WASILLA — Kenai Central earned its first win over Wasilla since 1995 on a night like nothing Kenai coaches Jim Dawson and Jim Beeson have seen in about a half-century worth of combined coaching experience with the Kardinals.
The Kardinals (2-0) braved a torrential downpour, brief hailstorm and nearly hourlong lightning delay, and upset large-schools Wasilla 17-14 at Veterans Memorial Field Friday night.
Conditions were fair as teams hit the field, but rain began to pour during Wasilla’s pregame ceremony to commemorate the school's new artificial turf field. Minutes into the game, steady rain turned to a hurricanelike pour, complete with hail and lightning at a distance. With just more than nine minutes left in the first quarter, referees ushered both teams off the field, and fans emptied the bleachers in search of cover inside Wasilla High School.
“This is my 26th year, and I’ve never seen anything like it,” Beeson said after the game. “We played a game at Lathrop one year and there was a snowstorm. It was a snowstorm the whole time, but this definitely tops that. It was just really weird. It was the goofiest thing I’ve seen in my 26 years.”
Kenai’s Nolan Scarlett somehow managed to boot a 42-yard field goal during the rainy chaos to give the Kards the 3-0 lead heading into the unplanned intermission.
Once the teams were allowed to play, the Kenai coaches used their wealth of experience to create a game plan to combat a Wasilla squad that opened the 2013 season with a 24-14 nonconference win over West Anchorage. Beeson and Dawson, a first-year head coach with decades of experience as an assistant, emphasized clock management and ball control.
“Our game plan obviously was to take time off the clock, keep the ball out of their hands and keep the ball in our hands,” Beeson said. “We preached all week to the kids. You’ve got to believe what you’re doing. Coach Dawson and I have been doing this a long time. This is a way to shorten the game and give us a chance.”
Kenai outrushed Wasilla 231-52 in the win. Fullback Chase Logan led the Kards with 96 yards on nine carries. Running back Jace Daniels — who shocked Alaska with a state-record 480 yards on the ground during a win over Nikiski last week — added 70 yards. Quarterback TJ Wagoner chipped in 65 on the ground.
“I’ve said all along, we’ve got a great group of running backs,” Beeson said. “(Chase) can run the football. Jace can run the football. Michael Tilly, who didn’t even get into the game, can run the football. Obviously TJ is a competitor, and can run the football. It’s as good a group of running backs we’ve had probably in the 26 years I’ve been here. I’ve had kids that were better, but I haven’t had three or four of them that can all collegiately do the job.”
Wasilla struggled on offense, especially after the loss of leading rusher Mitchell Rilatos to injury in the first half. Rilatos broke away for a gain of nine yards, but had to be helped off the field.
Rilatos finished with 24 of Wasilla’s 52 yards rushing.
Despite the rain that continued to fall even after the players were allowed back on the field, big plays dominated the first half. Senior Josiah Williams connected with senior Cash McGregor on a 51-yard touchdown strike. Williams also scampered for a 45-yard touchdown run to give the Warriors the 14-10 lead at halftime.
Daniels scored the go-ahead touchdown for the Kards, a 2-yarder, with 8:22 left in the fourth.
The Wasilla defense came up with three big fumble recoveries in the game to stop Kenai drives.
Early in the second quarter, with the Kards deep in Wasilla territory, junior Zech Rockstad recovered a fumble at the Wasilla 4-yard line. Later in the quarter, senior Morgan Belgarde recovered another Kenai fumble in Wasilla territory.
McGregor, who picked off five West Anchorage passes in Week 1, had a second-half fumble recovery for the Warriors.
Wasilla and Kenai, former rivals in the NLC, have met only once since Kenai was placed in the then small-schools division in 2000. That game came in 2011, a 24-20 victory, Kent Rilatos’ first career win as Wasilla’s head coach. Before Friday, Kenai last beat Wasilla 48-6 in 1995. Kenai holds the 12-10 edge in 22 meetings between the schools.
Kenai 17, Wasilla 14
Friday, Veterans Memorial Field
Kenai — Scarlett 42 field goal, 9:12.
Wasilla — McGregor 51 pass from Williams (McLaughlin kick) 6:21.
Kenai — Logan 64 run (Scarlett kick) 5:25.
Wasilla — Williams 45 run (McLaughlin kick) 2:50.
Kenai — Daniels 2 run (Scarlett kick) 8:22.
RUSHING — Kenai: Daniels 19-70, Wagoner 19-65, Logan 9-96; Wasilla: Otto 13-26, Williams 6-32, Rilatos 6-24, McGregor 2-2, Simons 1-(8).
PASSING — Kenai: Wagoner 0-1-0—0; Wasilla: Williams 3-7-0—82, Simons 3-11-0—48.
RECEIVING — Kenai: none; Wasilla: McGregor 3-84, Dawkins 3-46.