If the start to Saturday’s game is considered a “flat” performance by members of the Soldotna football team, then opponents should be prepared for a challenge in the coming weeks.
The Stars handled the Homer Mariners Saturday afternoon in a 59-0 win at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, getting touchdowns on their first four possessions of the game. And that was after a blocked punt led to a safety on Homer’s opening drive.
The game was a rematch of the 2012 medium-schools state title game, also won by the Stars.
“We’re in a stretch of the season where it’s getting harder and harder to focus just on us, and from a motivational standpoint it’s been a little more of a struggle to get our kids up the last couple weeks,” said Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. “But it’s just one of those things, so we’re ready for a little more of a challenge.”
With the win, Soldotna improves to 3-0 in the Northern Lights Conference, and 6-0 overall, while the loss drops Homer to 1-3 in the NLC and 1-4 overall.
On a day that seniors were being celebrated, senior running back Jake Kooly had two touchdowns and 188 rushing yards, and senior Blake Riley chipped in with two touchdowns and 58 rushing yards. Soldotna accumulated 404 rushing yards on Homer overall, while the Mariners had only 30.
“We definitely came out a little flat,” Kooly said. “I think we could’ve come out a little harder, but our offense pulled it together when Gibbs went down, and we knew we had to pull it together and we did.”
Although Soldotna came away with the win, it came at a bit of a cost. SoHi’s top running back, Drew Gibbs, went down late in the first quarter while trying to run up the middle from 7 yards out and injured his leg. The sophomore walked off the field on his own, but never returned.
Just before halftime, senior Tyler Howell landed awkwardly in the long jump sand pit on the edge of the field while attempting to cover a Homer receiver and suffered a leg injury as well. Howell never returned to the game and spent the remainder on the side line with his left leg taped up.
“I think a couple of those early injury scares took the wind out of our sails a little bit,” Brantley Jr. said. “It’s good we have enough invested in each other that when one of their brothers is hurting, it’s emotional for them and that’s a good thing. But they need to pull it together and play for them.”
At this time, it’s unknown when or if Howell and Gibbs will return, but Brantley Jr. said he’s hoping to know within a day or two. But perhaps the Stars can breathe easy knowing how well their defense is playing. SoHi has given up a measly six points in the last three games, including shutouts the past two weeks.
“I think our kids continued to do a nice job defensively, I’m really happy with the effort there,” Brantley Jr. said. “It’s just that we’re spotty, we have some ups and downs executionwise, and we’ve had some communication issues, mixing up some blocking schemes.”
Right off the bat on Saturday, SoHi didn’t make it easy for Homer, as a quick three-and-out drive was capped with a blocked punt by Max Conradi on Homer quarterback (and kicker for a day) Sheldon Hutt. The ball tumbled through the Homer end zone and out the back side without being touched.
On the ensuing SoHi possession, the Stars only needed to go 37 yards for a quick score — a 3-yard run up the middle from Blake Riley that was set up with a 23-yard scamper by quarterback Colton Young.
After another punt by Homer, Soldotna drove 69 yards for their next touchdown, which was helped when Kooly broke out of the backfield into open space for a 56-yard run to the Homer 7-yard line, a run that was stopped by a fast-closing Hutt. Junior Ty Fenton put SoHi up 16-0 when he pushed through for a 1-yard touchdown run.
Trailing 30-0 at halftime, Homer ramped up its efforts in the second half with a dangerous passing attack, but that didn’t faze Soldotna at all. Hutt was picked off by Young (quarterback to quarterback) for a 43-yard interception return early in the third quarter that gave SoHi 14 points in a 17-second span.
With SoHi’s JV players on the field for the fourth quarter, Homer was able to find the red zone for the first time all day. With less than two minutes to go, Hutt found Joseph Cardoza in the corner of the end zone for what looked to be an 8-yard passing touchdown, but an offensive interference penalty was called on Cardoza, negating the points.
“(Cardoza) never gives you less than what he’s got,” said Homer coach Josh Fraley. “He came in and played wideout and volunteered, and we needed him there. Sheldon gives you everything he can, a lot of those throws he had pressure coming at him and it was tough.
“It was unfortunate with the call there at the end.”
Hutt ended the day with 122 passing yards (9 for 25), but struggled with finding open receivers.
“It’s an ongoing deal, we haven’t had the same line week to week,” Fraley said. “We’ve had a lot of injuries, we had three separated shoulders last week against Palmer, we have a new receiving core, two new guys on the line. It’s inconsistency, and guys aren’t getting enough reps in practice.”
Soldotna will celebrate its homecoming next Saturday with a game against the struggling Skyview Panthers — the final game on the Soldotna turf before the field is revamped for next year. Homer will host Lathrop next weekend.
Stars 59, Mariners 0
Soldotna 16 14 21 8 —59
Homer 0 0 0 0 —0
Sol — Conradi safety (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:09
Sol — Riley 2 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 8:51
Sol — Fenton 1 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 2:43
Sol — Kooly 41 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 11:30
Sol — Walden 18 pass from Young (Asimakopoulos kick), 4:23
Sol — Riley 44 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:32
Sol — Young 43 interception return (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:15
Sol — Kooly 4 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 5:28
Sol — Chavez 13 run (Lott run), 11:13
First Downs 11 8
Rushing yds 35-404 31-30
Pass yds 18 122
Comp-Att-Int 1-6-0 9-25-2
Return yds 32 93
Punts 0-0 3-32.3
Fumbles 1-0 2-1
Penalties 6-65 5-45
Rushing — Soldotna: Kooly 13-188, Riley 5-58, Young 3-49, Fenton 4-43, Griglione 1-22, Chavez 3-18, Gibbs 3-16, Prior 3-10. Homer: Fisk 12-26, Seay 5-4, McKenna 1-3, Hutt 13-(-3).
Passing — Soldotna: Young 1-6-1—18. Homer: Hutt 9-25-0—122
Receiving — Soldotna: Walden 1-18. Kodiak: Fisk 4-57, Cardoza 2-34, Seay 2-23, McKenna 1-8.