For a quarter and a half Friday night, the Homer Mariners played like a team fighting for its playoff life.
In the end, however, the visiting Kenai Kardinals showed too much depth, too much defense and too much Dakota Craig, taking the Northern Lights Conference Game 34-0 and eliminating Homer from playoff contention.
Craig finished the game with 150 yards on 26 carries. He scored the first of two touchdowns late in the first quarter on a 25-yard run after leaping over a defender at the 15-yard line.
The Kardinals lead was then doubled in the second quarter after the defense took over the scoring duties.
With six minutes left in the half, and the Mariners driving, quarterback Canyon McKinstry fumbled the ball on what looked like a pass attempt. Papapa Nicholas, all 6-foot-4 and 290 pounds of him, picked up the ball and, to the delight of a large Kenai contingent in the Homer stands, returned it 46 yards for the touchdown.
"We just made his year," said Mariner Camron Hagen after the game. "It was a good game the first half, we came fighting the fight, and 14-0 is not that big of a lead."
Any hopes the Mariners had of coming back in the second half, however, vanished before the third quarter even began.
On the second-half kickoff, the Mariners booted the ball out of bounds three times in a row. Each kick brought with it a 5-yard penalty, pushing the Mariners back until they were kicking off from their own 20-yard line.
The Kardinals finally received a kick they could field and returned it to the Homer 45 to start the second half.
Four minutes later Tyler Chappell punched it in from 5 yards out for 20-0 Kardinal lead.
"Our goal was to get the first strike in both halves," said Kenai Central coach Jim Beeson. "We had a key third down play and scored right away. It took some of the wind out of their sails."
Homer coach Kelly Blake agreed.
"It's hard to stop them when they only have 35 or 40 yards to go," he said. "We were trying, trying to make a game of it."
For the first half, the Mariners did, Beeson said.
"Any time you play Homer here you know it's going to be a physical game," he said. "I told the kids that this is their playoffs. We needed to match their intensity."
Craig found the end zone again late in the third quarter and Ronnie Rainey caught a 15-yard pass for a score in the fourth.
The Mariners host Seward for homecoming Friday. With the playoffs now out of reach, Blake said running the table on the rest of the season is the new goal.
"We can still go 5-3, which is respectable," he said. "We're still building, growing the program."
Kenai improves to 2-0 in NLC play and faces Skyview next week.
Ben Stuart can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kardinals 34, Mariners 0
Kenai 7 7 13 7 34
Homer 0 0 0 0 0
Ken Craig 25 run (Kim kick), 0:38
Ken Nicholas 46 fumble return (Kim kick), 6:00
Ken Chappell 5 run (kick failed), 8:03
Ken Craig 17 run (Kim kick), 4:24
Ken Rainey 15 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 8:50
First downs 10 8
Rushes-yards 46-191 28-64
Passing yards 15 90
Return yards 201 70
Passes 1-2-0 7-12-0
Punts-avg 3-26.6 4-14.5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 15-65 16-85
Rushing Kenai: Craig 26-150, Hanson 5-20, Miles 5-18, Rainey 3-5, Chappell 7-(-2). Homer: West 14-33, McKinstry 7-12, Hoanin 2-9, McWilliams 3-9, Hagen 2-1.
Passing Kenai: Chappell 1-2-0-15. Homer: McKinstry 7-12-0-90.
Receiving Kenai: Rainey 1-15. Homer: Moffett 2-45, Hoanin 1-24, McWilliams 1-14, West 2-7, Smith 1-0.
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