging on to the slimmest of playoff hopes, the Kenai Central football team gave it their best effort against crosstown rival Soldotna, but came up short in a 35-13 loss.
The Stars took the victory to finish off a stellar regular season that saw them go 5-0 in the Northern Lights Conference and 7-1 overall. Kenai ends with a 2-3 conference record and 2-6 overall.
“We don’t ever want to take anything away from Kenai, they’re a group of really good football players, and their coaches did a great job of keeping things together and having them finish real well at the end of the season,” Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “My hat’s off to them.”
While Soldotna had the game sealed up and was headed to an apparent victory in the final minutes, the same cannot be said for the first half.
The two teams traded punches early on and it seemed that Kenai could perhaps pull of a miraculous upset, having held Soldotna to only 122 offensive yards and within a score in the first half.
“We came out and figured that we’d go punch for punch with them,” Kenai coach John Marquez said. “They got the full house, we got the tower-I, and we said let’s run between the tackles because they’ll catch us on the outside. We did a great job of surprising them, and our O-line controlled the line of scrimmage up front, and we controlled the clock. We just didn’t punch it in the end zone enough times.”
The Kards bobbled a punt in the first quarter that led to Soldotna setting up a quick first-and-goal situation, which led to freshman Drew Gibbs scoring a touchdown on a Noah Fowler pass.
In the second quarter, it was a Soldotna mistake that led to Kenai scoring its first touchdown of the game.
“They committed enough people to the run and it showed. We sputtered early, and they got us off the field a couple times and we weren’t able to return that,” Brantley Jr. said. “As a result, they controlled the first half of the game just by keeping our offense on the sideline. That’s just great coaching and they did what they had to do.”
Soldotna quarterback Noah Fowler was picked off by Kenai’s Kyle Foree at midfield, and the Kards fed off the momentum to drive down the field and score with senior running back Grayden Mendenhall.
Mendenhall led the charge to SoHi’s end zone with help from junior Jason Daniels and sophomore Chase Logan. All three players combined for 190 of Kenai’s 205 total rushing yards.
Soldotna answered back on the next possession with a 37-yard touchdown catch to senior Reid Schmelzenbach.
“We didn’t really change plays much in the second half,” Fowler said. “We didn’t come out firing, we had that senior thing going on, and we were all kind of chilled out and we just didn’t come out firing. The second half, we got fired up at halftime and came out swinging.”
Kenai battered its way down the field when the third quarter started, going 84 yards and taking over six minutes off the clock in a drive that ended with a 20-yard touchdown pass to senior Wyatt Fitt from sophomore quarterback Jace Baker.
“We came out on this drive and we figured they’re packing the box so let’s come out on regular offense and spread out their outside linebackers a bit but run the exact same thing and start running some counters on them because they were overpersuing, and we knew they would overpersue,” Marquez said. “We were able to run the clock and right there at that touchdown we knew we could get the tight-end corner route, so we called a play action and got it to him.”
From that point on, Soldotna was able to control the game and run off with the victory.
Kenai suffered the loss of Grayden Mendenhall in the second half due to concussion symptoms, and Marquez said that his brute strength was hard to replace.
“He was a battering ram the first half, he was the one getting the work done, we’re asking him to lead block on two of the best linebackers,” Marquez said. “It took it’s toll, and somewhere along the line, it just happened.”
Junior Chris McKinstry took the field in Mendenhall’s absence and got 9 rushing yards.
“The emotional component, I underestimated how difficult that would be to achieve knowing that a victory for us would change nothing,” Brantley Jr. said. “It was a little harder for us to get rolling than it has in years past. Hopefully we can show up to play next Saturday.”
Soldotna will be facing Kodiak next Saturday in the first round of the medium-schools playoffs.
Fowler said he is confident knowing that Soldotna’s offensive line has the ability to allow plays to happen.
“The big seven is a band of brothers, we love them to death and they do everything for us,” he said. “They make us look good.”
Brantley Jr. shares the same opinion, and said the team is in a good position to win it all.
