When Soldotna High School takes the field this weekend for the small-schools football state semifinals, it will be doing it with a team that, surprisingly, has very little playoff experience.
The Stars will put their 7-1 record and Northern Lights Conference championship on the line Saturday when they take on the Houston Hawks at Justin Maile Field at 2 p.m.
In the other small-schools playoff game, Kodiak will travel to Eielson for a 1 p.m. kickoff Saturday.
“This class, while they’re super-experienced, they didn’t go to the playoffs last year, and only a couple played varsity as sophomores but we do have a group that is pretty driven. I feel good about that,” said Soldotna head coach Sarge Truesdell.
Indeed, in what could have been an elimination game last week had they lost to Kenai, their fate would have been determined by a coin toss the Stars came through with flying colors.
“Last week, we looked at the kids on Friday and said, ‘Hey, if we have one bad game, we’re maybe done today,’” Truesdell said. “That was a harsh realization, but none of our kids ever felt like that was an option.”
Truesdell said his coaching staff didn’t give the team too much time to savor their Northern Lights Conference championship, though, as they quickly changed their focus to the Houston Hawks.
Houston enters Saturday’s game with a 4-1 Great Land Conference record and a 4-3 overall mark. The Hawks finished the season in a three-way tie with Eielson and Nikiski atop the GLC standings. After surviving the coin toss that eliminated the Bulldogs, they became the second seed from the conference by virtue of their loss to the Ravens.
In Houston, the Stars will face a team that can run and has the ability to throw the ball. Ryan Thamm quarterbacks the Hawks, and Israel Morales leads the rushing attack.
“They’ve got quite a bit of talent. Norm Bouchard, their coach, has been around for a long time,” Truesdell said. “It’s no secret, they’re going to try to run the football, we’re going to try to run the football.”
Running the football has been Soldotna’s bread and butter this season. The Stars have compiled 2,398 rushing yards in eight games an average of 300 yards per game. Mike Reed leads the team with 904 yards on 127 carries, 7-yard per carry average.
Of course, as Truesdell is quick to point out, records and statistics don’t mean a whole lot once playoff time rolls around.
“We’ve got to forget about any games before. This is it, lose and you’re done,” Truesdell said. “It doesn’t matter what you’ve done during the year, here you are.”
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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