It was a beautiful night for football, but it wasn't beautiful football.
Soldotna defeated host Nikiski 30-0 Friday night in a nonconference game where both offenses struggled to gain any momentum.
The Nikiski offense, playing without six starters, put the ball on the ground seven times, losing three fumbles, and also threw an interception. The Bulldogs (3-2 overall) had one first down in the first half.
The Stars, meanwhile, had a fumble and an interception of their own. Soldotna (2-3 overall) also short-circuited drives with penalties and never figured out a way to block Nikiski tackle Josh Boye, who finished with six sacks.
"It's hard to get really excited about this game, although our defense did play exceptionally well," said Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell, whose team has not allowed a point in nine quarters. "We didn't consistently execute on offense."
The Stars did have some bright spots on offense. Dan Ghormley rushed for 68 yards and three touchdowns, while Garrett Gardner rushed for 113 yards on just 10 carries. Ghormley had another touchdown that was called back due to a holding penalty.
But, except for a 53-yard touchdown pass from Cameron Schneider to Cory Wilbanks, the Stars needed a push from special teams or defense to get into the end zone.
Senior Johnny Mills provided one of those pushes early in the first quarter when his 58-yard punt return put the ball on the Nikiski 6-yard line. Ghormley then scored on the Soldotna offense's first play from scrimmage in the game.
"I told the guys we needed to get pumped up and we needed a big return," Truesdell said. "When you get a big play early like that from a senior, it's big because it fires up the whole team."
The defense provided Soldotna its next big spark, recovering a Bulldogs' fumble on the Nikiski 41 with 5:11 left in the first quarter. Ghormley completed a nine-play drive with a 2-yard plunge for a 14-0 lead.
Mills finished off the scoring in the first half with a 32-yard field goal.
In the third quarter, Garrett Gardner intercepted a pass with 7:16 left and returned it 4 yards to the Nikiski 16. Ghormley completed the three-play scoring drive that ensued with a 1-yard run.
"I don't think our defense played that bad," Nikiski coach Ned Clooten said of the unit that gave up 214 yards rushing and 115 yards passing. "We just set Soldotna up with too many easy scoring chances."
The best defensive performance came from Boye, a lanky 6-footer. Often, Boye was wrapped around Schneider's ankles before the quarterback was two steps into his drop.
"We just decided this week that if we saw their guards pull, we would shoot those gaps," Clooten said. "(Boye) isn't that big, but he's learned how to stay low so he's really tough to block."
But Boye's work went for naught because of Soldotna's own defensive dominance. Nikiski advanced to Soldotna's half of the field just twice before the fourth quarter.
Soldotna's defensive game plan was to stop Nikiski running back Billy Anderson and Nikiski receiver Jeremiah Taylor.
Anderson finished with 72 yards, including 25 yards on seven carries in the first half. Taylor had 38 yards receiving, with each of his four catches coming in the fourth quarter.
"We knew that they lost some firepower due to injuries," Truesdell said. "We knew if we could stop Anderson and Taylor, they'd have a tough time moving the ball."
Both teams jump back into conference play next Saturday, with Soldotna hosting Homer at 2 p.m. and Nikiski traveling to Valdez for a 1 p.m. tilt.
Stars 30, Bulldogs 0
Soldotna 14 3 7 6 30
Nikiski 0 0 0 0 0
Sol Ghormley 6 run (Tachick kick), 10:33
Sol Ghormley 2 run (Tachick kick), 1:02
Sol Mills 32 field goal, 9:17
Sol Ghormley 1 run (Tachick kick), 6:30
Sol Wilbanks 53 pass from Schneider (kick failed), 5:52
First downs 14 9
Rushes-yards 52-214 37-124
Passing yards 115 51
Return yards 68 0
Passing 5-12-1 6-18-1
Punts-avg 4-20.5 4-30.3
Fumbles-lost 1-1 7-3
Penalties-yards 8-81 3-20
Rushing Soldotna: Ghormley 15-68, N. Gardner 4-34, Schneider 20-(-9), G. Gardner 10-113, B. Goracke 1-2, Cameron 2-6. Nikiski: Anderson 17-72, Landford 8-23, Womack 7-21, Curren 4-7, Tumbaga 1-1.
Passing Soldotna: Schneider 5-12-1-115. Nikiski: Womack 6-18-1-51.
Receiving Soldotna: Mills 1-20, Ghormley 2-39, G. Gardner 1-3, Wilbanks 1-53. Nikiski: Tumbaga 1-4, Taylor 4-38, Anderson 1-9.
Missed field goals: Mills (WR).
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