The Homer High School football team came into Saturday's Northern Lights Conference game at Soldotna primed and ready to spoil the Stars' homecoming festivities.
Fortunately for Soldotna, the Stars were able to get the ball into the hands of senior Dan Ghormley, whose two first-quarter touchdowns kept the Mariners at bay in a 27-6 Soldotna win.
Ghormley ran back the opening kickoff 83 yards for the first score of the game, then added a 20-yard touchdown run later in the quarter to provide the punch for the Stars offense, which was otherwise held in check by the Mariners defense.
"It's hard to be really excited. We didn't execute on offense as well as we hoped," said Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell. "... The score looks good, but we returned the opening kickoff (for a touchdown), then we had another one gift-wrapped for us, and that's the way we went into the half.
"Then again, it was an excellently played half by (the Homer) defense."
Indeed, the Mariners forced the Stars to go three-and-out on their first possession.
Soldotna's Garrett Gardner puts the brakes on Homer's Devion Hagen at the beginning of the third quarter Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Stars did the same on the Mariners' ensuing possession, and caught a huge break when Homer was slapped with two 15-yard penalties on the punt. Instead of getting the ball at midfield, the Stars found themselves on the Homer 20-yard line. Ghormley took the handoff on first down and broke a tackle on his way to the end zone.
The Homer defense regrouped to force punts on Soldotna's next two possessions, took the ball over on downs once, and intercepted a pass on its own goal line to close out the first half.
"They've got some really solid defensive linemen," Truesdell said. "But we expect everyone to have some solid defensive linemen, and we still expect to block them. No question, there were some studs to block, and (Homer) did come up with a solid game plan."
Homer coach Kelly Blake said Soldotna's early touchdowns took some of the wind from their sails.
"We lost momentum, and they kept going," Blake said. "We've got a bunch of young guys. They're getting better. At times, we're inconsistent.
"But we learned something today, and Sarge had those guys ready to play. (Soldotna) had to earn it. It wasn't a cakewalk."
Soldotna scored on its first two possessions of the second half. Ghormley capped 11-play, 52-yard drive with a 1-yard plunge on the Stars' first series of the third quarter, and Neil Gardner broke off a 10-yard touchdown run late in the quarter to finish off the Soldotna scoring.
Homer got on the scoreboard early in the fourth quarter. After a missed field goal attempt by the Stars, Homer took the ball on its own 20-yard line. On the first play of the series, Jake Fraley connected with Brandon Moffet for an 80-yard touchdown pass.
While Truesdell wanted more from his offense, he was thrilled with his team's play on defense.
"I'm very excited about the way our defense has played," Truesdell said, adding that he was impressed with two interceptions from Jeremy Kauffman, and that Jake Howarth made several big plays as well.
"Try to keep them to zero points that was our game plan," said Howarth, the Stars' middle linebacker. "We were trying to keep (their running backs) to the lowest yardage we could."
With the win, the Stars improve to 3-3 overall and, more importantly, 3-0 in conference play. Soldotna hosts Kodiak next week in a game that has playoff implications as the Bears defeated Skyview Saturday and are 2-1 in conference play.
After that, Soldotna will conclude the regular season against Kenai.
The Mariners, now 0-3 in the conference and 2-4 overall, face Kenai next week before finishing up against Skyview.
Stars 27, Mariners 6
Homer 0 0 0 6 6
Soldotna 14 0 13 0 0
Sol Ghormley 87 kickoff return (Tachick kick), 11:45
Sol Ghormley 20 run (Tachick kick), 6:00
Sol Ghormley 1 run (Tachick kick), 5:54
Sol N. Gardner 10 run (kick failed), 1:58
Hom Moffet 80 pass from Fraley (pass failed), 8:45
First downs 8 11
Rushes-yards 27-46 45-186
Passing yards 144 68
Return yards 54 63
Passing 5-15-3 6-15-2
Punts-avg 7-31.8 5-30.2
Fumbles-lost 3-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 13-105 5-50
Rushing Homer: West 10-51, D. Hagen 10-18, Fraley 1-2, McKinstry 3-(-2), Adams 2-(-8), Blanchard 1-(-15). Soldotna: G. Gardner 11-75, Ghormley 9-64, N. Gardner 5-23, Cameron 10-10, Schneider 9-9, Mills 1-5.
Passing Homer: Fraley 3-5-2113, McKinstry 1-4-116, Adams 1-6-015. Soldotna: Schneider 6-13-168. Pfaffe 0-2-10.
Receiving Homer: Moffet 3-113, Hoanin 1-16, Fraley 1-15. Soldotna: Ghormley 4-19, Simpson 1-30, Wilbanks 1-19.
Missed field goals Soldotna, Mills, 32.
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