With quarterback AJ Hull on the sideline due to injury, Kenai Central was steamrolled 52-8 by host Soldotna in the Northern Lights Conference championship on Saturday at Justin Maile Field. SoHi was without senior running back Phil Bennett, who suffered a separated shoulder in Week 5.
"That's a team without their heartbeat," Stars head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. "They're not the same team on offense without AJ. That's how we felt for a large portion of this season without Phil."
Kards head coach Jeff Baker didn't use the lack of Hull as an excuse.
"He's not a 52-point difference, I can tell you that much," he said. "Those kids just absolutely kicked our butts. Every single one of their players wanted it more than us."
SoHi's Auston Tennis led his team with 167 yards and four touchdowns.
"It's a championship game," Tennis said. "I came out here and played my butt off."
Blocking and determination led to the Stars' big day on offense, Tennis said.
"We were hitting our blocks," he said. "We couldn't be stopped today, and everyone had that mentality."
Tennis, Robbie Smithwick and Jared Duncan combined for 386 of SoHi's 387 total rushing yards. Smithwick collected 135 of those and one score while Duncan rushed for 84 yards and a score and caught an 11-yard touchdown pass.
"I felt really good about how all the backs prepared and ran," Brantley Jr. said.
On defense, the Stars had two interceptions -- one by Tennis and another by Noah Fowler -- and held Kenai to 190 yards of total offense, about 35 percent of which came with both team's starters on the bench.
"We have some big hitters," Tennis said. "The linemen and linebackers were taking care of it."
A face-mask penalty committed by Kenai on the game's opening kickoff put SoHi at midfield. Tennis ran in a 29-yard score on the drive's third play just 1 minute, 15 seconds, into the game.
After a three-and-out, Kenai's punter Richie Ziehmer mishandled the snap and the Stars blocked his kick, giving them possession on Kenai's 10-yard line. A holding penalty pushed the Stars back to the 18-yard line. Three consecutive Kenai penalties set up Tennis for an easy 3-yard score.
A second muffed snap by Ziehmer set up SoHi's third touchdown, a 1-yard run by Duncan. A 59-yard run for Tennis' third touchdown, a field goal by Daniel Koch and Duncan's touchdown reception gave SoHi a commanding 38-0 lead at the half.
Smithwick broke loose for a 75-yard score with under two minutes to play in the third quarter. After Tennis picked off Hayes, he took a 28-yard run to the end zone for his fourth score as time expired for a 52-0 lead after three quarters.
Freshman Levi Hansen scored Kenai's lone touchdown on a 9-yard run in the fourth quarter.
Week 8 of this season mirrors last year. The Stars downed Kenai 52-27 before losing to the Kards 21-10 in the small-schools state championship three weeks later.
"It's deja vu," Brantley Jr. said. "The challenge now is to get back there and not let history repeat itself."
Stars 52, Kardinals 8
Kenai 0 0 0 8 -- 8
SoHi 14 24 14 0 -- 52
Sol -- Tennis 29 run (Kock kick), 10:45
Sol -- Tennis 3 run (Kock kick), 8:09
Sol -- Duncan 1 run (Kock kick), 9:37
Sol -- Tennis 59 run (Kock kick), 5:57
Sol -- Kock 32 field goal, 2:58
Sol -- Duncan 11 pass from T. Fowler (Kock kick), 0:23
Sol -- Smithwick 75 run (Kock kick), 1:52
Sol -- Tennis 28 run (Kock kick), 0:00
Ken -- Hansen 9 run (Hayes run), 5:07
First downs 10 9
Rushes-yards 44-180 40-387
Comp-att-inter 2-10-2 3-5-0
Passing yards 10 38
Penalties-yards 12-100 15-165
Fumbles-lost 2-0 0-0
Punts-avg 5-28.4 2-24
Rushing -- Kenai: Risung 19-67, Glidden 10-74, Sandahl 3-5, Ziehmer 1-(-5), Hayes 3-(-28), Hansen 5-45, Carlson 3-22; SoHi: Duncan 16-84, Tennis 11-167, Smithwick 8-135, T. Fowler 1-(-2), Schmelzenbach 2-6, C. Elsey 1-1, Young 1-(-4).
Passing --Kenai: Hayes 2-10-2-10; SoHi: T. Fowler 3-5-0-38.
Receiving -- Kenai: Nason 1-8, Sandahl 1-2; SoHi: Bosick 2-27, Duncan 1-11.
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