Long shadows were being cast by the setting sun, leg cramps were becoming an epidemic, and the Colony Knights had just scored another touchdown on their opening drive of the second half to distance themselves by 10 points.
Yet, the Soldotna Stars continued to push and ultimately scored 33 unanswered points to upset the Knights in a 47-24 win on Friday night at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
Sophomore Drew Gibbs powered much of the Stars running game, rushing for 251 yards and four touchdowns.
“This is a great win for us, (Colony) is one of the big ones on our schedule, and we had to come out with a bang,” Gibbs said.
The game featured three dramatic swings in momentum, as SoHi started hot with two touchdowns in the first quarter, followed by a big second quarter from Colony with two scores of their own and a field goal with no time left that gave them a 17-14 halftime lead.
In the final 20 minutes of the game, SoHi shook off the earlier mistakes and penalties to take a firm grasp of the game and clinch the victory.
SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said it was an effort to juggle the number of players reeling from cramping symptoms.
“I put my best 11 kids on offense, and then we erase the whiteboard and put our best 11 kids on defense, which might be nine or 10 of the same kids,” Brantley Jr. said. “With this caliber of game, we just kind of wore out a bit in that third quarter, it kind of caught up to us. We did a lot of finagling just to survive, but for our kids to play through that stuff, we can’t say enough positive things about their effort.”
Between possessions (and even plays, sometimes), Gibbs and his fellow teammates were rushing to the sidelines so a coach could help alleviate the pains in their legs.
“Every run I had was painful, every run,” Gibbs said. “You just gotta power through and do it for the team, I love my teammates, my linemen did great today. I just had to power through and do it for them.”
Make no mistake, Gibbs wasn’t performing a strange touchdown dance late in the game. Even after Gibbs’ final touchdown in the fourth quarter, he immediately lay down after scoring to soothe the pain.
“Just start drinking more water before games,” Gibbs responded when asked what he learned on Friday. “We can’t come out flat, even with a lead. We have to play hard the whole game.”
After SoHi’s fast start, the Stars began to make mistakes, which led to penalties that allowed the Knights to close back in.
After a pass from Colony senior Bryce Niver to Antonio Bush resulted in a 62-yard touchdown — leaving SoHi defenders scrambling after a quick-cutting Bush — Soldotna punted on its next drive and fumbled the ball away on the one after that.
An inadvertent whistle allowed Colony to convert on the ensuing fourth down, and was followed by a delay-of-game and a questionable roughing-the-passer call for Soldotna with three seconds left that set the Knights up on Soldotna’s 15-yard line. Colony took advantage with a 30-yard field goal with no time left to take the lead at halftime.
“We kind of beat ourselves for the entire second quarter,” Brantley Jr. said. “We had the turnover which is uncharacteristic, a penalty that extended the drive, and other little things that kept adding up. We were making some mental errors on the offensive side of the ball which is a recipe for disaster.”
Colony extended its lead to 24-14 on a 65-yard drive to start the third quarter which ended with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Daniel Bilafer.
“The best thing that happened to us is that we came in at halftime down by three, and got a chance to make those adjustments, and they came out in the second half and still scored a touchdown right away,” Brantley Jr. said. “That’s really where our kids were tested, and they came out and got a stop and we eventually got the lead and we never looked back.”
Perhaps the biggest moment of the game came with 2:31 left in the third quarter, when Soldotna stopped Colony on a crucial fourth-and-one attempt on their own 35-yard line. The very next play saw Gibbs run the ball straight up the middle for a 64-yard touchdown run.
From there on, it was Soldotna’s game. Senior Jake Kooly and Gibbs produced touchdown runs of 2, 5 and 68, and the Stars finished off with a Tyler Howell interception that resulted in a touchdown on the ensuing drive, followed by a second interception, this one from Gibbs.
“We needed to keep the pedal down, we got to keep scoring,” Colony coach Brian McIntosh said. “Our defense, hopefully it bends and don’t break, and we gave up a couple huge runs.”
Of course, Soldotna and Colony each play a very different game. Soldotna racked up 409 rushing yards, while Colony produced 68, but the Knights passed for 209 yards, while the Stars had only 9 yards through the air.
SoHi senior quarterback Colton Young only completed 2 of 5 pass attempts, but rushed 57 yards for two touchdowns.
Colony senior Bryce Niver, on the other hand, went 17 for 26 for 197 yards and three touchdowns, while seniors Antonio Bush and Daniel Bilafer caught passes for 99 and 72 yards, respectively.
“The coverage was really good tonight, and we just couldn’t run the ball as effectively tonight,” McIntosh said. “We knew it was going to be a battle throughout the game, and it was going to be a game of momentum.”
Stars 47, Knights 24
Soldotna 14 0 14 19 —47
Colony 0 17 7 0 —24
Sol — Young 5 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 6:14
Sol — Gibbs 11 run (Asimakopoulos kick), :19
Col — Bush 62 pass from Niver (Bilafer kick), 8:08
Col — Bush 3 pass from Niver (Bilafer kick), 2:25
Col — Bilafer FG kick good, :00
Col — Bilafer 14 pass from Niver (Bilafer kick), 7:55
Sol — Kooly 2 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 4:41
Sol — Gibbs 64 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 2:19
Sol — Gibbs 5 run (kick failed), 11:43
Sol — Gibbs 68 run (kick failed), 9:46
Sol — Young 19 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 1:43
First downs 26 26
Rushes-yards 49-409 28-68
Passing yards 9 205
Comp-att-int 2-5-0 18-29-3
Return yards 59 78
Punts 3 3
Fumbles 1 0
Penalties 5-65 4-40
Rushing — Soldotna: Gibbs 17-251, Kooly 15-69, Fenton 6-2, Young 8-57, Riley 3-30; Colony: Niver 12-36, Conway 12-30, Summers 3-5, Leigh 1-(-3).
Passing — Soldotna: Young 2-5-0—9; Colony: Niver 17-26-3—197, Leigh 1-3-0—8.
Receiving — Soldotna: Howell 2-9; Colony: Bush 7-99, Bilafer 8-72, Bartlemus 3-34.