Dakota Craig ran for 104 yards and three touchdowns Friday against the Lathrop Malemutes. Then the second quarter started.
Craig finished the day with five scoring runs, racked up 187 yards on 19 carries and recovered two fumbles to lead the Kenai Kardinals to a 50-0 home rout over Lathrop. But it wasn't just Craig doing the damage for the Kardinals. Ryann Hansen added two touchdowns, and sophomore Stuart Stretch returned a blocked punt 25 yards for a score as the Kards dominated from the opening snap.
"Now we know hard work pays off," Kenai lineman Papapa Nicholas said following the game.
Before Saturday's rout began, Kenai had a number of questions to answer following last week's shaky 26-19 win over Eielson. However, an intense week of practice seemed to have the Kardinals back in the form that won them the past two state small schools football championships.
"The whole difference was the way we practiced," Kenai head coach Jim Beeson said. "We were physically more into it, and that reflected in the way we played this week."
Any lingering doubts about Kenai were cleared up quickly against the Malemutes. On its opening drive, Kenai went 80 yards on six plays, punctuated by a 1-yard plunge by Craig.
On the ensuing Lathrop possession, Craig also the Kardinals' middle linebacker recovered a fumble on the Lathrop 27-yard line. Four plays later, the all-state running back scored again to make the score 12-0.
Just over three minutes later, Craig scored again on a 29-yard touchdown run to end the first quarter.
Kenai's Josh Bennett clears a path as Ryann Hansen heads for a touchdown in the second quarter Saturday against Lathrop. Hansen had two touchdown runs in the 50-0 blowout.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Things got worse for Lathrop in the second quarter, as the Malemutes were unable to handle Kenai's powerful defense. Led by Nicholas, Dustin Stelljes, Logan McKay, Clint Keener and Ronnie Rainey up front and Craig, Cory Whiteley, Stuart Stretch and Michael Scheffert at linebacker, Kenai held Lathrop to just 36 yards offense in the first half.
For the game, Kenai forced five Lathrop turnovers, including a fumble recovery by Austin McLeod and interceptions by Whiteley and Tyler Smith.
"We just didn't play together and they did," Lathrop head coach Lance Cheney said.
To their defense, the Malemutes were hampered by the fact that they spent all week practicing in the gym due to smoky conditions in Fairbanks. Still, Cheney didn't make any excuses for his team's poor play.
"We seemed to play as 11 individuals instead of one team," he said.
Craig scored his fourth touchdown of the game on a bruising 10-yard carry with 5:52 left in the third quarter, then Hansen got into the act less than two minutes later with an 11-yard run set up by Smith's interception. The Kardinals finished the half up 44-0 when Hansen knifed his way 29 yards through the Lathrop defense.
In the second half, Craig scored the game's final touchdown on a five-yard carry, running over two Lathrop defenders at the goal line to make the score an even 50-0. The Kardinals eased off the throttle at that point, bringing in a number of substitutions and going to a running clock against the large-school Malemutes, surely the first time that's happened since the state split into two divisions four years ago.
"We played like a team today," Kenai junior Marcus Mena said following the game.
If the Kards want to continue their dominance of the large schools division, however, they're going to have a much stiffer challenge next week, when they travel to the Valley for a showdown with the state's number-one ranked Colony Knights. Kenai beat Colony last season at home, and Beeson said his squad will have to have another tough week of practice if it wants to repeat that performance.
"We've just got to practice and prepare like we did this week," he said. "We kind of snuck up on them last year, so I'm sure they've got something to prove."
However, Beeson said he's not focusing on beating Colony. Instead, he'll be happier if Kenai is healthy the following week, when it begins its defense of the Northern Lights Conference title against Kodiak.
"The real season starts when we play Kodiak."
Kards 50, Malemutes 0
Kenai 19 25 6 0 50
Lathrop 0 0 0 0 0
Ken Craig 1 run (kick failed), 9:45
Ken Craig 6 run (kick failed), 7:51
Ken Craig 29 run (Kim kick), 4:35
Ken Stretch 25 punt block return (kick failed), 8:47
Ken Craig 10 run (kick failed), 5:52
Ken Hansen 11 run (kick blocked), 4:10
Ken Hansen 29 run (Kim kick), 1:36
Ken Craig 5 run (kick failed), 6:32
First downs 11 4
Rushes-yards 39-334 27-79
Passing yards 0 0
Return yards 37 0
Passing 0-2-0 0-12-2
Punts-avg 2-23.8 5-21.2
Fumbles-lost 0-0 7-3
Penalties-yards 11-85 14-84
Rushing Kenai: Craig 19-187, Chappell 6-74, Hansen 15-71, Faumui 4-9, Oliver 1-(-7). Lathrop: Batchelder 8-53, Stevenson 5-14, Quint 1-9, Johnson 13-3.
Passing Kenai: Chappell 0-2-0-0. Lathrop: Stevenson 0-12-2-0.
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