Before Saturday's game against the Skyview Panthers, Soldotna High School football coach Sarge Truesdell told his squad they would ride on the shoulders of running back Cason Simpson for a game.
Little did Simpson know that would mean carrying the ball 36 times for the Stars in their 21-6 win over Skyview at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
"I had no idea," Simpson said of the load he would have to carry. "Before the game they said they were going to ride my shoulders, but I had no idea it was going to be like that."
In fact, Truesdell, taking the reins as head coach while Rob Dimick is out on leave, called Simpson's number on the Stars' first seven offensive plays of the game.
"Our game plan was to ride Cason Simpson," Truesdell said.
Soldotna started its first drive at midfield after recovering a Skyview fumble, and used nine plays to cover the 50 yards. Scott Laurion capped the drive, turning a screen pass on a second-and-goal from the Skyview 37-yard line into a touchdown with 6:47 to play in the first quarter.
Both defenses held their opponent in check through the second and third quarters, then the Stars did have some success moving the ball while the Panthers were settling for three-and-out.
"When we get them into fourth-and-long, and they're going for it and converting, you're not going to win ballgames," said Skyview coach Wade Marcuson. "On our second drive, our offense had some penalties just from not getting up to the line of scrimmage fast enough and not being fired up to play.
"I don't know if it's this field, or just because it's a warm sunny day, or what it is."
Skyview's second drive of the game made it as far as the Soldotna 25-yard line before a delay of game penalty bogged things down. It ended with an interception by Soldotna's C.J. Howarth, his first of two for the game.
It would be Skyview's most productive drive until the Panthers, already down 21-0, were able to piece together a scoring drive late in the fourth quarter.
"I was pretty proud of coach (Jeff) Baker. He took over our defense this week," Truesdell said. "We always come after Skyview with some extra stuff. Todd Ghormley did an awesome job. He was all over the place."
With the defense keying off Ghormley at linebacker, the Stars held the Panthers to just 84 yards on 23 carries, and to just 34 yards passing.
"I was really worried about (their passing game)," Truesdell said. "They haven't thrown the ball a lot, but they've got all the tools to do that. It just hasn't been there for them yet."
Marcuson said he wanted to air things out in the second half, but missed connections on first and second down forced the Panthers into uncomfortable long-yardage situations.
"I thought we could go to the air, go deep," Marcuson said. "We couldn't convert in the air, and we had to punt. That was a momentum-turner."
Soldotna took advantage of that punt early in the fourth quarter, putting together a seven-play, 24-yard scoring drive to go up 14-0. Simpson plunged up the middle for a 2-yard touchdown run to finish off the drive.
On the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers muffed a short kick, and the Stars fell on the ball to set up their final scoring drive of the game.
Simpson carried the ball six times on the 34-yard drive, scoring his second touchdown of the game on a 3-yard run.
Simpson finished with 190 yards rushing in addition to one catch for 15 yards.
"We knew they were going to be weak outside," Simpson said. "We were just trying to sweep outside and just outrun them."
Skyview finally got on the board with 44 seconds left in the game, capping a nine-play, 55-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by David Quelland.
Skyview falls to 1-1 in the Northern Lights Conference and 3-2 overall. Soldotna, after starting the season 0-3 in nonconference play, is now 2-0 in the NLC and 2-3 overall.
Soldotna running back Cason Simpson celebrates his first of two fourth-quarter touchdowns against Skyview Saturday.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
"We don't plan on losing another one," Simpson said. "We played three tough teams right off the bat, then we don't lose another one. We want to repeat as NLC champs -- we talk about that every day."
Soldotna's next test will be against Homer Saturday when the Stars will be celebrating homecoming.
Skyview will have another tough game to play against Kenai Friday.
STARS 21, PANTHERS 6
Skyview 0 0 0 6 -- 6
Soldotna 7 0 0 14 -- 21
Sol -- Laurion 37 pass from Foster (Reynolds kick), 6:47
Sol -- C. Simpson 2 run (Reynolds kick), 7:34
Sol -- C. Simpson 3 run (Reynolds kick), 4:57
Sky -- Quelland 12 run (kick blocked), 0:44
First downs 5 16
Rushes-yards 23-84 55-210
Passing yards 34 93
Return yards 3 32
Passing 3-11-2 5-11-1
Punts-avg 3-26.0 2-25.5
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-yards 7-38 11-83
Rushing -- Skyview: Reeve 6-26, Endsley 7-22, Evanson 4-19, Quelland 1-12, Dalebout 1-5, Kosydar 2-1, McGrady 1-1, Dodd 1-(-2). Soldotna: C. Simpson 36-190, Laurion 8-19, Foster 9-2, R. Simpson 2-(-1).
Passing -- Skyview: Evanson 3-11-2--34. Soldotna: Foster 5-11-1--93.
Receiving -- Skyview: McGarry 2-10, Quelland 1-24. Soldotna: Laurion 2-51, Metteer 1-18, C. Simpson 1-15, Ghormley 1-9.
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