Soldotna's Bryce Gardner defends against North Pole's Steven Wright as Zayan Aberkane runs the ball in the first quarter Friday night.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Soldotna High School jumped into a new football season with plenty of changes, but one game hasn't spoiled any consistencies from a year ago.
Four rushing touchdowns by Stars' senior Marvin Tate highlighted a 62-42 non-conference victory over visiting North Pole Friday night at Maile Field in front of about 500 sun-drenched fans. It was the season-opener for each team.
Preseason state-ranked No. 1 Soldotna, the 2006 Small Schools State Champion, posted the program's 10th consecutive win while scoring 50 points or more on the home turf for the fourth straight outing. Galen Brantley Jr. was a winner in a matchup of first-year head coaches with Richard Henert, but not before plenty of emotion and drama spilled out.
"North Pole had us on the ropes the entire game," Brantley said. "I still had butterflies in my stomach through the third quarter."
But the offensive battle as most do finally turned directional with a defensive play in the fourth quarter. Junior Kyle Wood's interception and 29-yard return to the Patriots' 1-yard line, and subsequent 1-yard touchdown run, highlighted 21 points in a four-minute, 31-second stretch that extended a precarious 41-34 lead to 62-34 with less than four minutes to go.
"We've complained a lot about conditioning," said Tate, who ran for 152 yards. "But it comes down to this, the second half. The coaches were not working us for no reason. That was the biggest thing we had to get a stop."
The offensive showcase was eight minutes shy of three hours, included 870 total yards and a plethora of highlight material. The second half's first seven possessions pin-balled the scoreboard for 50 points. The Stars were efficient because of their timed offensive precision and resilient effort on the line by seniors Josh DeTavernier, Matthew Strieby, Ryan Shelton, Les Baker, Josh Denna, Timo Gleason and sophomore Jake Jensen. North Pole's running game clicked with the elusiveness and power cloaked in the single uniform of senior Todd McCormick.
Tate's 14 runs included scoring jaunts of 60 on the Stars' first snap, 16, 25 and 12 yards. Senior Bryce Gardner, in addition to 14 jarring tackles, ran 10 times for 159 yards and TDs of 41 and 44 yards. Junior quarterback Anthony Griglione added 87 yards rushing and scores from 1 and 2 yards out.
The damage on the Patriots' rushing defense was 402 yards (9.3 per carry).
The tire tracks on Soldotna's defense from North Pole's offensive truckload were worse save for the bottom-line importance of the scoreboard. The Patriots garnered 25 first downs and 449 yards, running for 284 yards and passing for 165.
North Pole's three-pronged weaponry of McCormick, senior receiver Andy Musgrove and junior quarterback Steven Wright glistened in midseason form. The Patriots scored three of their six touchdowns on fourth-down plays and even managed a non-scoring drive that mowed down 85 yards.
McCormick, coming off a six-TD, 903-yard season, ran 29 times for 203 yards and a touchdown. Musgrove, a transfer from West Valley who caught six TDs a year ago, caught three TD passes (1, 10, 15 yards) among seven catches for 102 yards. Wright ran for two scores in addition to throwing three to Musgrove, finishing 9-for-17 for 119 yards through the air.
"They had a couple of huge threats," said Tate, also a defensive end. "The quarterback and wide receiver, there's almost no way to defend. McCormick is an animal. He runs hard and if you don't wrap up, you don't tackle him."
Soldotna, which plays a second Railbelt Conference squad when it goes to Palmer Friday, settled for a 19-13 lead at intermission after squandering its final two possessions with turnovers. In the second half, the Stars marched to touchdowns on each of their first six possessions, needing to go only 46, 48, 49, 46, 1 and 45 yards.
North Pole had no deep kickoff threat, and attempted onside kicks twice.
Wright pulled the Patriots within 41-34 with a 6-yard scoring run on fourth-and-goal with 10:36 to play. The drive was boosted by McCormick's 9-yard run, runs of 13 and 14 yards by senior fullback David Nicholson and a 15-yard connection from Wright to Musgrove.
The Stars answered with a champion's demeanor. Gardner ran for 18 yards and Griglione's 2-yard run capped a six-play drive for a 48-34 lead.
Wood's interception and touchdown created the first lead, 55-34, of more than two scores.
"They had a great offense, and it was hard to stop them," Gardner said. "They were good. It came down to a turnover."
A sack by junior Justice Elson, a pass break-up by Wood and a fourth-down tackle by Strieby returned possession to the hosts on the North Pole 45. Two snaps later, Gardner had bolted down the right sideline on a 44-yard scoring run for a 62-34 lead with only 3:53 to play.
"Its not very often you see a team with 10 two-way starters wear someone down," Brantley said.
"We put a lot of time into conditioning. And there's no question that precedes mental toughness."
Senior Zayan Aberkane added an interception, DeTavernier registered two sacks and sophomore Nathan Strieby grabbed a sack for Soldotna. Baker added a blocked extra point while Elson kicked 6-for-6 on extra points.
Stars 62, Patriots 42
North Pole 7 6 13 16 42
Soldotna 7 12 22 21 62
NP - Musgrove 1 pass from Wright (Isaacson kick), 9:26.
S - Tate 60 run (Elson kick), 9:10.
S - Griglione 1 run (pass failed), 8:42.
S - Tate 16 run (pass failed), 3:01.
NP - Musgrove 10 pass from Wright (kick blocked), 0:33.
S - Gardner 41 run (Jansen pass from Griglione), 11:09.
NP - Musgrove 15 pass from Wright (Isaacson kick), 8:14.
S - Tate 25 run (Elson kick), 7:02.
NP - McCormick 4 run (Isaacson kick), 5:43.
S - Tate 12 run (Elson kick), 1:51.
NP - Wright 6 run (Musgrove pass from Wright), 10:36.
S - Griglione 2 run (Elson kick), 8:24.
S - Wood 1 run (Elson kick), 6:42.
S - Gardner 44 run (Elson kick), 3:53.
NP - Wright 20 run (McCormick run), 0:15.
North Pole Soldotna First downs 25 19
Rushes-yards 50-284 43-402
Passing yards 119 19
Passes 10-23-2 1-2-1
Return yards 0 29
Punts-Avg. 2-34.5 0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 5-25 7-60
RUSHING - North Pole: McCormick 29-203, Wright 8-37, Lewis 5-28, Nicholson 4-25, Jutila 3-(-4), Jones 1-(-5); Soldotna: Gardner 10-159, Tate 14-152, Griglione 16-87, Wood 2-4, Abarkane 1-0.
PASSING - North Pole: Wright 9-17-0, 119 yards; Jones 0-4-2; McCormick 1-2-0, 46 yards; Soldotna: Griglione 1-2-1, 19 yards.
RECEIVING - North Pole: Musgrove 7-102, Colledge 2-17, Jutila 1-46; Soldotna: Gardner 1-19.
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