Kenai's Tyler Chappell strips the ball from Soldotna's Marvin Tate in the fourth quarter Saturday at Kenai Central.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Kenai Central Kardinals took flight Saturday against the Soldotna Stars.
Normally content to grind things out on the ground, Kenai racked up 191 yards passing and four touchdowns through the air on their way to a 37-0 victory over the Stars.
"That's got to be some kind of record," Kenai head coach Jim Beeson said after hearing of his team's season-best passing output.
With the win, Kenai secured its third consecutive Northern Lights Conference title and a home playoff game next week against Nikiski. Kenai finished the regular season 6-2 (4-0 NLC), while Soldotna was 5-3 (2-2 NLC).
Kenai quarterback Tyler Chappell was nearly flawless, throwing just three incomplete passes and one interception on the day. Chappell got some help from his receivers, as well, as Bill Chimphalee, Brandon Miles and Austin McLeod each contributed big plays catching and running with the football.
Kenai's Brandon Miles grimaces under a hit from Soldotna's Mike Reed (top) and Jacob Howarth in the third quarter Saturday. Miles scored two touchdowns in the 37-0 game.
Photo by M. Scot Moon
Chimphalee was particularly impressive, making perhaps the play of the year when he made a leaping grab over Soldotna defensive back Spencer Tachick for the game's final score, his second touchdown of the game.
"Bill's just a freak," Chappell said of the sophomore receiver, who also had one of Kenai's three interceptions on defense.
Miles got Kenai rolling early when he took a short pass from Chappell and ran 79 yards to pay dirt on the game's opening drive.
"That's a play Brandon came up with all by himself in practice," Beeson said.
Soldotna tried to counter with its deceptive running game, and got a couple big runs from running back Mike Reed on its opening drive. After that, however, Kenai's defensive scheme caught up with SoHi's running attack, limiting the Stars to just 62 yards on the ground for the game their lowest output of the season.
"Their defense really handled our young offense," Soldotna head coach Sarge Truesdell said following the game, pointing out that SoHi suited up only three seniors.
Soldotna came into Saturday's game with high hopes, needing a win to get into the playoffs. But after Kenai got out to lead early, Truesdell said it became apparent this wasn't going to be SoHi's year to knock off their archrivals.
"Coming in, I felt like defensively we'd be able to hold our own," he said.
After watching Kenai's big defensive line anchored by hulking tackles Clint Keener and Papapa Nicholas dominate the line, however, Truesdell said he knew the Stars were facing a tough task.
"That football team was just better than us," he said.
When Soldotna was able to get some momentum going, fate quickly intervened to turn things back in the Kardinals' favor. Such was the case in the second quarter, when the Stars' Christos Asimakopoulos picked off a Chappell pass deep in the SoHi zone. On the very next play, Kenai broke through to pick up a safety and take a 9-0 lead.
Later in the game, SoHi saw a big pass play from quarterback Aleks Pfaffe to Marvin Tate go down in flames when Chappell stripped the ball from Tate and recovered the fumble on the Kenai 3-yard line.
In addition to the fumble recovery, Chappell also picked off two SoHi passes on the day.
Kenai went into the locker room with a 16-0 lead after Chappell found McLeod alone in the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown pass late in the second quarter.
Down two scores to the three-time defending state small-schools champions, Soldotna came out passing in the third quarter, and Kenai's secondary was ready. Chappell picked off Pfaffe's first pass of the half, a play that set up a 9-yard strike to Chimphalee less than four minutes later.
Soldotna was able to keep the explosive Kenai running attack somewhat in check through most of the game, but Miles finally broke free at the end of the third quarter, going up the middle for a 48-yard run that put the Kards up 30-0.
Miles, the peninsula's leading rusher, finished the game with 120 yards on 24 carries. He also caught two passes for 86 yards to help Kenai's offense outgain SoHi 396-144.
"Our offensive line did fantastic," Chappell said. "They dominated the game."
Between its dominant line and explosive skill players, Kenai lineman Marcus Mena said the Kardinals were able to accomplish their goal of putting together a complete team victory.
"This was a real team effort," Mena said.
Next up for the Kardinals is a Saturday home playoff game against the Bulldogs, who beat Seward 40-0 Saturday to earn a trip to the playoffs. In the other playoff game, Homer will travel to Eielson, which won the Great Land Conference title. Eielson is undefeated and ranked second just behind Kenai in the most recent statewide coaches poll.
Despite the big win and another conference crown, Kenai's Beeson said the Kardinals plan on preparing for Nikiski as they would any other opponent, and aren't even thinking about a possible fourth consecutive state title.
"If we go out and lose next weekend, it makes this weekend pointless," Beeson said. "It's not like we've accomplished what we want to accomplish yet."
Ken Miles 79 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 6:21
Ken Safety (runner tackled in end zone), 3:09
Ken McLeod 11 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), :37
Ken Chimphalee 9 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 7:58
Ken Miles 48 run (Kim kick), :00
Ken Chimphalee 34 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 6:23
First downs 9 9
Rushes-yards 38-205 40-62
Passing yards 191 82
Return yards 72 0
Passing 8-11-1 4-9-3
Punts-avg 2-37.5 5-24.8
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 11-105 9-62
Rushing Kenai: Miles 24-120, Chimphalee 12-56, Chappell 1-28, Faumui 1-1. Soldotna: Reed 13-38, Griglione 3-10, Gardner 6-7, Howarth 5-5, Tate 5-4, Hatt 1-1, Pfaffe 6-(-1), Demallie 1-(-2).
Passing Kenai: Chappell 8-11-1-191. Soldotna: Pfaffe 4-9-3-82.
Receiving Kenai: Miles 2-86, Chimphalee 4-62, McLeod 2-43. Soldotna: Tate 2-57, Seggerman 1-14, Wilbanks 1-11.
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