“We’re right where we want to be,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’ll put one hundred percent of our energy and focus into the next game. We’re anticipating Kodiak, and that’s the only game that matters. They’re another group that is dangerous.”
Stars 35, Kardinals 13
Soldotna 7 7 14 7 —35
Kenai 0 7 6 0 —0
Sol — Gibbs 7 pass from Fowler (Grothe kick), 6:58
Ken — Mendenhall 2 run (Narlock kick), 4:18
Sol — Schmelzenbach 37 pass from Fowler (Grothe kick), 1:36
Ken — Fitt 22 pass from Baker (Kick blocked) 5:43
Sol — Fowler 8 run (Grothe kick) 2:26
Sol — Young 35 run (Grothe kick) :17
Sol — Schmelzenbach 10 run (Grothe kick) 3:21
First downs 7 11
Rushes-yards 29-176 60-205
Passing yards 100 22
Passing 5-12-1 1-7-1
Punts 3-39.6 4-22.5
Penalties 8-70 7-60
Rushing — Soldotna: Gibbs 7-59, Young 8-45, Schmelzenbach 9-40, Fowler 4-24, Conradi 1-8. Kenai: Logan 23-92, Daniels 19-70, Mendenhall 12-28, McKinstry 4-9, Baker 2-6.
Passing — Soldotna: Fowler 4-11-1-2—63, Young 1-1-0-0—37. Kenai: Baker 1-7-1-1—22.
Recieving — Soldotna: Miller 2-42, Schmelzenbach 1-37, Young 1-14, Gibbs 1-7. Kenai: Fitt 1-22
HOMER 38, HOUSTON 7
The Mariners finished off their regular season with a convincing victory over the Hawks, a win that keeps them second in the Northern Lights Conference standings at the end of the regular season. The team’s record is 4-1 in the Northern Light Conference and 5-2 overall.
Homer is guaranteed to be seeded second in the conference, and the Sunday game between Skyview and Kodiak will therefore have no impact on the standings.
Homer scored quickly on a Joseph Cardoza run for 2 yards that left the Mariners with an eight-point lead after a two-point conversion. Cardoza notched an impressive 194 rushing yards on 21 carries, while teammate Mark McGregor ran for 124 yards.
Houston came back with a touchdown of its own, but it was all Homer from there. Mark McGregor had two short touchdowns in the second quarter to go along with a 32-yard scoring run by Konstantin Reutov in the third and a final score from Cardoza from 25 yards out in the fourth frame.
Homer was deadly on offense, recording 492 rushing yards and 519 total, to go along with no punts.
Homer now prepares for Thunder Mountain in the Southeastern division of the NLC.
Mariners 38, Hawks 7
Homer 8 14 8 8 —38
Houston 7 0 0 0 —0
Hom — Cardoza 2 run (Bowe run), 9:47
Hou — Buzby 14 run (Forto kick), 6:29
Hom — McGregor 1 run (Reutov pass), 6:35
Hom — McGregor 9 run (2-pt failed), :57
Hom — Reutov 32 run (McGregor run), 5:17
Hom — Cardoza 25 run (Bowe pass), 9:45
First downs 12 23
Rushing yards 195 492
Pass-att 3-7 1-2
Pass yards 60 27
Total plays 49 57
Total offense 255 519
Penalties-yards 4-42 8-62
Possession 21:45 26:15
Punts 1-36 0-0
Rushing — Homer: Cardoza 21-194, McGregor 19-124, Bowe 9-122, Reutov 4-47, Hutt 1-3. Houston: Smith 13-71, Buzby 17-82, Soptick 7-39, Shandley 1-2, Saechao 4-1.
Passing — Homer: McGregor 1-2-0—27. Houston: Saechao 2-4-0—36, Forto 1-3-0—24.
Receiving — Homer: Reutov 1-27. Houston: Kleewein 2-36, Saechao 1-24.
SKYVIEW, KODIAK, POSTPONED
The season-ending match between the Panthers and the Bears was postponed and rescheduled for Sunday, 1 p.m. at Skyview. Kodiak was unable to travel due to complication of marine travel.