The visiting Service Cougars notched a 20-13, come-from-behind win over Kenai Central in nonconference action on Saturday. Kenai and Service are now both 1-1 overall.
The Cougars overcame a 13-0 halftime deficit, scoring twice in the final quarter for the victory. Missed tackles were the difference in the second half, Kards head coach Jeff Baker said.
"They were smart enough to get the football in the hands of their athletes," Baker said, referring to Service's air-and-land attack from running back Michael McCrae and wide receiver La'Michael Fernandez. Fernandez led the Cougars with 112 yards receiving and a touchdown while McCrae rushed for 106 yards and a touchdown.
"Show your character right now. We just have to execute."
That was Service head coach Jason Caldarera's message at the half.
"We were hoping to use our matches and looking for opportunities to move the ball down the field," Caldarera said. Having quarterback JJ Christy release his passes on time opened up the Cougars perimeter game, he said.
Holding a 14-13 lead late in the fourth quarter, a 23-yard run by McCrae put Service inside the red zone. Kenai's defense held strong and forced a fourth-and-12. McCrae broke free for a 23-yard touchdown to put the Cougars up seven with 18.8 seconds to go.
"He's a tough kid," Caldarera said of McCrae. "We knew we could eventually get a push up front."
With no timeouts left, the game appeared to be out of reach for Kenai. But quarterback AJ Hull connected with Dante Diaz on a 38-yard pass on the first play after the kickoff to put the Kards on Service's 34-yard line. With 4.1 seconds on the clock, Kenai had one last shot at the end zone. But Service prevented Hull from attempting a pass and forced him out of bounds as time expired.
"We had a chance to win all the way down to the last play," Baker said. "That sums up Kenai football. The kids never quit."
"Their quarterback is a great athlete," Caldarera said of Hull. "They were state champions for a reason."
After losing a close 38-35 battle to West in Week 1, Caldarera said it was good to get the first win of the season.
"We're happy to get away with this one," he said.
Hull broke more than 17 scoreless minutes with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Alex Nason in the second quarter. Kenai marched from its own 32-yard line down to Service's 27 in seven plays. Hull rolled right and found Nason open down the sideline just inside the pylon. Hull took a 4-yard sneak in for a score with 1:02 to play in the half to give Kenai a 13-0 lead.
An interception by Tyler Glidden set up the good field position, which led to Hull's touchdown run. Glidden returned the interception past the goal line, but a penalty put the Kards back on Service's 25-yard line.
Fernandez got Service on the board with a 28-yard touchdown run less than two minutes into the third quarter. Fernandez took a lateral, which skipped off of the field, from Christy in for the score. Kenai's sideline argued it was a forward pass but the call stood.
The Cougars tied the game when Kahlil Bolling took a 12-yard pass in for a touchdown. Meghan Dotten's extra point gave Service a 14-13 lead. Christy hit Fernandez with a 63-yard strike to put Service at Kenai's 16-yard line prior to the touchdown.
Though unhappy with the outcome, Baker said his team can benefit from the loss.
"We really, really learned a lot," he said. "It doesn't matter who they were. We definitely could have, and maybe should have, beat them."
Cougars 20, Kardinals 13
Service 0 0 7 13 -- 20
Kenai 0 13 0 0 -- 13
Kenai -- Nason 27 pass from Hull (Hull kick), 6:32
Kenai -- Hull 4 run (kick failed), 1:02
Service -- Fernandez 28 run (Dotten kick), 10:12
Service -- Bolling 12 pass from Christy (Dotten kick), 8:47
Service -- McCrae 23 run (kick failed), 0:18
First downs 13 11
Rushes-yards 27-123 47-155
Comp-att-int 10-21-1 5-12-0
Passing yards 182 90
Fumbles-lost 4-0 0-0
Penalties 4-30 4-55
Punts-avg 4-42 6-29.7
Rushing: Service: McCrae 20-106, Christy 4-(-13), Ellis 2-2, Fernandez 1-28; Kenai: Risung 23-70, Hull 10-32, Glidden 14-53
Passing: Service: Christy 10-21-1-182; Kenai: Hull 5-12-0-90
Receiving: Service: Fernandez 6-112, Busey 1-25, Kunder 1-18, Bolling 1-12, Macon 1-15; Kenai: Nason 1-27, Risung 1-12, Diaz 2-45, Glidden 1-6
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