Kenai running back Brandon Miles (40) tries to evade Palmer defender Devon Conroy as he scampers up the sideline for a 44-yard gain in the first quarter at Ed Hollier Field Saturday in Kenai.
Photo by Will Morrow
Kenai Central played well enough to outgain the Palmer Moose by more than 100 yards Saturday afternoon. Unfortunately for the Kardinals, they also played poorly enough to lose by three touchdowns.
“We’re just not playing hard from whistle to whistle,” a dispirited Kenai coach Jim Beeson said following his squad’s 42-20 home loss to the Moose at Ed Hollier Field.
With the loss, Kenai dropped to 0-2 on the season. Palmer is 2-0.
Kenai racked up 397 yards of total offense to 279 for the Moose. But despite moving the ball well, Kenai was hindered all game long by mental mistakes, missed tackles and poor timing.
“It’s frustrating,” Beeson said of his team’s performance.
The first sour note was sounded quickly, when Palmer’s Devon Conroy ripped off an 80-yard touchdown return on the game’s opening kickoff.
Kenai fought back, tying things up on Stuart Stretch’s 4-yard touchdown plunge late in the first quarter. Kenai actually dominated the Moose through the first 12 minutes with the exception of the blown kickoff coverage. The Kardinals outgained Palmer 129-13 in the first quarter, racking up seven first downs to Palmer’s none. Running back Brandon Miles ran for 89 of those yards on 13 carries in the quarter.
But things changed once Steel Tubbs started getting the ball. The Palmer running back was a one-man wrecking crew all game long, rolling over the Kenai line and busting into the secondary seemingly every time he touched the ball. The senior had 57 yards on the Moose’s first drive of the second quarter, capping things off with a 16-yard run that made things 14-7. Tubbs finished the game with 165 yards on just 19 carries.
“We feel great about the win,” Tubbs said afterward.
Tubbs said Palmer wasn’t taking Kenai lightly heading into the game, especially considering that Kenai is the three-time defending champions at the small-schools level.
“We took them very seriously,” Tubbs said.
Moose head coach Rod Christiansen agreed.
“It was a ballgame all the way until the end,” he said.
Palmer nearly broke the game open late in the second quarter after Kenai punter Bill Chimphalee was forced to take a 31-yard loss after long snapper Papapa Nicholas launched the ball over his head. Tubbs scored three plays later, making the score 21-7 with under a minute to play.
The Kardinals wouldn’t give up that easily, however.
Quarterback Tyler Chappell led his team quickly down the field, knifing through the Palmer defense for a couple big runs before Kenai called a timeout with 20 seconds left in the half.
Chappell then hit Miles with a long strike that just eluded Conroy’s defense, leaving Miles with nothing but daylight ahead. He easily outran the rest of the Palmer defense to score on a 43-yard touchdown reception that made the score 21-14.
After the game, Chappell said he wasn’t happy with the outcome, but noted that Kenai did play better than the previous week, when the Kards lost to Juneau 35-9.
“We played a heck of a lot better than we did last week,” Chappell said. “But we still have a long way to go.”
The Kenai quarterback was impressive with both his scrambling and passing ability all day long, finishing the game with 63 rushing yards and 136 passing while leading his squad to nearly 400 yards of total offense.
Kenai almost got a golden opportunity just before halftime when Austin McLeod picked off quarterback Jeremy Weber’s pass with less than one second left. The Kards handed off to Miles to end the half, and he nearly broke free again, making it all the way to the Palmer 25 before being hauled down.
After forcing Kenai to punt on its first drive of the second half, Palmer wasted little time getting Tubbs back into high gear. The Palmer workhorse carried the ball on six of the next seven plays, punctuated by a 1-yard plunge that put Palmer up by two scores.
The drive was kept alive by a costly Kenai face-mask penalty on fourth down that enabled the Moose to keep their drive alive.
Kenai again struck back, however, putting together a 12-play, 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard Miles touchdown run. Despite missing the extra point, Kenai was still very much in the game with 10 minutes left in the quarter and down by just eight points.
Then things fell apart, this time for good.
Palmer ran seemingly at will over a tired Kenai defense, marching downfield for an 80-yard drive of their own in just four minutes. Conroy got his second touchdown of the game on a 1-yard pitch that put the Moose up two scores.
Kenai quarterback Tyler Chappell (11) passes to McKenan Steinbeck (42) in the second quarter at Ed Hollier Fiend in Kenai Saturday.
Photo by Will Morrow
On the first play of Kenai’s ensuing possession, Chappell’s pass was picked off by Weber deep in Kardinals territory, and Tubbs scored three plays later to put things out of reach.
The loss was Kenai’s first at home since the Kards lost to West Anchorage in the opening game of the 2003 season.
Following the game, Beeson said he believes his team has a long way to go if it wants to contend for another state title. With a scrappy Seward team ready to take a shot at the suddenly-vulnerable Kardinals, he said a lot of questions have to be answered and soon.
“I don’t know,” Beeson said. “Every week’s going to be tough.”
Brandon Miles who finished the game tired and bloody after carrying the ball a game-high 39 times for 195 yards summed up the Kardinals’ season so far.
“Our mind-set hasn’t been right. Some people thought we’d just come out with Kenai on our chests and win,” he said. “That’s not going to happen.”
Moose 42, Kardinals 20
Palmer 7 14 7 14 42
Kenai 7 7 0 6 20
Pal Conroy 80 kickoff return (Conroy kick), 11:49
Ken Stretch 4 run (Kim kick), :19
Pal Tubbs 16 run (Conroy kick), 9:35
Pal Tubbs 1 run (Conroy kick), :53
Ken Miles 43 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), :13
Pal Tubbs 1 run (Conroy kick), 3:53
Ken Miles 1 run (kick failed), 10:29
Pal Conroy 1 run (Conroy kick), 6:49
Pal Tubbs 1 run (Conroy kick), 6:18
First downs 12 19
Rushes-yards 36-270 59-261
Passing yards 9 136
Return yards 8 0
Passing 1-3-1 7-14-1
Punts-avg 2-37.5 3-39.0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-0
Penalties-yards 6-27 4-37
Rushing Palmer: Tubbs 19-165, Conroy 12-80, Weber 5-25. Kenai: Miles 36-195, Chappell 13-63, Stretch 4-16, Chimphalee 3-(-13).
Passing Palmer: Weber 1-3-1-9. Kenai: Chappell 7-14-1-136. (comp, att, int, yards).
Receiving Palmer: Grover 1-9. Kenai: McLeod 3-67, Miles 2-55, Chimphalee 2-14.
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