The statistics were pretty much dead even at the end of Friday night's Northern Lights Conference matchup between host Skyview and Kenai.
However, crucial mistakes, and thus the final score, weren't.
The Kardinals used two crucial Skyview miscues in the second quarter to take a 14-0 lead, then survived a gaffe of their own just before halftime to cobble out a 21-13 victory and remain undefeated six games into the season.
"We just had too many penalties and a few other mistakes that cost us," said Skyview receiver and defensive back Mark McGarry, who had an interception, a touchdown catch and 84 yards receiving. "Mistakes are what decides football games."
Unfortunately for the Panthers, statistics like total yards on offense do not. With McGarry trading offensive heroics with Kenai's Cory Janson, who rushed for 98 yards and two touchdowns, Skyview rolled up 187 yards of total offense to Kenai's 167.
But that 20 yards in total offense could not make up for a 4-1 deficit in the turnover column or losing 117 yards on 15 penalties while Kenai lost 85 yards on 10 infractions.
Skyview's first big mistake came right at the beginning of the second quarter. Kenai had controlled field position the entire first quarter, and had started a drive on the Skyview 27-yard line.
The Panthers defense stuffed Janson three times to force Kenai into a fourth-and-seven, but then Skyview jumped offside to make it a fourth-and-two. Kenai converted that play, and with 9:12 left in the first half Dakota Craig finished off the drive with a 4-yard touchdown.
On the second play of Skyview's next series, Panthers quarterback Ely Evanson fumbled on a broken play. Craig pounced on the gift at the Skyview 25.
Janson ate up those 25 yards on four quick runs, the last a 4-yard touchdown plunge with 3:46 left in the half.
"Both of those mistakes by Skyview were huge," said Kenai coach Jim Beeson. "Someone must be looking out for us this year. Things are just working out for us."
When Kenai got the ball back on its own 43 with 16 seconds left in the half and the game in control, it was time for the Kardinals to commit their gaffe.
McGarry intercepted Kenai quarterback Michael Tunseth on the Skyview 40 and returned it to the Kenai 14.
"Momentum is a big thing in football," Skyview coach Wade Marcuson said of the pick. "That play changed the momentum."
Said Beeson: "I got greedy when I should have had him take a knee and go into halftime leading 14-0. I told him to throw it outside where only our guy could catch it, but it wasn't a good call on my part."
McGarry kept the momentum arrow pointing purple when he caught a 7-yard touchdown pass with no time showing on the clock. McGarry wrestled the ball away from the Kenai defender on the reception.
"That changed the game," said Skyview lineman Ryan Staab. "We went into halftime knowing we were still in it."
In the second half, Janson and McGarry traded big plays as both sides played to a standstill.
On Kenai's lone scoring drive of the half, Janson covered 15 of the drive's 38 yards on a running play where he smacked into the middle of the line, yet somehow bounced outside for a big gain. Janson ended the drive on a 7-yard score that gave Kenai a 21-7 lead with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
On Skyview's lone scoring drive, McGarry covered 24 of the drive's 53 yards when he plucked a bomb from Evanson out of the air. Adam Kosydar capped the march with a 3-yard score with 7:22 left in the game.
The Panthers got the ball back with 3:43 left on their 43, but on the first play Janson came out of nowhere to pick off an Evanson sideline bomb.
"I just stuck my arm out and I thought I'd just knocked the ball down, but then it bounced into my arms," Janson said. "I was happy. That was a big momentum change."
Skyview got the ball back again needing to drive 85 yards in 51 seconds, but never threatened the end zone.
Skyview quarterback Ely Evanson misses an attack from Kenai's Dane Myers in the first quarter Friday.
Photo by M. SCOTT MOON
Beeson said he would accept the less-than-pretty win because two of his five starting offensive linemen were ineligible this week, forcing Jacob La Shot and Jason Brown to take crash courses on playing on the offensive line.
Although his team is all but eliminated from the playoff race at 1-2 in the conference and 3-3 overall, Marcuson thought the game represented a coming of age for his underclassmen.
With three inside linebackers out, Marcuson was particularly pleased with the way Kosydar, a junior, and Billy Honeysett, a sophomore, plugged that gap.
KARDINALS 21, PANTHERS 13
Kenai 0 14 7 0 -- 21
Skyview 0 7 0 6 -- 13
Ken -- Craig 4 run (Montgomery kick), 9:12
Ken -- Janson 4 run (Montgomery kick), 3:46
Sky -- McGarry 9 pass from Evanson (Beever kick), :00
Ken -- Janson 7 run (Montgomery kick), 1:43
Sky -- Kosydar 3 run (kick failed), 7:22
First downs 8 8
Rushes-yards 51-152 35-97
Passing yards 15 90
Return yards 56 44
Passing 1-5-1 5-16-2
Punts-avg 6-33.8 5-32.6
Fumbles-lost 3-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 10-85 15-117
Rushing -- Kenai: Tunseth 11-27, Janson 23-98, Craig 17-27. Skyview: Kosydar 11-48, Reeve 13-42, Evanson 9-(-1), Quelland 2-8.
Passing -- Kenai: Tunseth 1-5-1-15. Skyview: Evanson 5-16-2-90.
Receiving -- Kenai: Janson 1-15. Skyview: Quelland 1-4, McGarry 4-86.
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