Explosive offensive numbers have buoyed Soldotna’s ascent to the top of the Northern Lights Conference.
Defense, however, has been consistent throughout the season. And Saturday afternoon the Stars smothered yet another victim.
Soldotna held the state’s leading rusher in check and claimed a 50-7 triumph before a capacity homecoming crowd at Skyview. The Stars clinched no worse than a share for the NLC championship, although no playoff berth is assured with three teams still in the running for two spots.
Soldotna (6-1, 4-0 NLC) tries to claim the title outright Saturday when it hosts Kenai (3-1 NLC), which eliminated Homer from contention. Kodiak (3-1 NLC) also is in contention.
As if the Stars didn’t already have motivation against Skyview senior Greg Bosick (averaging 170.6 yards per game, 7.3 yards per carry, 13 touchdowns), head coach Sarge Truesdell’s staff added a little more before the game.
“Before the game, coach gave us a sticker for the front of our helmet with Bosick’s number,” senior defensive lineman Billy Dooley said.
And the Stars responded by sticking the tireless Bosick routinely. Bosick eventually finished with 119 yards on 22 carries, but he only gained 52 in 16 bruising efforts against the Stars’ first stringers.
“We worked hard all week, fine-tuning against what they liked to do,” added junior defensive lineman Matthew Strieby. “We worked on gap control, and making sure not to over-run the play.”
Truesdell began by asking his linebackers and defensive backs to cheat up, playing for the run and essentially daring the Panthers (3-4, 1-3 NLC) to pass.
“After the second or third series, I told our DBs to play soft,” Truesdell said. “Our line was making tackles, which in our defense, that’s not necessarily how it’s designed.”
Dooley, Strieby, senior Austin Roberts and senior Jose Gomez overwhelmed the Panthers’ underclassmen interior of Richie Shirnberg, Patrick Sheridan, Mahan Kenneth, Josh DeTavernier and Brady Jones. Linebackers Mike Reed (senior) and junior Tim Gleason joined senior end Kelley Seggermen and junior end Marvin Tate several times at either the line of scrimmage or behind it, with Bosick as the meeting point.
“They only pass about 5 percent of the time,” Dooley said. “If we stopped the run, there was nothing they could do.”
Meanwhile the Stars’ offense remained prolific in the wing T, chewing away clock and opponent with precision. Soldotna scored on seven of 10 possessions, punting on two of its first three and ending the game with the second-stringers driving at the Skyview 30.
The Stars have touchdowns on a staggering 16 of 22 possessions over the last two Saturdays against Skyview and Nikiski, the latter of which is still in playoff contention.
“They had physically superior kids up front,” Skyview head coach Phil Sheridan said of the Stars’ defense. “We couldn’t get everybody blocked. They were bigger and more experienced.
“A lot of teams have a great back, and everybody knows he’ll get the football. You try to block the point of attack. You’ve got to keep trying.”
Sheridan was pleased his defense forced punts twice in the first quarter. But he lamented big plays later that led to the crushing margin.
Soldotna junior Bryce Gardner was the catalyst for the early breakaway. His 28-yard punt return set up the second touchdown a 33-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Anthony Griglione to Gardner.
Gardner then went 48 yards for a one-play scoring drive, upping the lead to 22-0 with 7:40 to play before half. Reed had a run of 24 yards, Gardner one for 25 with a 15-yard Skyview penalty added to it, and Reed hauled in a 14-yard reception as the Stars covered 86 yards in seven snaps to lead 30-0 just 64 ticks before intermission. The TD came on a 7-yard look-in pass to tight end Seggerman on fourth down.
After seniors Shea Jackinsky and Zach Walgenbach were crowned queen and king for homecoming, the Stars padded the margin. Gardner ran 11 yards for a score, Gleason took a 3-yard pass from Griglione for a score and Seggerman ran 5 yards to the end zone and a 50-0 lead.
Sophomore Justice Elson was 4-for-4 on extra points, and Gleason threw conversion passes from fake kick plays to both Tate and Reed, who scored the Stars’ first TD from 17 yards out.
Bosick went 12 yards for Skyview’s lone score with 4:15 to play, having carried all six downs of the 62-yard drive.
Gardner finished with 219 all-purpose yards rushing for 133 on 11 carries, returning two punts 37 yards, catching a 33-yard pass and returning a kickoff 16 yards. Griglione was 6 of 9 for 90 yards.
Defensively, seniors Richard Hatt and Jonny Coreson picked off passes while Hatt also forced a fumble. Tate led the tacklers with eight, while Strieby, Dooley and Reed had five each.
Bosick led the Skyview defense with 12 tackles and forced a fumble. Seniors Jake Bauer and Rusty Singleton combined on a hit to force a fumble. Bauer and junior Eddie Buffington added five tackles each.
“We started so slow,” Truesdell said of his team’s offense this season. “But this is more what we envisioned during the off-season. Then, three or four weeks into the season, we had terrible performances. It’s starting to click. This is what we had in mind.”
Stars 50, Panthers 7
Soldotna 7 23 13 7 50
Skyview 0 0 0 7 7
Sol Reed 17 run (Elson kick), 4:31.
Sol Gardner 33 pass from Griglione (Tate pass from Griglione), 8:23.
Sol Gardner 48 run (Elson kick), 7:40.
Sol Seggerman 7 pass from Griglione (Reed pass from Gleason), 1:04.
Sol Gardner 11 run (kick failed), 9:33.
Sol Gleason 3 pass from Griglione (Elson kick), 3:08.
Sol Seggerman 5 run (Elson kick), 9:35.
Sky Bosick 12 run (Bauer kick), 4:15.
First downs 22 10
Rushes-yards 46-342 31-154
Passing yards 90 43
Passes 6-9-0 2-9-2
Return yards 128 0
Punts-Ave. 2-36.5 6-28.8
Fumbles-lost 2-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 6-61 5-35
RUSHING Soldotna: Ciufo 1-5, Hatt 1-3, Tachick 2-12, Coreson 2-11, Seggerman 2-9, Greglione 8-55, Tate 10-40, Gardner 11-133, Reed 9-74; Skyview: Bosick 22-119, Buffington 4-25, Cobb 3-13, Bauer 2-(-3).
PASSING Soldotna: Griglione 6-9-0, 90 yards; Skyview: Bosick 3-6-1, 43 yards; Buffington, 0-3-1.
RECEIVING Soldotna: Gardner 1-33, Reed 1-14, Seggerman 2-31, Gleason 2-12; Skyview: Buffington 2-36, Blossom 1-7.
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