The Seward High School football wasn't quite ready to call it a ballgame, not just yet.
"We just weren't ready for our season to be done," said Seward's Ben Clock.
So, clinging to a two-point lead, the Seahawks defense dug in and kept the Soldotna Stars out of the end zone through three quarters Saturday at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna to secure an 8-6 victory in their state small-schools semifinal game.
The win extends Seward's season one more week, setting up a showdown with Nikiski Saturday for the Alaska state small-schools championship at 5 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium.
While the loss dashes the Stars' hopes to return to the title game, there is a bright side -- Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell, who left the game at halftime to be with his wife, Heather, will have some free time to spend with their newborn son, 7-pound, 10-ounce Jersey Alton.
"It was all defense," Seward's Doug Jones said of the Seahawks' defensive stand that seemed to last the entire second half. "All the scoring was done in the first half. Both teams shut each other down. They were throwing all sorts of stuff at us. We tried to throw as many defenses at them as we could."
Seward's defense came up with several big stops in the second half. Seward forced a pair of fumbles that ended Stars drives on the Seahawks 23- and 24-yard lines, stopped Soldotna twice on fourth-and-short -- including once from inside the 10-yard line -- and came up with an interception by Victor Miller with 1:46 left in the game.
The Soldotna defense used its timeouts after Miller's interception and was able to put the Seahawks in a fourth-and-inches situation with 55 seconds left to play, but a good hard count by Seward quarterback Garrett Boyle drew the Stars defense offside, giving the Seahawks a first down on the penalty. Boyle twice took a knee to run out the clock.
"We went on two and three (in practice) all week so we knew we could do that," Boyle said of the snap count. "We knew they'd be excited."
Seward held the Stars to 107 rushing yards, including Cason Simpson's 77 yards on 23 carries.
"It was one of those gambles," said Seward coach Dan Bohrnsen. "We usually play a 52 defense, but we sent a 53 defense in this week to try to stop their scrum. They caught us (for big plays) a couple of times, but we had a linebacker staying home on their counter for when Simpson cut back. We missed tackles all afternoon, but the defense came through and made some tackles when they needed to."
Soldotna put the first points of the game on the board with 4:09 on the clock in the first quarter. Simpson carried the ball for a tough yard up the middle for the score, capping a nine-play drive that started on the Seward 47 after the Stars defense forced the Seahawks to punt from deep in their own end.
Seward's offense was able to one-up the Stars, taking 13 plays to cover 70 yards on its ensuing possession. Boyle capped the drive with a 1-yard plunge for the score.
Zach Rininger's heads-up play on the extra-point attempt made the difference in the scoring. Rininger, Seward's holder, alertly hauled in a high snap and ran around the left end for the two-point conversion.
Rininger finished with 34 yards on 11 carries for the Seahawks, while Darian Draper had 28 yards. Boyle's 133 yards passing, including six catches for 78 yards by Draper, helped the Seahawks keep the ball moving despite 78 yards in penalties. Seward did most of its damage running or throwing to the outside on Soldotna's defense.
"They had both of their linebackers in real tight, which made it hard for them to pursue when we went outside, and my hogs worked like (heck)," Boyle said, complimenting his offensive line.
With the loss, the Stars finish with a 3-6 overall record.
"I knew they were going to be tough, but I didn't think they would come out with the win," Simpson said. "They wanted it more. I hate to say it, but it comes down to that. We made a couple of mistakes, they capitalized."
SEAHAWKS 8, STARS 6
Seward 0 8 0 0 -- 8
Soldotna 6 0 0 0 -- 0
Sol -- C. Simpson 1 run (kick failed), 4:09
Sew -- Boyle 1 run (Rininger run), 10:02
First downs 11 13
Rushes-yards 35-71 39-107
Passing yards 133 79
Return yards 11 25
Passing 1-17-1 7-13-1
Punts-avg 6-30.2 2-30.5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 9-78 5-30
Rushing -- Seward: Rininger 11-34, Draper 11-28, Swiderski 6-11, Boyle 7-(-2). Soldotna: C. Simpson 23-77, Laurion 6-29, Foster 10-1.
Passing -- Seward: Boyle 10-17-1--133. Soldotna: Foster 7-13-1--79.
Receiving -- Seward: Draper 6-78, Rininger 4-46, Swiderski 2-9. Soldotna: Laurion 3-42, R. Simpson 2-21, Metteer 1-11, C. Simpson 1-5.
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