The Kenai Central High School football team knew its defense was good. The only question heading into Saturday's Northern Lights Conference showdown with Skyview was whether or not the offense could put some points on the scoreboard.
"We knew we could make the plays on defense," said Kenai lineman Dane Myers. "We just needed the offense to start clicking. It did."
The Kardinals scored a pair of second-half touchdowns to defeat the Panthers 12-0 and, more importantly, clinch the second NLC spot in the small-schools playoffs. The Kardinals will visit Nikiski for the first round of the playoffs, with the kickoff scheduled for 4:30 p.m. Friday.
"It was good to get over that hump," said Kenai coach Jim Beeson.
It took the Kardinals two quarters of trying before they got over that hump. Skyview carried the momentum through the first half, though neither team could punch the ball into the end zone.
"I thought at the half we were beating them everywhere but on the scoreboard," said Skyview coach Wade Marcuson. "We were moving the chains. We just didn't take advantage of the chances they gave us, and that's what you've got to do if they're going to turn the ball over."
In fact, the Kardinals coughed the ball up three times in the first half. Skyview ventured as far as the Kenai 26-yard line, but never got any closer to the Kardinals end zone.
Marcuson pointed to a dropped pass and a play the Panthers thought should have been pass interference as prime examples of missed opportunities in the first half.
"We were moving the ball pretty well and playing some pretty tough defense," said Skyview's Stryder Reilly. "The line was playing great, making great blocks.
"Ryan Staab, Chris Rice -- they played their hearts out."
The second half proved to be a different story as the Kardinals made some adjustments to their running game.
"In the first half we tried to go with two quicker backs and run some option stuff," Beeson said. "We just went back to our two backs, with (Justin) Hogue at fullback and (Jeff) Jackson at halfback."
The switch paid off on Kenai's second possession of the third quarter, which the Kardinals started on the Skyview 24-yard line after recovering a Panther fumble.
Kenai took eight plays to cover that distance. Six of those plays, including the 2-yard touchdown run, were carries by Jackson in which he simply tucked the ball away and followed Hogue's blocks through the hole.
"Our game plan was just to come out and get 3 yards on every play and drive the ball," said Kenai's Ross Baldwin.
Putting points on the board gave both the Kardinals' offensive and defensive units a boost heading into the final quarter.
"After that possession, the whole momentum of the football game changed," Beeson said.
Keeping the ball on the ground, the Kardinals ate up clock with a sustained drive in the fourth quarter.
The 14-play drive ended when the Kardinals fumbled the ball on a fourth-and-seven play, but Tyler Burt got the ball right back when he recorded his second interception of the game.
With just 1:47 on the clock, the Kardinals were content to run some more time off the clock.
Wally Ward's quarterback keeper on first down at the Skyview 13 went for one yard. Kenai called the same play on second down, only this time Ward broke through for a 12-yard touchdown run.
"We were just hacking away, getting whatever yards we could," Myers said. "When he broke it, that was awesome -- we knew the game was ours."
While Marcuson was disappointed with some mistakes he saw on the field, he was impressed with the way his quarterback, Ely Evanson, kept the Panthers motivated.
"Ely did a good job of leading this team -- he was throwing the ball right on the money on a rainy day," Marcuson said. "Carey Johnson had a good game at tackle and Ryan Mallett has had a great season."
In addition to leading the Kardinals with 84 yards on 30 carries, Jackson came up with an interception on defense while Sepa Nicholas-Silvira and Dominic Plasencia were frequent visitors in the Skyview backfield.
"We're just going to enjoy this one," Myers said. "Then we're going to get ready for the rematch with Nikiski."
KARDINALS 12, PANTHERS 0
Skyview 0 0 0 0 --0
Kenai 0 0 6 6 --12
Ken -- Jackson 2 run (kick failed), 4:47
Ken -- Ward 12 run (kick failed), 1:01
First downs 6 9
Rushes-yards 40-64 50-175
Passing yards 4 0
Return yards 2 43
Passing 2-16-3 0-1-0
Punts-avg 6-30.7 5-26.0
Fumbles-lost 5-2 10-6
Penalties-yards 10-73 6-45
Rushing -- Skyview: Reilly 11-73, Leach 14-21, Childers 5-14, Dalebout 1-1, Evanson 9-(-45). Kenai: Jackson 30-84, Janson 10-67, Ward 7-18, Hogue 2-4, Baldwin 1-2.
Passing -- Skyview: Evanson 2-16-3-4. Kenai: Ward 0-1-0-0.
Receiving -- Skyview: Mallett 1-7, Leach 1-(-3).
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