The Soldotna High School football team took a step forward Friday in its 32-14 loss to West Valley in a nonconference game at Justin Maile Field.
While the Stars have yet to notch a win in two tries this season, coach Rob Dimick saw plenty of improvement in his young squad, giving him reason to be optimistic about the rest of the season.
"We're better than we were last week, and that's a goal," Dimick said. "We're nowhere near, hopefully, where we'll be at the end of the season. This teaches kids that if you work hard, good things happen."
The Wolfpack took advantage of some early Soldotna mistakes. West Valley recovered a Soldotna fumble on the opening kickoff, and Ward Dobbs scampered 32 yards around the left end for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage.
Later in the first quarter, a fumbled snap on a Soldotna punt gave West Valley the ball on the Stars' 39-yard line. A short run and a 34-yard pass set the Wolfpack up with a first-and-goal on the 2-yard line. Dobbs fumbled the ball on the carry, but a West Valley teammate came up with the ball in the end zone for the score.
West Valley blocked a Soldotna punt early in the the second quarter and the ball slid out the back of the end zone for a safety, and Dobbs returned the second half opening kickoff 80 yards for a score to give the Wolfpack a 20-0 lead.
"It was nice to be able to capitalize on that early mistake," said West Valley coach Roy Roehl. "When you get up early, it's easier to play than when your back's against the wall, especially on the road."
The Stars got on the board with 4:09 left in the third quarter after recovering a West Valley fumble on the Wolfpack 16-yard line.
Cason Simpson needed four carries to finish off the drive, taking the ball 7 yards up the middle on fourth down for the score.
Ricky Simpson caught a pass from quarterback Kyle Foster for the two-point conversion.
The Wolfpack scored a touchdown on a 1-yard plunge by quarterback Kyle Allison 1:44 into the fourth quarter, then caught the Stars not paying attention on the ensuing kickoff, keeping possession with an onside kick.
Dimick said the coaches could see that one coming because the Soldotna coverage team had been backing up and turning around to get downfield even before the Wolfpack kicker had put the ball in play. He added that now that the Stars special teams have seen it, they should be ready for it for the rest of the season.
The Wolfpack weren't able to capitalize on the chicanery as Todd Ghormley came up with an interception, but Dobbs did punch in one more touchdown with 1:27 left in the game on a 20-yard sweep around the left end.
Soldotna quickly pieced together a five-play, 66-yard drive to notch the final score of the game. Scott Laurion carried three times for 32 yards on the drive, and Foster capped the drive with a 17-yard pass to the back corner of the end zone for Adam Kiffmeyer with four seconds left in the game.
"You always play for 48 minutes," Dimick said. "It doesn't matter what the score is. If you do that, good things happen to you."
While Roehl said that field conditions and the steady rain limited the number of passes and sweeps the Wolfpack called on offense, the Stars were nonetheless pleased with their effort on defense.
"Coming off that loss to Wasilla, we focused really hard on defense," Cason Simpson said. "We knew they were going to be a good outfit, and we just wanted to come out and get better. It's all about how we finish the season.
"We got a great game from our defensive linemen, stepping up and making plays. Our linebackers played better, especially our outside linebackers."
The Stars hope to continue to improve as they prepare for their game at Nikiski Friday.
Soldotna running back Cason Simpson is tackled by West Valley's J.P. Saldarriago in front of Roy Stonecipher during the second quarter Friday night.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"There was a huge improvement this week in practice. Everyone was going hard," Foster said. "We'll get better each week."
WOLFPACK 32, STARS 14
West Valley 12 2 6 12 -- 32
Soldotna 0 0 8 6 -- 14
WV -- Dobbs 32 run (run failed), 11:46
WV -- Fumble recovery in end zone (run failed), 6:09
WV -- Safety, punt blocked out back of end zone, 11:15
WV -- Dobbs 80 kickoff return (run failed), 11:44
Sol -- C. Simpson 7 run (R. Simpson pass from Foster), 4:09
WV -- Allison 1 run (pass failed), 10:16
Sol -- Kiffmeyer 17 pass from Foster (run failed), 0:04
West Valley Soldotna
First downs 15 8
Rushes-yards 49-222 40-76
Passing yards 77 41
Return yards 70 5
Passing 5-12-2 2-6-3
Punts-avg 1-24.0 4-36.5
Fumbles-lost 8-3 5-3
Penalties-yards 9-80 5-40
Rushing -- West Valley: Dobbs 24-174, Allison 10-34, Lorring 7-37, Tufford 3-2, Fulk 5-(-25). Soldotna: C. Simpson 22-57, Laurion 9-41, Metteer 4-1, Foster 3-(-11), Horwath 1-(-4), Kiffmeyer 1(-8).
Passing -- West Valley: Fulk 2-6-1--45, Allison 3-6-1--32. Soldotna: Foster 2-6-3--41.
Receiving -- West Valley: Siron 2-57, Dinstel 1-11, Tufford 1-5, Saldarriago 1-4. Soldotna: Simpson 1-24, Kiffmeyer 1-17.
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