The Soldotna Stars’ story this year has been the strength of their program. The Homer Mariners, the ability to run opponents into the ground. When those two football teams meet on the field at Chugiak High School on Saturday to determine the medium-schools state championship, the matchup will be fierce.
“We’ve had a pretty focused week, we’re really excited with our efforts so far, we’ve had some beautiful weather so Mother Nature is cooperating,” Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “A couple years ago it was snowing and they were skiing around us, so we’re grateful for that. Things are looking well so far.”
The Stars (8-1), winners of four small-schools state championships, will be seeking their first medium-schools state title. Homer (6-2) is returning to the medium-schools title game after a 26-14 loss to Kenai Central last season.
Homer coach Camron Wyatt said he had recently talked to Brantley Jr. and both coaches were secretive about their starting rosters and game plans.
“He said that I’ll just have to see, and I was like come on,” Wyatt said. “Everyone from our roster last week is going, and our goal going in is to play to the best of our abilities. Other than some injuries, we will have a full team.”
Wyatt said Homer will have 26 players making the trip, which is actually more than what the team started with in the beginning of the season.
“We’re going to try and move our kids around the best that we can and get the most out of them,” he said.
Homer’s biggest challenge in the last week and a half has been dealing with the events that have hurt the team off the field, including the arrests of Homer player Joseph Resetarits, 18, and his brother, 20-year-old Anthony Resetarits, on one count each of second-degree sexual assault. Joseph Resetarits has been removed from the team.
Both Wyatt and Homer High School principal Dr. Allan Gee have made the most in an attempt to put the events behind them and focus on the positives of fielding a state-bound football team, while dealing with the actions that must be taken in the present situation.
“They’re a great group of kids, and I expect the community will come out and support them,” Gee said. “Some would ask that I provide additional consequences to those at that party where the horrific incident took place. However, with off-campus incidents, I’m only allowed to respond according to policy. I’m very limited. As more information comes forward, that’s when we can take action.”
Gee said he plans on traveling to Chugiak and supporting the team.
Both Gee and Wyatt were unable to comment on which athletes will be not making the trip to the state championship, due to Kenai Peninsula School District policies, but both are optimistic that the team is up to the task of winning a state title.
“We’re going to field the best team we can and try and give SoHi a run for their money,” Wyatt said. “That team (Soldotna) has been top dog all season long. They are probably the top three or five in the state overall, I think. It’s going to be a challenge.”
Brantley Jr. said he is aware of what the team is experiencing but lauded Wyatt for his actions.
“I’ve known coach Wyatt for a long time and I’m disappointed in the fact that the community has pointed the finger at him personally, in some of the things I’ve read, and his football program,” Brantley Jr. said. “He’s a standup guy, and he tries to get the most out of young men and help them grow and mature, and I know that he’ll take the kids he has and put together a great game and they will play hard.”
Soldotna has allowed 1,363 total yards and 110 points in eight games in the regular season this year, an average of 170 yards and 13.7 points a game. Homer has allowed 1,466 yards and 85 points in seven regular-season games, an average of 209 yards and 12.1 points a game, which means on paper, it could very well come down to defense for the Mariners.
“For us, we just need to use our strengths,” Wyatt said. “For our kids, we need to have them work their spot and use their strengths. That’s what we’ve done this week, is finding out where to put kids and fine-tune the team.”
Soldotna’s only weakness up to this point seems to be whether or not junior running back Colton Young will play on Saturday. Young suffered a left knee injury early in Soldotna’s playoff win over Kodiak last Saturday, and was icing it on the bench for much of the game. Brantley Jr. said Young will be a game-time decision.
“He hasn’t practiced all week, and so we’re going to let him go on it tomorrow and see how he does,” Brantley Jr. said. “If we think he can go, he’ll go, and if not, it’s going to be a game-time decision. It doesn’t appear to be a significant injury, but it’s just bad timing. He’s a game-changer.”
Young said the knee feels up to speed and that he can run on it, but he does not have full trust in it.
“I’m pretty confident in myself, so hopefully by game time I’ll be ready to make the plays I usually make,” Young said.
If Young does not start, then junior River Calloway will be taking his place.
“Without him it puts pressure on other individuals to step up and make plays,” Brantley Jr. said. “It puts pressure on the team to execute more and move the ball down the field, rather than just having Colton take a 60-yard run down the field.”
Senior linebacker Gavin Larson is one cog of many on the offensive and defensive lines that have propelled Soldotna to a 7-1 overall record in the regular season, and said the biggest reason for SoHi’s success is playing as a team.
“We’re a well-oiled machine,” Larson said. “As a lineman, you know, we block and we let our backs take the glory but we all win in the end.
“We’re a band of brothers. We’re family.”
Young said winning a state championship would be the ultimate icing on the cake.
“It would be huge, our senior class definitely deserves it,” Young said. “We have a great core of seniors on the line that gets it done week in and week out.”
Should Soldotna jump out to a big lead early, Brantley Jr. said he plans on taking out the Stars’ starters and using less-experienced players, even in a championship game.
“I think that’s consistent with how we coach,” he said. “Even with the last appearance we had in the state title game, not a single starter appeared in the final quarter, and that’s how you prepare for the future.
“Overall, it’ll be a physical football game. They want to run the ball, we want to run the ball, and that run-first mentality makes for tough football players.”