Kenai's Brandon Miles drags Seward's Charlie Riniger down the field in the second quarter of Saturday's small-schools state semifinal game. Miles had two interceptions to go with 55 yards rushing.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The steady rain that began falling in the the second half of Saturday's small-schools state semifinal football game was about the only thing Seward High School fans were able to cheer as the Kenai Central Kardinals advanced to their third straight state championship game with a 48-0 win.
Kenai will play Soldotna at Anchorage Football Stadium for the small-schools state championship Saturday. Kickoff is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
Against Seward, the Kardinals offense had posted 27 points by the end of the first quarter, and the Kenai defense held Seward to just 35 total yards of offense, forcing nine punts and picking off four passes.
"I was happy with the way we played especially at the beginning. We came out and got after it like we were on a mission," said Kenai head coach Jim Beeson.
Indeed, the Seahawks went three-and-out on their first possession of the game -- Kenai's defense knocked Seward backward 11 yards in the series -- and the Kardinals needed just two plays to score on their ensuing drive as Tyler Chappell connected with Josh Bennett for a 50-yard touchdown pass.
"(The passing game) was definitely a focal point because we knew they were going to try to stop Dakota," Chappell said. "They went to a 6-2 defense, and it opened up all the passing plays."
Beeson said passing plays have been in the playbook all along.
"If you watch us in practice, you wouldn't believe we were a team that had thrown only 23 times all season. It's something we practice every day," Beeson said. "It was a good thing for us to be able to throw the football and get comfortable throwing the football, because we're probably going to have to do that next weekend."
The Kardinals gave the Seahawks a different look in each of their first three drives. After passing in the first series, Dakota Craig carried four times for 27 yards on the next drive, capping it with a 1-yard touchdown plunge.
Kenai opened the next series running the option, and Chappell kept it himself on the first two plays, picking up 28 yards, then hit Ryann Hansen, who was lined up in the slot receiver position, on the next play.
Hansen hauled in the pass in stride, made a move to beat one defensive back and cruised the rest of the way into the end zone for a 32-yard touchdown strike.
"The option is always what we'd like to do. It wasn't a focal point, but it worked well. Everybody made their blocks," Chappell said.
The Kardinals' defense set up Kenai's final touchdown of the first quarter as Brandon Miles returned an interception 29 yards to the Seward 16-yard line, and Craig went the rest of the way to give Kenai a 27-0 lead.
Craig, who finished the game with 192 yards on 18 carries, scored on a 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter, and Chappell threw a 5-yard scoring strike to Bennett to give Kenai a 41-0 lead at the half.
Craig finished off the scoring early in the third quarter with 54-yard touchdown run. Ju Kim followed with his sixth extra point of the game, giving him 34 for the season, a new Kardinals record.
In addition to his quarterbacking duties, Chappell also played in the defensive secondary for the first time this season and came up with two interceptions, matching Miles' pair of picks.
"That was something we worked on all week. We did a great job against the pass. It helped that they couldn't run the football against our line. When you have to pass, it's easier to defend," Beeson said.
Seward coach Mark Woodward said the Seahawks did all they could but were simply outmatched against a bigger, quicker Kenai squad. Woodward said his squad spent the week trying to make adjustments in their shotgun offense to account for Kenai's pass rush.
Seward's Nathan Kingsland brings down Kenai's Marcus Reemtsma at the end of the second quarter Saturday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
"We thought we could make adjustments with our receivers, but Kenai was just too quick," Woodward said. "The kids played hard. ... They came out in the second half, and our coaches told the kids to make some small personal goals."
Beck said that while the result of the game was disheartening, finding themselves in the playoffs was a pleasant surprise for the Seahawks.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game. We gave it our all, and whatever was going to happen, happened," Beck said. "We had a really good season. We did what we could, and (the season) turned out better than we expected.
"Next year -- hopefully, we'll be back next year."
After a good week of practice leading up to Saturday's victory, the Kardinals will prepare for a title bout with Soldotna, which defeated Eielson in Saturday's other small-schools semifinal. Kenai defeated Soldotna 22-19 last week to win the Northern Lights Conference championship, and next week's game on the Anchorage Football Stadium turf will be a rematch of the 2002 small-schools championship which Kenai won 7-0.
"There's still room to get better. Hopefully, the perfect game will be next Saturday," Hansen said. "It's going to be a good game.
"They (Soldotna) always play hard. It's always a great game."
Kardinals 48, Seahawks 0
Seward 0 0 0 0 --0
Kenai 27 14 7 0 --48
Ken -- Bennett 50 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 9:38
Ken -- Craig 1 run (kick failed), 7:24
Ken -- Hansen 32 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 5:54
Ken -- Craig 16 run (Kim kick), 0:17
Ken -- Craig 23 run (Kim kick), 9:02
Ken -- Bennett 5 pass from Chappell (Kim kick), 3:35
Ken -- Craig 54 run (Kim kick), 8:24
First downs 4 16
Rushes-yards 18-(-11) 57-387
Passing yards 46 130
Return yards 0 118
Passing 38-33-4 5-11-0
Punts-avg 9-36.1 2-35.5
Fumbles-lost 3-1 4-1
Penalties-yards 5-31 8-65
Rushing -- Seward: Kingsland 1-3, Webber 3-3, Wilder 8-2, Spurr 1-(-1), Beck 4-(-9), Riniger 1-(-9). Kenai: Craig 18-192, Chappell 9-91, Miles 5-55, Rainey 7-23, Chimphalee 6-14, Hansen 3-10, Faumui 4-10, Oliver 5-(-8).
Passing -- Seward: Beck 8-32-4--46, Wilder 0-1-0--0. Kenai: Chappell 5-11-0--130.
Receiving -- Seward: Swiderski 3-35, Dieckgraeff 2-(-1), Kingsland 2-6, Riniger 1-6. Kenai: Bennett 2-55, Hansen 1-32, Epperheimer 1-30, Whiteley 1-13.
Missed field goals -- Kenai: Kim 18.
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