A win is a win, even if it's ugly.
Despite a number of costly mistakes, the Kenai Kardinals managed to pull out a 26-19 win Saturday at Ed Hollier Field over the Eielson Ravens in a rematch of last year's state small-schools championship game.
"We won, and that's the bottom line," Kenai head coach Jim Beeson said following the game. "As bad as we played, we still got a win."
Kenai tight end Josh Bennett was the hero Saturday, making a one-handed catch in the back of the end zone to give Kenai its final margin of victory early in the fourth quarter.
With two Eielson defenders draped on him, Bennett was able to pull down quarterback Tyler Chappell's precise toss with one hand and somehow keep control as he fell to the ground.
"It was good coverage," Bennett said. "I just turned and stuck out my hand."
Bennett's touchdown was one of two thrown by Chappell Saturday. Kenai running back Dakota Craig also had a good day, rushing for 177 yards on 28 carries and two touchdowns.
In fact, Kenai outplayed Eielson on both sides of the ball throughout the game, but couldn't quite shake the pesky Ravens. Kenai's offense outgained Eielson by 262 total yards, and yet the Ravens nearly went ahead in the closing seconds.
With the Kardinals clinging to a 26-19 lead, Eielson quarterback Evan Skinner scrambled for an apparent 42-yard touchdown run. Skinner's run, however, was nullified when an Eielson player committed a holding penalty behind the play. When Kenai defensive back Micah Lillard intercepted Skinner three plays later, the Kards could finally breathe a sigh of relief.
Eielson head coach David DeVaughn said he was impressed with his team's ability to hang in against the two-time defending state champs, especially after losing a number of key players from last year's team.
"It really feels good to have been in the game at the end," DeVaughn said. "This game did loads for the confidence of our kids."
Kenai's Les Krusen and Dakota Craig celebrate Craig's touchdown in the third quarter Saturday against Eielson.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Early on, it looked as if Kenai was on track to repeat last year's 46-0 thrashing of the Ravens. Craig got things started with a 2-yard touchdown plunge to cap a nine play, 66-yard drive.
Eielson tied things up later in the first quarter after the Kards elected to try and convert on a fourth-and-two from their own 35-yard-line. But Chappell was sacked on his own 23-yard-line, and Skinner made the Kards pay with a touchdown pass to Nick Scales two plays later.
Beeson took the blame for the first Eielson touchdown, saying he probably would have made a different call if he had the situation to do over again.
"We should have punted or just ran it," Beeson said.
The Kards seemed unfazed by the score, quickly regrouping behind Craig and fullback Ryann Hansen's (89 yards on 15 carries) powerful running to again find the end zone less than three minutes later when Chappell hit Joel Reemstma with a 15-yard touchdown pass to put Kenai ahead 12-6.
Kenai went ahead 19-6 in the second quarter on a 10-yard run by Craig that had Kenai flying high. The Kards' elation lasted all of 16 seconds, however just long enough for Eielson's Nick Rogers to return Kenai kicker Ju Kim's kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown.
Kenai had a good chance to score early in the third quarter, but Hansen fumbled after a 20-yard carry at the Eielson 20-yard line.
That's when things started to go downhill for the Kards. Craig who also started at middle linebacker left the game with leg cramps. Then Kenai started racking up penalties, including a six in the third quarter alone. For the game, Kenai committed 10 penalties for 108 yards, compared with only eight for 53 yards for the Ravens.
On the Ravens' final scoring drive, Kenai penalties including two for pass interference accounted for 30 of Eielson's 65 yards as Skinner picked apart the Kenai secondary. The drive culminated in a 12-yard touchdown pass from Skinner to Rogers that tied things at 19-19.
After the game, Kenai players said they weren't happy with their opening game performance.
"We were flat all game," Bennett said.
Kenai center Michael Scheffert agreed.
"We just didn't come out and do our jobs," Scheffert said.
Scheffert said that if the Kards can take anything away from Saturday's uneven win, it's that they've still got a long way to go before they can start thinking about making a run at a third title, and predicted an intense week of practice beginning Monday.
"We've got some stuff to take care of," he said.
Kards 26, Ravens 19
Kenai 12 7 0 7 26
Eielson 6 7 6 0 19
Ken Craig 2 run (kick failed), 8:04
Eie Scales 23 pass from Skinner (kick blocked), 3:18
Ken Reemstma 15 pass from Chappell (kick failed), :58
Ken Craig 10 run (Kim kick), 8:39
Eie N. Rogers 81 kickoff return (Broussard kick), 8:23
Eie N. Rogers 12 pass from Skinner (kick failed), 4:23
Ken Bennett 16 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 10:09
First downs 18 6
Rushes-yards 62-345 15-40
Passing yards 31 74
Return yards 7 0
Passing 3-6-0 8-18-1
Punts-avg 4-28.3 4-35.5
Fumbles-lost 1-1 3-1
Penalties-yards 10-108 8-53
Rushing Kenai: Craig 28-177, Hansen 15-89, Chappell 12-70, Miles 7-9. Eielson: Scales 1-22, Skinner 5-11, N. Rogers 6-13, McKee 3-(-6).
Passing Kenai: Chappell 2-6-31-0. Eielson: Skinner 8-18-77-1.(comp, att, int, yards).
Receiving Kenai: Bennett 1-16, Reemstma 1-15. Eielson: McKee 4-2, Scales 2-40, N. Rogers 2-35.
Due to a reporters error, Marcus Reemtsma was misidentified in a story about the Kenai Central-Eielson high school football game in Sundays Clarion. Reemtsma caught a 15-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.
The Clarion regrets the errors.
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