Both football squads that stepped onto Ed Hollier Field on Friday night for the Kenai Kardinals’ homecoming game were missing crucial players on offense.
Three hours later, it was Kenai that made the most of a tough situation and the Kards shut out the visiting Houston Hawks 44-0 for their fifth straight win to start the season and improve to 3-0 in the Northern Lights Conference.
Sophomore running back Michael Tilly led the Kards with 155 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while junior Chase Logan added another two touchdowns and 62 rushing yards.
“It’s always great to win on homecoming,” Tilly said.
Tilly had the most touches on the ball for Kenai as a replacement for senior Jace Daniels, who has taken care of most of the scoring for Kenai this season. Daniels stayed on the sideline on Friday because of an injury from a week before.
“Jace getting hurt was a bum deal,” Tilly said. “He’s a good friend of mine, and he’s helped me, and this past week’s been tough trying to learn offense and getting reps running because I haven’t done a lot this season, and it paid off on the field tonight.”
Kenai assistant coach Jim Beeson said the team likely left a few more points off the board without the dynamic plays of Daniels, but noted the improvement from Tilly and company in Kenai’s backfield.
“Not having Jace out there, he’s a little more explosive than the other kids, so we don’t get some of those big runs a lot,” Beeson said. “(Tilly) just doesn’t have that extra gear to get away from them, and I told TJ (Wagoner) you would’ve had a couple touchdowns if you hadn’t got caught from behind.”
Houston, on the other hand, was missing their senior quarterback, Nai Saechao, who was diagnosed with a concussion sustained in a P.E. class on Thursday and ruled out for the rest of the season, according to Houston coach Glenn Nelson.
“Pretty much before we got on the bus we threw something together that we thought maybe we could get some yards, but penalties just kept us out of the end zone,” Nelson said. “Emotionally, it was tough for us. He’s a returning starting senior, he’s got a brother on the team, he’s the captain. It’s tough to play without your leader, and when the whole offense is gone, it’s just the way it is.”
Waylon Soptick, Houston’s star running back, was held to 82 yards on Friday, and doubled as the Hawks’ quarterback, throwing 16 yards on 3-of-10 passing.
“He’s a great football player, and for us to contain him is a testament to the entire defensive team being able to rally,” Beeson said. “He never quits and he plays hard to the whistle.”
Early on, Houston had a tough time just making it out of its territory, and a blocked punt on the Hawks’ opening drive was recovered in the end zone by Soptick to give Kenai a safety.
On Kenai’s opening drive, quarterback TJ Wagoner connected on a 27-yard pass to a wide open Jace Baker to extend Kenai’s lead.
After a Houston punt, Wagoner was able to find some space near the sideline to run 41 yards that set up another touchdown — this time handing off to Tilly, who scrambled to the side for a 15-yard score.
If there was one thing Kenai had trouble with on Friday, it was penalties. On three separate occasions in the first half, Houston had a punt turned into a first down due to an infraction on the Kenai defense.
Late in the first quarter, Houston was set to punt at its own 20-yard line, but Kenai was charged with roughing the kicker, which resulted in the Hawks moving the ball all the way down to the Kenai 7-yard line. Luckily for Kenai, Houston turned the ball over on downs to stay scoreless.
“We came out early on, and it was tough,” Beeson said. “Some of our linemen were playing different positions, we had a different kid playing center and some were hurt and a variety of different things. So to be able to come out and have some penalties like that, we were able to respond to some of that adversity.”
With a 23-0 lead at halftime (even after a missed 30-yard field goal from Kenai’s Nolan Scarlett), the Kards moved down the field on their opening drive of the second half, only to turn the ball over on downs on Houston’s 35-yard line.
It didn’t matter much, though, because three plays later, a botched Houston pitch was recovered by defenseman Chris McKinstry. That resulted in a touchdown run by Chase Logan five plays later.
“Chase is good at bringing us back up when we’re down, that’s why he’s one of our captains,” Tilly said. “He goes hard 100 percent of the time. That was a pretty good moment of the game.”
Houston continued to try and push to put some points on the board, but sophomore lineman Zach Koziczkowski was on his game, getting tackle after tackle to keep the Hawks out of the end zone, and the fourth quarter was punctuated with a 76-yard interception return by freshman Chase Gillies.
“They’re pretty young kids, and they got the opportunity to play and did a good job today,” Beeson said.
Houston dropped to fifth in the Northern Lights Conference with a 1-2 record (2-3 overall). Kenai faces Skyview next Saturday.
Kardinals 44, Hawks 0
Kenai 15 8 7 14 —44
Houston 0 0 0 0 —0
Ken — Blocked punt - safety, 10:42
Ken — Baker 27 pass from Wagoner (Scarlett kick), 8:15
Ken — Tilly 15 run (kick failed), 4:25
Ken — Logan 23 run (Logan run), 5:23
Ken — Logan 14 run (Scarlett kick), 4:47
Ken — Gillies 76 interception return (Scarlett kick), 11:45
Ken — Tilly 3 run (Scarlett kick), 7:45
First downs 23 18
Rushing yds 43-297 34-104
Pass yds 27 16
Comp-Att-Int 1-2-0 3-10-1
Return yds 10 42
Punts 0 2
Fumbles 0 3
Penalties 7-60 11-59
Rushing — Kenai: Tilly 22-155, Logan 9-62, Wagoner 6-43, Welborn 3-31, McMinn 3-6. Houston: Soptick 28-82, Ruta 3-16, Barclay 3-6.
Passing — Kenai: Wagoner 1-2-1—27. Houston: Soptick 3-10-0—16.
Receiving — Kenai: Baker 1-27. Houston: Griffith 1-8, Ruta 1-7, Ross 1-15.