Kenai squeaked out an 8-7 Northern Lights Conference victory over upset-minded Homer Saturday to keep its playoff hopes alive.
And, as the score suggests, it wasn’t easy.
The Mariners defense keyed on the Kardinals star running back, Bill Chimphalee, all game, holding him to just a season-low 62 yards on 27 carries. And with two minutes remaining, Homer put together its best offensive drive of the game.
Using a mix of pass plays and runs, including two big catches for Collin Hagen, and a nifty screen pass to Noah McWilliams, the Mariners drove 74 yards to the Kenai 5-yard line.
Instead of trying for a winning field goal with just 3 seconds remaining, however, Homer hiked the ball to Mariner quarterback Taylor Layland, who scrambled right to find an open receiver. And his pass was knocked down by a Kenai defender in the end zone as time expired.
Kenai coach Jim Beeson said he was happy with the result, despite watching his team play subpar football.
“That’s what I told the kids, a win is a win and no matter what the final score is we won the game,” he said. “Sometimes when you don’t play your best and you win the football game, you can take as much from that as when you do play well and win the football game.”
The Kardinals took the early lead as quarterback Daniel Gustkey found Travis Pierce for a 9-yard touchdown pass on Kenai’s first possession. The Kardinals set up to kick the extra point, but Homer was called offside on the play, which moved the ball inside the 2-yard line.
Beeson decided to go for two and Gustkey dove in to make the score 8-0. That lead held into the third quarter, until Layland scored Homer’s only touchdown while playing defense by returning an interception 65 yards for a score.
With 9:46 remaining in the third quarter, the Mariners kicked the point after instead of trying to tie the game with a two-point coversion of their own, a move that left several fans and Beeson scratching his head.
“I was real surprised,” Beeson said. “One point doesn’t do you any good there. I thought they were going to line up and fake it.”
The game turned into a defensive struggle from then on, as neither team could mount much of a drive.
Kenai managed just one first down for the rest of the game while Homer fumbled away one promising drive and Chimphalee took another away with an interception.
“Our kids made plays when they had to make plays, and that’s the bottom line,” said Beeson. “When we played Kodiak we didn’t make plays in those situations and we folded. At least we made plays when we had to make plays. We gave the people their money’s worth, obviously.”
Kenai plays Soldotna next weekend for a share of the Northern Lights Conference title.
Homer hosts Syview for their homecoming game.
Ben Stuart is a reporter for the Homer News.
Kardinals 8, Mariners 7
Kenai 8 0 0 0 8
Homer 0 0 7 0 7
KEN Gustkey 9 yd pass to Pierce (Gustkey run), 2:53
HOM Layland 65 yd int return (Hagen Kick), 9:46
First Downs 8 14
Rushes-yards 43-107 32-95
Passing yards 41 113
Comp-att-int 3-10-2 8-18-2
Return yards 45 58
Punts-average 4-33.5 3-26.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 2-2
Penalties-yards 8-79 7-35
Rushing Kenai: Chimphalee, 27-65, Graham 11-40, Gustkey 5-5. Homer: McWilliams
13-59, Hagen 12-24, Layland 7-12.
Passing Kenai: Gustkey 3-10-2-41. Homer: Layland 8-18-2-113.
Receiving Kenai: Graham 1-26, Pierce 1-9, Smith 1-6. Homer: Leman 3-53, Frink
2-25, Hagen 2-24, McWilliams 1-11.
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