Soldotna High School may not be getting turf until next season, but the Stars made themselves right at home on Ed Hollier Field’s new artificial surface Saturday.
SoHi’s unstoppable ground game turned a clash of unbeatens into a rout, a 58-10 victory in which the packed bleachers saw a running clock in the fourth quarter.
“I love the turf,” Soldotna senior quarterback Colton Young said. “I feel a little bit quicker, but when you get hit and dragged down, it does burn a little bit.”
Under cool and cloudy skies, Young definitely acted like someone not at all interested in hitting the turf. He rushed for 208 yards and four touchdowns on 12 carries, hit both of his pass attempts for 24 yards and a touchdown, and threw in an interception from his cornerback spot for good measure.
Toss in 241 yards and two scores on 11 rushes from Jake Kooly, and an 8-0 regular season and eighth straight Northern Lights Conference title was well in the bag by halftime.
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” said senior lineman Daniel Rosin, part of a crew of Stars that controlled the line of scrimmage all day. “This was the funnest game I’ve ever played in.”
Soldotna opens the medium-schools playoffs next weekend against Houston, while Kenai (6-1) hosts Kodiak. Game times are yet to be determined.
When the offense of Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. matches up with the defense of Kenai Central coach Jim Dawson, area football fans have come to expect one of two extremes over the years.
“When we go up against a Jim Dawson defense, it’s either feast of famine,” Brantley Jr. said. “Either the runs all get stopped right away and you walk away not looking very good, or it’s a bunch of long touchdown runs.”
The feast was on Saturday against the Kards. Soldotna rushed 35 times for 619 yards, an average of 17.7 yards per carry. Of the seven touchdown runs, five were for 72 yards or more.
Meanwhile, Kenai, led by the 116 yards of Jace Daniels, rushed 36 times for 125 yards, forcing the Kards to the air. There, Kenai quarterback TJ Wagoner was 3 of 11 for 70 yards, but was picked off three times.
Two of the interceptions came on the Kards’ first two drives of the game, and both were by Max Conradi. With Kenai moving on the game’s opening drive, Conradi picked Wagoner off at the SoHi 23.
“Max Conradi had a huge game. He must have had 15 tackles,” Brantley Jr. said. “It was one of the better defensive performances we’ve had all year.”
On the next play from scrimmage, Kooly blasted through the middle for a 72-yard touchdown. Young said that when that play worked so well, it gave him a good feeling about how well Soldotna would be able to move the ball all day.
Kooly kept the hot hand with a 76-yard scoring dash for a 17-3 lead with 8:54 left in the second quarter. Touchdown runs of 79 and 80 yards by Young, and 89 yards by Drew Gibbs, would come before the end of the half for a 37-10 advantage.
Kenai assistant coach Jim Beeson said after the game he wasn’t sure whether players were in the right position and missed tackles, or whether players were out of position. All he was sure of was that the Kards had been beaten soundly.
“We asked the players coming off the field whether what we were doing was working,” Beeson said. “They’d say, ‘Yeah, it’s working. We’re getting through.’
“Obviously, something’s not working very well if they keep running for 70 yards.”
Brantley Jr. had no doubt what was working for the Stars — the line. That line is made up of tackles Rosin and Sam Deatherage, guards Dylan Smith, Jimmy Honer and Bryan Dombovy, center Reese Roberts, and tight ends Trevor Walden and Drew Fowler.
“We thought it would be a close ballgame, but that wasn’t the case,” Rosin said. “We came in knowing they have a good football team, and we prepared all week for that.”
The Soldotna line continually set SoHi’s running backs up with one-on-one matchups in the secondary, and those running backs kept winning that battle and scampering to the end zone.
“It was a great team victory,” said Young, who added scores of 32 and 21 yards in the second half, and a scoring strike to Walden. “Everybody did what they had to.”
Beeson said the biggest positive to come out of the game for his team was the rushing of Daniels.
“He knew they’d be coming after him all day,” Beeson said. “He didn’t get frustrated and kept running hard.”
The coach said that by keying on the run, Soldotna left some opportunities for Kenai in the passing game. Wagoner did have a 24-yard scoring strike to Chase Logan.
“There were plays to be made, but we didn’t make them,” Beeson said.
Stars 58, Kardinals 10
Soldotna 10 27 14 7 —58
Kenai 0 10 0 0 —10
Sol — J. Kooly 72 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 8:59.
Sol — Asimakopoulos 26 field goal, 3:20.
Ken — Scarlett 30 field goal, 11:08.
Sol — J. Kooly 76 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 8:54.
Sol — Young 79 run (kick failed), 6:51.
Sol — Gibbs 89 run (kick failed), 3:29
Ken — Logan 24 pass from Wagoner (Scarlett kick), 1:35.
Sol — Young 80 run (J. Kooly run), 1:21.
Sol — Young 32 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:20.
Sol — Young 21 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 6:18.
Sol — Walden 13 pass from Young (Asimakopoulos kick), 7:22.
First downs 12 10
Rushes-yards 35-619 36-125
Passing yards 24 70
Comp-att-int 2-2-0 3-11-3
Return yards 19 0
Punts 0 4-41.5
Fumbles 1-0 1-0
Penalties 15-120 8-73
Rushing — Soldotna: J. Kooly 11-241, Gibbs 6-94, Young 12-208, Fenton 1-17, Riley 4-25, Griglione 1-34. Kenai: Daniels 25-116, Logan 5-8, Wagoner 6-1.
Passing — Soldotna: Young 2-2-0—24. Kenai: Wagoner 3-11-3—70.
Receiving — Soldotna: Riley 1-11, Walden 1-13. Kenai: Logan 3-70.