Kenai Central High School's Dakota Craig said there wasn't a lot of skill involved in blocking kicks -- just a lot of drive and determination.
Craig used every bit of drive he had Saturday to block a Homer extra-point attempt with 33 seconds left in the game to preserve the Kardinals' one-point lead and secure a 10-9 Northern Lights Conference victory at Ed Hollier Field.
"It's just watching the ball and going through as hard as you can," said Craig, whose block assured Homer wouldn't dampen homecoming festivities. "You keep going -- even if you fall down, you get up and keep going.
"Sometimes you get blocked, but when you do get through, it's a great feeling -- especially when that's the game-winning point."
The Mariners had come up with a huge special teams play of their own to set up their touchdown drive. Homer blocked a Kenai punt and recovered the ball on the Kardinals 41-yard line, then put together a seven-play drive, getting a big 7-yard run and a third-and-five from Luke Roberts and a pass for 18 yards from Aaron Smith to Sam Ingram on a third-and-four.
The pass set the Mariners up with a first-and-goal on the Kenai 5-yard line, a distance Roberts covered in one carry for the touchdown.
After the Kardinals blocked the extra point, Homer's attempt at an onside kick failed and Kenai quarterback Michael Tunseth was able to take a knee to end the game.
"We probably should've went for two," said Mariners head coach Todd Phillips. "I thought, tie it, get into overtime and take our chances from there."
Kenai head coach Jim Beeson said he was surprised to see the Mariners line up for the kick.
"We've worked at blocking kicks all season," Beeson said. "I thought we had a better chance of stopping a kick."
The Mariners scored the first points of the game on a 25-yard field goal by Joe Pfiel, set up when David Drake returned the opening kickoff 80 yards to the Kenai 7-yard line.
Kenai was able to capitalize on a pair of Homer special teams mistakes.
The Kardinals put their first points on the board via a safety when a Homer long snap carried out of the back of the end zone 1:41 into the second quarter.
Kenai took advantage of another bad long snap by the Mariners, this time getting the ball on Homer's 4-yard line with 1:11 left in the first half.
Cory Janson picked up three yards on first down, but Homer's defense knocked Kenai fullback Wally Ward backward as he hit the line of scrimmage on second down.
Kenai managed to punch the ball in on third down as Janson followed Ward's lead block into the end zone.
The Kardinals went for two points on the conversion, and quarterback Michael Tunseth was able to roll out to his right and connect with Drew Cramer in the end zone for a 10-3 Kenai lead.
"That was really a no-brainer," Beeson said of the decision to go for two. "We had to get up by seven. Six does us no good -- that turned out to be a huge, huge play for us."
Kenai and Homer played to a stalemate through the third quarter and most of the fourth. Both offense had limited success moving the ball while both defenses were able to prevent any big plays.
"We knew Homer was going to come out and whack us," Beeson said. "We kept hoping Cory would break one. In the second half, we got more conservative with our play calling. We were just going to play for field position."
The Mariners foiled that plan with their blocked punt, but the Kardinals still managed the win to improve to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the NLC. The win assures Kenai of a spot in the small-schools playoffs.
"That's typical of our season -- nothing spectacular, but finding a way to win games," Beeson said. "A win's a win. I'll take it."
Kenai will host Soldotna next week.
The Mariners, now 5-2 overall and 1-2 in the NLC, have one conference game left at home next week against Ketchikan.
KARDINALS 10, MARINERS 9
Homer 3 0 0 6 -- 9
Kenai 0 10 0 0 -- 10
Hom -- Pfiel 25 field goal, 10:26
Ken -- Safety, ball snapped out of end zone, 10:19
Ken -- Janson 1 run (Cramer pass from Tunseth), 0:38
Hom -- Roberts 5 run (kick blocked), 0:33
First downs 7 11
Rushes-yards 44-85 50-143
Passing yards 46 51
Return yards 16 0
Passing 4-9-0 3-11-0
Punts-avg 2-25.0 5-23.0
Fumbles-lost 5-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 7-44 5-55
Rushing -- Homer: Roberts 16-57, Smith 19-28, Ingram 3-11, Drake 5-11, Pfiel 1-(-22). Kenai: Janson 27-77, Ward 10-37, Tunseth 12-28, Craig 1-1.
Passing -- Homer: Smith 4-9-0--46. Kenai: Tunseth 3-10-0--51, Janson 0-1-0--0.
Receiving -- Homer: Ingram 1-18, Crandall 1-17, Cousins 1-8, Roberts 1-3. Kenai: Janson 2-38, Cramer 1-13.
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