Nikisk's Jared Mazurek attempts to take down SoHi's Garrett Gardner in the third quarter Saturday in Soldotna.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
It took just under two minutes of football for the Soldotna Stars to send the Nikiski Bulldogs back to the dog pound Saturday.
That's how long it took SoHi's Mike Reed to find the end zone on a 14-yard touchdown run that began a 20-point first quarter, as the Stars rolled to an easy 42-20 win at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
Reed's touchdown was followed less than two minutes later by a 1-yard Cameron Schneider touchdown plunge that put SoHi firmly in control of things.
"It absolutely could not have been better," said Soldotna head coach Sarge Truesdell of his team's dominant performance from the opening whistle.
Later in the first quarter, Garrett Gardner scored the first of his two touchdowns on a 60-yard sprint that left the Bulldogs grasping at air. Gardner was the offensive star for Soldotna, racking up 199 yards on just 13 carries with 136 of those yards coming in SoHi's explosive first quarter.
"Our offensive execution was better than it's ever been since I've been here," Truesdell said.
While Soldotna's offense was overwhelming the Nikiski defense, the SoHi defensive unit was doing its part to bottle up the normally combustible Nikiski rushing game. Soldotna's line held Nikiski running back Justin Tumbaga who came into the game as the second-leading rusher on the peninsula to only 15 first-half yards as SoHi raced to a 42-6 lead at the half.
Nikiski head coach Ned Clooten said Soldotna's defense was the key to taking his football team out of the game early.
"I thought their defensive scheme was fantastic," Clooten said.
Clooten praised Truesdell a former college teammate at Valley City State University in Valley City, N.D. for outfoxing him on this day.
"It's a chess match on offense and defense, and he's is a very good chess player," he said.
The lone bright spot for the Bulldogs in the fist half came with just seven seconds in the half, when quarterback Zech Hemphill found Israel Blatchford along the sideline for a 44-yard touchdown pass.
In the second half, Nikiski finally got some traction, as Tumbaga was able to find some room against the Soldotna reserves. He finished the game with 185 yards on 22 carries as Nikiski was able to nearly fight its way back into the game.
"I thought we finished very strong," Clooten said.
But trailing by so many points, Nikiski was simply outgunned Saturday much like last week when the Bulldogs fell big to Northern Lights Conference powerhouse Kenai. However, the loss is only a nonconference one, meaning the Bulldogs are still very much in contention to win one of the Great Land Conference's two playoff spots. Clooten said he believes his team will be able to rebound after losing its last two games by a combined 117-41.
"I have no doubt these kids will respond," he said.
Nikiski fell to 3-3 overall on the season, but is still in good shape with a 2-1 conference record, one game behind Eielson and a half game back of Seward. Nikiski's next game is at Houston. If the Bulldogs can beat the Hawks, it would set up a regular season finale at Seward with a playoff spot on the line.
As for the Stars, Soldotna got touchdowns from five different players and looked unstoppable in the first half Saturday.
Gardner said SoHi's dominance was due to its powerful offensive line. Led by seniors Matt Hicks, Dan Spindler, Kurt Romberg and Ben Breakfield, SoHi's line was able to open up big holes in the Nikiski defense, letting the lightning-quick Gardner through for a number of big gains.
"Our offensive line did a great job today," he said. "Matt Hicks is a pretty good lead blocker to run behind."
Garrett Gardner gets blocking from his teammates as he earns yardage in the second quarter of Saturday's game.
Photo by Joseph Robertia
Next up for SoHi is Kodiak, which lost 38-0 Saturday to Skyview, followed a week later by a potential conference title showdown with archrival Kenai. Truesdell said he doesn't think his team will look past the Bears this week in anticipation of the big Kenai game in the final week of the regular season.
"Kids are kids, but I'm not really worried about it with this team," he said. "They've been focused all year."
Truesdell said he just hopes to continue improving each week and come together at the right time.
"We've got to take it one game at a time," he said. "At the beginning of the year we set the goal of playing our best football at the end of the year."
With a dominant win Saturday and a 2-0 record in the NLC, it appears the Stars are doing just that.
Stars 42, Bulldogs 20
Soldotna 20 22 0 0 42
Nikiski 0 6 0 14 20
Sol Reed 14 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:03
Sol Schneider 1 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 8:12
Sol G. Gardner 60 run (kick failed), 1:26
Sol Wilbanks 45 pass from Schneider (Schneider run), 11:46
Sol G. Gardner 22 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 5:53
Sol Cameron 3 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 1:36
Nik Blatchford 41 pass from Hemphill (kick blocked), :07
Nik Tumbaga 1 run (Blatchford kick), 8:32
Nik Tumbaga 37 run (Blatchford kick), 5:54
First downs 13 12
Rushes-yards 35-281 55-242
Passing yards 83 137
Return yards 55 10
Passing 4-9-1 5-11-1
Punts-avg 4-29.0 5-26.2
Fumbles-lost 3-0 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-40 8-50
Rushing Soldotna: G. Gardner 13-199, Reed 7-39, Goracke 3-32, B. Gardner 4-21, Cameron 1-3, Tachick 1-(-1), Schneider 3-(-5), Pfaffe 1-(-8). Nikiski: Tumbaga 22-185, Mazurek 18-51, Payment 3-10, McGahan 4-(-1), Hemphill 8-(-3).
Passing Soldotna: Schneider 3-6-1-71, Besse 1-3-0-12. Nikiski: Hemphill 5-9-0-137, McGahan 0-2-1-0. (comp, att, int, yards).
Receiving Soldotna: Wilbanks 1-45, Pfaffe 1-25, B. Gardner 1-12, Reed 1-11. Nikiski: McGahan 3-62, Blatchford 1-41, Kellie 1-34.
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