One year after missing the high school football playoffs, Kenai Central got its postseason off to a great start with a dominating 47-6 win over the Kodiak Bears at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
The victory advances the Kardinals to a semifinal matchup next weekend with the top seed from the Southeast Conference — the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears — who took a bye this weekend.
“It was nice to come back and respond the way we responded,” said Kenai assistant coach Jim Beeson. “I told the kids that was the question all week long, after we got our butts handed to us last weekend, how are we going to come out and play, and I thought we came out and played well early on.”
After barely escaping with a 22-21 win at Kodiak a few weeks ago, Beeson said Saturday’s performance injected a lot of confidence into the team as they prepare for the final week or two of the season, depending on how far they go into the playoffs.
“That’s the bigger difference, the last time we were over there, it was kind of a letdown for us,” said Beeson. “They’ve really improved and gotten better since the last time we played them, so that was good to see.”
Senior Jace Daniels once again provided much of Kenai’s explosive offense, rushing for 152 yards and six touchdowns on Saturday. After the game, Daniels said he couldn’t be happier with both his personal performance and the team effort.
“The sky’s the limit, so if I had just scored three I would’ve been more than happy,” Daniels said. “Even if I would’ve scored more I would’ve been more than happy.
“Everyone really came together and everyone got some playing time,” he said. “I know that means the world to them and I was happy to contribute to that. Even our backup quarterback (Taylor Landry) connected on some passes.”
Beeson mentioned that he believes the Kenai backfield is hitting on all cylinders at the right time of the year.
“It made a big difference having Jace Daniels the whole game,” Beeson said. “Even Michael Tilly, the one possession he played tailback, he’s such a different player now and he’s only a sophomore. Jace isn’t a huge guy but he runs hard and gets tough yards, and he just keeps going and has an extra gear.”
Even though the final score showed a dominating win for Kenai, the memories of five weeks ago nearly came back to haunt the Kards early on Saturday.
Kodiak’s opening drive stalled out early, forcing the Bears to punt from their own 3-yard line. The kick was blocked, setting Daniels up for a quick run up the middle from two yards out for the first touchdown of the day.
Kodiak was forced to punt again, and once again, Kenai drove down field in five plays for a 13-yard scamper from Daniels.
But then things tightened up and the momentum swung to Kodiak, as a 55-yard dash from Kerry Powers put the Bears on Kenai’s 29-yard line, and Powers carried the ball again to score on a run up the middle.
“We weren’t executing and doing what we were supposed to do to stop the trap,” Beeson said. “That was the only play they were having any success on. Our defense picked us up and had a pick six, and that’s big whenever you do that. It was just a collective effort by everybody.”
After the Kodiak run closed the gap to 14-6, Kenai turned the ball over on its next drive after a pass from backup quarterback Taylor Landry was knocked loose and the Bears came up with the ball on Kenai’s 42.
That was as close as Kodiak would get the rest of the day, however, as Michael Tilly intercepted quarterback Josh Yavorsky and returned it 54 yards for a touchdown that put Kenai out of reach with only a little more than a minute remaining in the first quarter. The Kards handled everything else from there on out, and after Daniels’ sixth touchdown run early in the third quarter, the coaching staff kept him on the sidelines for the remainder of the game.
If Kenai wishes to reach their second medium-schools state championship game in three years, they will need to overcome a much tougher opponent next Saturday in Anchorage. Beeson said his team will be looking at game tape of Juneau and will prepare for 48 minutes of war.
“We got to beat everybody to get the win, and we might as well start with the best,” he said.
Kardinals 47, Bears 6
Kenai 21 20 6 0 —47
Kodiak 6 0 0 0 —6
Ken — Daniels 2 run (Scarlett kick), 9:32
Ken — Daniels 13 run (Scarlett kick), 5:56
Kod — Powers 29 run (run failed), 2:29
Ken — Tilly 54 interception return (Scarlett kick), 1:16
Ken — Daniels 3 run (Scarlett kick), 6:13
Ken — Daniels 22 run (kick blocked), 4:35
Ken — Daniels 1 run (Scarlett kick), :43
Ken — Daniels 22 run (kick failed), 9:10
First downs 24 20
Rush yds 42-234 36-201
Pass yds 86 0
Comp-Att-Int 5-8-1 0-7-2
Return yds 56 47
Punts 0 5
Turnovers 3 3
Penalties 1-15 2-15
Rushing — Kenai: Daniels 20-152, Logan 4-35, Tilly 7-32, Wagoner 6-29, Beeson 5-(-14). Kodiak: Powers 18-162, Llorente 7-23, LeVan 6-5, Yavorsky 5-11.
Passing — Kenai: Wagoner 3-5-0—65, Landry 2-3-1—21. Kodiak: Yavorsky 0-7-2—0.
Receiving — Kenai: Baker 2-34, Kirsch 1-31, Pohl 1-32, Foree 1-10. Kodiak: none.