SoHi eager to extend dominance

By defeating Buccaneers, Stars will earn chance to defend state crown

Posted: Friday, October 05, 2007

Soldotna may have the experience.

But history isn't on its side.

Playing in the small-schools state championship game four times since the division was first created in 2000, the Stars have claimed the title only once, a 29-20 win over Kodiak last season.

Times have changed, though, as evidenced by SoHi's impressive 44-0 victory at Kenai last week.

Owning a 17-game winning streak dating back to last season, including a perfect 8-0 this year, the Stars are hoping to improve their title-game resume.

"We would like to make it a fifth time," said Stars coach Galen Brantley Jr. "Obviously, we like our chances."

Who wouldn't?

Averaging just over 55 points and 454 yards a game with an average margin of victory of 43.5 points, Soldotna will host Valdez in the first round of the playoffs at 1 p.m. on Saturday.

It's the Buccaneers' first trip to the postseason in school history.

"We still have to show up. We know on Saturday that there's going to be a motivated group there that's excited to be in the playoffs and has some talent," Brantley said. "We're not going to overlook them."

Brantley also isn't worried about a letdown following the Stars' mammoth season.

"We do what we do each week. We practice hard, we refocus, we gameplan. Each game's a new challenge. We're not looking back," he explained. "Our kids have worked extremely hard this year and we're going to focus on enjoying the ride we've been on the next two weeks. They deserve that."

Having faced little or no adversity throughout the year, SoHi will get its first taste this week.

Senior running back Marvin Tate (740 yards, 13 TDs) and junior quarterback Anthony Griglione (952 yards, 16 TDs), two of the Stars' top three rushers, have been suspended for the first round following their ejections from the Kenai game for picking up two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties apiece.

Brantley doesn't seem worried.

"It's not an issue for us," he said.

Starting in Tate's place will be sophomore Chris Nolden, who has 67 yards on 12 carries, while junior Zayan Aberkane will replace Griglione after completing his only two passes for 34 yards and one touchdown, which came on a third-and-10 play in the fourth quarter against the Kardinals. He's also rushed for 54 yards on 15 carries.

"We're going to be fine," Brantley said. "We think we've got one of the deeper benches in the state and we're excited for the kids that get the opportunity to step in and contribute to this run that we've been on.

"They're definitely not untested," he added. "We know what we're getting when we put them in the game."

He also knows what to expect from his leading rusher, senior Bryce Gardner, who could see a bulk of the carries after amassing 840 yards and 14 TDs on only 59 carries this season.

The Stars will most likely hand off to Kyle Wood, too, as the junior has seven touchdowns and is averaging 9.6 yards per carry.

Valdez, which finished the regular season at 5-3, including a 6-0 setback to visiting Skyview, is averaging 24 points a game and is coming off a come-from-behind, 20-19, victory over Houston in a winner-take-all matchup for the Greatland Conference's second playoff berth.

"They've made some major steps in the history of their program and a lot of people around the state are real excited for them," Brantley said, adding it's nice to face a new opponent. "We're excited for the challenge."

Knowing the Buccaneers favor the pass, as they threw for over 150 yards in their win over the Hawks, according to Brantley, he acknowledged his secondary may face its toughest challenge of the season.

"I don't think we've seen a team that puts it up as many times as Valdez does," he said. "Our secondary is definitely going to be tested."

With their second consecutive trip to the Anchorage Football Stadium looming a week away, Brantley doesn't believe his team is thinking ahead.

"We had a great week of practice. This is a necessary step. Looking ahead gets us nothing," he said. "We're excited. We've got a deep senior class and they're excited for one more opportunity to play at home in front of our fans."

Matthew Carroll can be reached at matthew.carroll@peninsulaclarion.com.



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