Bryce Gardner wraps up Markus Quint on Friday.
Photo by Jeff Helminiak
Hardly tested this year, the season opener against North Pole the only true battle, Soldotna was finally pushed around a little by visiting Skyview on Friday night.
When they were able to tame the Panthers, however, the Stars next opponent became themselves.
Uncharacteristically penalized eight times for 75 yards, Soldotna overcame adversity for perhaps the first time in seven weeks, keeping the Panthers out of the end zone in earning an impressive 48-0 Northern Lights Conference victory entering next Saturday's showdown at Kenai. Soldotna now owns a 17-1 edge in the series with Skyview.
"You would think that we're the undisciplined team by the way the penalties shook out. I know we're better than that and we'll try and execute better next week," said SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. "The one thing we told our kids is Kenai is 40 points better than Skyview. If we come out flat, it's going to be a rough day. We have to find a way to get ourselves ready to play."
Kyle Wood struggles forward for a few more yards as Adam Byrne wraps him up on Friday night at Soldotna High School.
Photo by Jeff Helminiak
It shouldn't be too hard, considering if the Stars lose to the Kardinals, despite already owning an unblemished record with four conference victories, they'll be locked in a three-way deadlock for first place with Kenai and Kodiak, a coin flip then determining which two advance to the postseason.
"If Kenai wins, they have a 66 percent chance at going to the playoffs," Brantley said. "So their season hinges on us."
Both seasons, however, will most likely rest on the shoulders of the state's best running back, Kenai senior Bill Chimphalee, who's already rushed for 1,899 yards and 31 touchdowns, both tops in the state.
"Kenai's, I would say a better team than Skyview a far better team than Skyview. If we come out flat, it's going to be a good game," said Stars junior quarterback Anthony Griglione, who threw for one touchdown and rushed for another on Friday night. "We need to come out fired up, find that next level. It's a matter of kids turning it on in themselves. It's not coaches. Coaches tried to get us fired up, we just came out flat (Friday) and we can't do that against Kenai."
Having seen Chimphalee play, Griglione is confident the Stars can contain him even if he does carry the ball 47 times like he did two weeks ago at Skyview.
"All the hype about Chimphalee and everything, we're really going to focus on stopping him. I think we'll get it done," he said. "He's a good player. He would definitely start for us if he came to SoHi.
"I kind of disagree with their offensive coordinator giving him the ball 50 times a game because I know how hard it is to get the ball. It's obviously successful. I mean, they're winning games still," Griglione added. "I just think against a bigger line likes ours, it's not going to be worth anything really.
"Our line is so much superior to theirs. We have a lot of experience."
The Stars didn't show it early.
Used to scoring on the first play from scrimmage, it took two against the Panthers, as senior Marvin Tate scampered 67 yards for a 7-0 lead only 21 seconds into the game.
From there, though, SoHi's defense bent but didn't break and the offense, one of the most potent in school history, sputtered before stalling.
The Panthers managed to move the ball on the traditionally stiff Stars' defense, racking up three first downs on their opening possession before quarterback Matt Meade was hit from the left by Josh DeTavernier while his arm was in motion, the ball falling into Tate's hands.
But after holding penalty canceled a long run by Griglione, a deep completion to Timo Gleason also was nullified for having an illegal man downfield.
Griglione punted three plays later.
"Their defense was good, surprisingly good," Griglione said. "I heard all week that Skyview's defense is going to be flying around the football, but that was a big surprise to me."
After picking up their fourth first down of the game, the Panthers (3-4 overall, 1-3 NLC) were also forced to punt, Michael Thornton booting it to Bryce Gardner, who returned it 85 yards untouched for a 14-0 lead.
When the Stars offense touched the ball again, it was more of the same.
A 20-yard jaunt by Tate set them up at the Skyview 28 before three consecutive penalties offensive pass interference, unsportsmanlike conduct and a false start set up fourth-and-42 at their own 44-yard line.
"I think when we have the football, we're dangerous. We're our own worst enemy. Penalties and turnovers are what can stop us," Brantley said. "I don't think there's anybody else out there that can stop our offense at this point."
The Stars' defense then stepped up, getting the ball back for the offense on the very next play, intercepting a Rem West pass at the Panthers' 38.
After another false start, Gardner scampered for 10 yards and Griglione found a wide-open Gleason for a 31-yard scoring strike. On their next possession, Gardner found the end zone from 4 yards out and all of a sudden, the Stars opened up a 28-0 advantage.
Another three-and-out by Skyview gave SoHi the ball with 3:32 left in the first half, which, for that offense, is way too much time.
The Stars, however, required only 1:08 of that, marching 43 yards on four plays, Griglione capping the drive with an 8-yard keeper to the left for a 35-0 edge at halftime.
Soldotna later tacked on 13 more points on perhaps their most time-consuming drives of the season.
Junior Kyle Wood completed a nine-play, 3:50 drive with a 3-yard TD run late in the third and Gardner scored his third touchdown of the game, capping a 65-yard, three minute march with a 39-yard scamper up the middle.
"That's the way football should work. You shouldn't be able to come out and score on a play," Brantley said. "Skyview stepped up and they had a great defensive scheme and their kids executed it well and they slowed us down and moved the ball on us. They played a great ballgame."
One major setback for Soldotna, however, was a dislocated shoulder suffered by starting linebacker and placekicker Justice Elson, who Brantley said will miss the Kenai game with the playoffs, should they reach them, still up in the air.
"We're nervous," he said. "He's been our guy all year and we've been able to hang our hat on him."
Despite the lopsided score, Panthers' coach Jerry Byrne was impressed with his team's play.
"Our kids were looking forward to the game and we knew they're big, they're strong, they're quick in the back and we just did our best and I think the kids felt good about the game," he said. "I'm pleased with the way they did. Looking at the game, there's a lot more than what the score reveals. I'm just thrilled with them.
"They played them tough," Byrne added. "I think they probably played them tougher than a lot of the teams."
Having now played both SoHi and Kenai, Byrne shares the opinion of many on next week's highly anticipated showdown.
"It's going to be SoHi," he said. "Oh yeah, without question."
The countdown is on.
STARS 48, PANTHERS 0
Skyview 0 0 0 0 0
Soldotna 14 21 7 6 48
Sol Tate 67 run (Elson kick), 11:39
Sol Gardner 85 punt return (Elson return), 1:15
Sol Gleason 31 pass from Griglione (Elson kick), 9:31
Sol Gardner 4 run (Elson kick), 5:38
Sol Griglione 8 run (Elson kick), 2:24
Sol Wood 3 run from (Elson kick), 4:11
Sol Gardner 39 run (kick failed), 11:49
First downs 8 11
Rushes-yards 46-86 41-342
Passing yards 7 55
Passing 1-6-2 3-9-0
Punts-avg 5-26.4 2-36
Fumbles-lost 1-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 4-30 8-75
Rushing Skyview: Lapp 8-32, Quint 12-29, Meade 12-4, Fine 2-2, Cobb 5-17, Thornton 4-(-4), Bennett 2-2, West 1-0. Soldotna: Tate 7-141, Wood 6-43, Gardner 9-88, Griglione 6-54, Nolden 2-6, Aberkane 1-5, Moiles 1-5.
Passing Skyview: Meade 1-4-1-7, Thornton 0-1-0-0, West 0-1-1-0. Soldotna: Griglione 3-8-0-55, Tate 0-1-0-0.
Receiving Skyview: Shirnberg 1-7. Soldotna: Gleason 3-55.
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