The Soldotna High School football team took care of business Saturday, defeating the visiting Kodiak Bears 59-14 in a pivotal Northern Lights Conference tilt at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
While the Stars certainly were the favorites, Kodiak has been the surprise of the conference this season and entered Saturday's game with a pair of NLC victories. A Kodiak win against Soldotna would have put the Bears into a tie for second place in the conference, and given them a shot at the postseason.
Soldotna did not take the Bears lightly, though.
"We prepped all week for Kodiak," said Soldotna's Brett Toering. "We knew this game would determine whether we got into the playoffs or not."
The attention to detail paid dividends as the Stars opened the game with a nine-play, 62-yard drive, capped by an 11-yard touchdown on a quarterback keeper by Cameron Schneider.
Toering put the Stars up by another touchdown just 19 seconds later, intercepting a pass on Kodiak's first play from scrimmage and returning it 44 yard to the end zone.
Soldotna's Neil Gardner makes a hit on Kodiak's Brad Zemke with help from Jake Shapley (62) and Brandy Goracke in the third quarter Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"I was just doing my job," Toering said of his effort, which netted him three interceptions on the day, tying the school record set by Shaun Williams. "We figured they were going to throw, but I didn't think they were going to throw that much. It was just being in the right place at the right time."
The Stars stuck to the ground, though, amassing 422 rushing yards. Dan Ghormley led the squad with 180 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns while Garrett Gardner ran for 164 yards on 10 carries and scored three touchdowns.
Most of Gardner's yards came via the option. Kodiak's defense was keyed in to Schneider as he ran the sweep play to the outside, but Gardner, the pitch man, often went untouched as he streaked up the sideline after receiving the ball.
"We ran quite a bit of option," Schneider said, adding that he liked the play. "They kept giving it to us, so we kept running it. We've been working on the option quite a bit this week."
Neil Gardner added a touchdown for the Stars in the third quarter on a 9-yard run, and Brandy Goracke rounded off the Soldotna scoring with a fourth-quarter touchdown.
The Bears scored both of their touchdowns through the air in the fourth quarter.
Kodiak head coach Ken Cole said he was proud that his squad never gave up, but said it wasn't his team's best effort.
"When we play as 11 brothers, we're hard to beat, when we don't, we're easy to beat, like anybody else," Cole said.
Assistant coach Larry Cole added that the team made a few mistakes early, but instead of regrouping, things snowballed.
"After halftime, we made some adjustments and told the guys to go on and have some fun. We played a much better second half," he said.
Kodiak completes its NLC schedule with a 2-2 mark. The Bears, 4-2 overall, will wrap up their season at home against Houston Saturday.
Soldotna improves to 4-3 overall and 3-0 in the conference. The Stars will visit Kenai for an NLC title showdown Saturday.
Stars 59, Bears 14
Kodiak 0 0 0 14 14
Soldotna 19 26 7 7 59
Sol Schneider 11 run (Tachick kick), 8:00
Sol Toering 44 interception return (kick failed), 7:41
Sol G. Gardner 38 run (run failed), 3:08
Sol G. Gardner 16 run (kick failed), 9:35
Sol G. Gardner 53 run (kick failed), 7:48
Sol Ghormley 1 run (Tachick kick), 6:22
Sol Ghormley 8 run (Tachick kick), 2:23
Sol N. Gardner 9 run (Tachick kick), 2:20
Kod Keplinger 15 pass from Valdez (Deal kick), 10:41
Sol B. Goracke 6 run (Tachick kick), 9:09
Kod Doctolero 5 pass from Valdez (Deal kick), 2:52
First downs 12 18
Rushes-yards 26-77 63-422
Passing yards 133 0
Return yards 0 75
Passing 15-25-4 0-1-0
Punts-avg 4-27.3 1-34.0
Fumbles-lost 4-2 3-2
Penalties-yards 5-50 3-20
Rushing Kodiak: Zemke 14-48, Valdez 1-14, Doctolero 5-12, Holden 6-3. Soldotna: Ghormley 24-180, G. Gardner 10-164, J. Goracke 4-40, Schneider 7-33, N. Gardner 3-32, B. Goracke 4-12, Cameron 3-6, Pfaffe 6-(-19), Hicks 2-(-26).
Passing Kodiak: Valdez 8-12-182, Holden 7-12-351, Zemke 0-1-00. Soldotna: Schneider 0-1-00.
Receiving Kodiak: Keplinger 5-74, Zemke 5-33, Doctolero 3-14, McFarland 2-12.
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