The Soldotna Stars football team is headed to the medium-schools state championship game after a 62-7 blowout against the Kodiak Bears on Saturday afternoon at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
Soldotna put the pressure on Kodiak early and never let up, leading at halftime with a score of 53-0.
“I’m feeling good right now,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “It feels great, it’s been a really good season for us, our kids have been really dedicated and have stayed focused throughout the season and kept their eyes on the prize, and now we finally get a chance to play for that prize.”
The Stars put on a dizzying display of points to start the second quarter, combining a Reid Schmelzenbach run, a Noah Fowler interception return, and a Schmelzenbach catch to score three touchdowns in a span of one minute, 20 seconds. With the inclusion of a 13-yard fumble return from Schmelzenbach, Soldotna had four touchdowns in a span of 3:20, and a total of 35 points in the second quarter.
“Feels good to come out and play hard,” Schmelzenbach said. “Training hard and having a good line, getting good steps is what worked. We came out with more intensity than they did, and we played really hard.”
Schmelzenbach racked up three touchdowns and 70 rushing yards to lead the Stars.
After Fowler’s interception return in the second quarter, the Stars successfully recovered an onside kick.
“We had under-kicked a couple of our kicks before, and they had returned a couple against Skyview, and it’s just one of those goofy choices you make,” Brantley Jr. “We had enough confidence that our defense could come up with the stop that we took a chance with it.
“We’ve got some explosive players, and if they get a little space, they’re more than capable of making big plays.”
Both Fowler brothers — senior quarterback Noah and sophomore lineman Drew — connected on a 35-yard touchdown pass late in the first half. The score was Drew’s only reception of the game, having only seen limited minutes this season.
Junior running back Colton Young had two first-quarter touchdown runs, including a 47-yard carry, but missed most of the rest of the game due to a knee injury. Young was attempting to block a Kodiak rush when he collided with the runner, which led to his exit, and an extended period of time on the bench icing his left knee. Brantley Jr. said the team is waiting to hear back on his condition and does not know whether he will play next week in the title game.
“That’s a tough one, and we’re hopeful that it’s just a knee contusion or something that he can come back from,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’re trying to stay optimistic at this time.”
Kodiak was limited to only 166 offensive yards (compared to 349 for Soldotna), and quarterback Josh Yavorsky threw three interceptions, which was ultimately the downfall of the Bears.
“We’ve had a pretty tough last couple of weeks, with two really long trips, and the last eight days we’ve spent two days at home and other than that, we’ve been on the road,” Kodiak head coach Jim Schnick said. “It’s always tough because we miss practice time and it’s tough to prepare and be ready both physically and mentally when you’re living out of a gym. The guys came and did the best they could, and we’re going to be working in the off-season.”
Schnick said Kodiak will be losing about 13 seniors next year, but the team will be in the weight room a lot during the offseason.
“We’re never satisfied until we’re number one, but we did some very positive things this year,” Schnick said. “This is the first time Kodiak’s been to the playoffs in a few years, the guys are pretty proud of that. Today’s outcome isn’t what we would like to see, but we’ll come back next year and we’ll get better.”
As far as the state championship game is concerned, Soldotna will be facing up with a familiar foe — the Homer Mariners, who had the advantage against the Thunder Mountain Falcons on Friday in a 44-26 win.
“It’s going to be one of those classic matchups,” Brantley Jr. said. “They know what we do, we know what they do, and we go to camp together before the season starts and so we see a lot of each other. It’s going to be one of those really physical football games where the game will be controlled up front.”
Schmelzenbach said he and his teammates are ready for the challenge, one that they have been looking forward to all season long.
“We need to play hard and play with more intensity, like today,” he said. “We’re going to have to out-hit them.”
Stars 62, Bears 7
Soldotna 18 35 3 6 —62
Kodiak 0 0 0 7 —7
Sol — Young 12 run (kick failed), 10:43
Sol — Young 47 run (pass failed), 8:52
Sol — Miller 33 pass from N. Fowler (kick blocked), 6:06
Sol — Schmelzenbach 27 run (Grothe kick), 11:46
Sol — Fowler 28 Int return (Grothe kick), 11:19
Sol — Schmelzenbach 7 pass from N. Fowler (Grothe kick), 10:26
Sol — Schmelzenbach 13 fumble return (Grothe kick), 8:26
Sol — D. Fowler 35 pass from N. Fowler (Grothe kick), 4:20
Sol — Grothe 26 field goal, 2:17
Kod — Powers 22 run (Gregory kick), 9:14
Sol — Fenton 2 run (Kick failed), 6:30
First downs 11 7
Rushes-yards 28-251 35-121
Passing yards 98 45
Passing 5-16-0 1-10-3
Punts 3-39.6 4-22.5
Fumbles 0-0 1-1
Penalties 6-60 10-95
Rushing — Soldotna: Schmelzenbach 10-70, Gibbs 9-63, Young 2-59, Fenton 2-30, N. Fowler 2-18, Calloway 2-7, Hallford 1-4. Kodiak: Powers 15-86, Yavorsky 8-19, Javier 5-8, Llorente 2-8, Romero 1-3, Small 4-(-3).
Passing — Soldotna: N. Fowler 5-16-0-3—98. Kodiak: Yavorsky 1-10-3-0—45.
Recieving — Soldotna: Miller 2-42, D. Fowler 1-35, Streiff 1-14, Schmelzenbach 1-7. Kodiak: Sorto 1-45