EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE — Eielson head coach David DeVaughn expected his Ravens team to have a tough time against the Soldotna Stars in Saturday’s nonconference, season-opening high school football game.
He didn’t expect the Ravens to make it tough for themselves, particularly on defense, at Buck Nystrom Field on Eielson Air Force Base.
The Ravens lost 55-19 after seeing the Stars stack up 510 yards rushing in the contest that featured two of the three state champions from last year.
“It was a whole team effort,” said Soldotna senior quarterback Colton Young, who scored four touchdowns and compiled 248 yards in total offense (168 passing and 80 rushing).
“It was a heck of a job by the (offensive) line. Give it up all to them, they made some huge holes for us,” said Young, who scored on runs of 5 and 1 yards in the first quarter and 13 and 1 in the second quarter.
Eielson won the 2012 small schools title to cap a 9-0 season and Soldotna garnered the medium-schools championship to highlight its 9-1 campaign.
The Ravens who opened this season Saturday were mostly different from the group that finished last season unbeaten. Eielson, among its 27 players, has only six returners from last season’s squad.
One of those returners, junior running back Anthony Griffith, seemed to pick up where he left off last season.
Griffin rushed for a game-high 252 yards on 29 carries and scored all of Eielson’s touchdowns, including dashes of 66 and 61 yards in the first half.
“Tony is a special kid and we were just trying to get the ball in his hands,” DeVaughn said. “Those guys up front know that if they give him just a little bit, he can make some special things happen.”
Griffith, though, was just one player for Eielson.
The Ravens had lost three starters to injuries during last week’s practices. Promising newcomer and senior running back Jaheem Prioleau left Saturday’s game in the first half with a knee injury after rushing for 29 yards on his first three carries as Raven.
Several Ravens players, in their first varsity action, were getting tested thoroughly by the Stars.
“We were out there for four quarters putting everything out there,” DeVaughn said after the game. “We lost three starters on Wednesday, various injuries, and those young guys in that role first-game action ... and it happens to be against Soldotna, which is always a tough opponent and they’re well coached.
“We have some positives to take out of this, but we definitely have to improve a lot,” DeVaughn added.
Defense, most likely, will be an emphasis of practices this week. Eielson closed to 14-6 in the first quarter after Griffith’s 66-yard burst, but the Ravens couldn’t build on the momentum and saw Soldotna build up steam as the game progressed.
“We did have some key mistakes up front, missing guys, letting guys come through,” DeVaughn said. “That’s all stuff we can fix once we watch film and things like that. That experience is what those guys need.
“We got some of that today, and learned if you have a good play, on the next play you can’t take a break,” DeVaughn added.
Griffith’s second touchdown, which cut Soldotna’s lead to 28-13 with 6:38 left in the second quarter, was an example of that for the Ravens.
Young’s 13-yard run put Soldotna ahead 28-6 with 6:59 left in second quarter, and Eielson sophomore Kaleb Dunlap returned the ensuing kickoff 25 yards to the Eielson 39.
“When there were holes, the line was doing their job,” said junior Caleb Velez, who made his first start as Eielson’s quarterback. “They weren’t getting tired and taking plays off, they were going 100 percent and giving it their all.”
Griffith scored on a 2-yard run with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a phenomenal athlete,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “He’s as good of an athlete as we’ll see all year long, and that includes going down and playing Colony and some of the kids they have.”
The Stars had an excellent running back in sophomore Drew Gibbs, who rushed for 148 yards on nine carries with scoring runs of 1 yard in the second quarter and 47 in the third.
“He’s a freak, he’s only a sophomore. He’s going to be one of best players to ever come through (Soldotna),” Young said.
Young also connected with Tyler Howell on a 36-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter and the senior receiver finished with a game-high five catches for 132 yards.
“Howell is a heck of a wide receiver and I’m glad he transferred from Skyview,” Young said. “He made some of my balls look good.”
Senior running back Blake Riley contributed a 16-yard TD run for the Stars with 5:52 left in the game.
Eielson plays host to Valdez in a Greatland Conference game at 1 p.m. Saturday while Soldotna opens at home Friday night against Colony of the large schools Railbelt Conference.
STARS 55, RAVENS 19
Soldotna 14 21 13 7 —55
Eielson 6 7 0 6 —19
Soldotna — Young 5 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 8:31.
Eielson — Griffith 66 run (run failed), 7:34.
Soldotna — Young 1 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 4:38.
Soldotna — Gibbs 1 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:05.
Soldotna — Young 13 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 6:59.
Eielson — Griffith 61 run (Crooks kick), 6:38.
Soldotna — Young 1 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 4:24.
Soldotna — Howell 36 pass from Young (kick failed), 11:01.
Soldotna — Gibbs 47 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 6:12.
Eielson — Griffith 2 run (kick failed), 8:24.
Soldotna — Riley 16 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 5:52.
First downs 16 11
Rushes-yards 32-510 46-305
Comp-Att-Int 6-8-0 1-6-1
Passing yards 168 2
Return yards 83 126
Punts 0-0.0 3-25.6
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 3-1
Penalties-Yards 6-70 5-35
RUSHING—Soldotna: Gibbs 9-148, Young 11-80, Fenton 5-60, Riley 5-55, Conradi 1-9, Rosin 1-5. Eielson: Griffith 29-252, Prioleau 3-29, Velez 9-16, Dunlap 5-8.
PASSING—Soldotna: Young 6-8-0-168, Furlong 0-0-0-0. Eielson: Velez 1-5-1-2, Griffith 0-1-0-0.
RECEIVING—Soldotna: Howell 5-132, Riley 1-36. Eielson: Dunlap 1-2.