The Kenai Central football team scored 27 unanswered points in the second half to defeat Homer 47-12 on Saturday in the small-school state semifinals at Anchorage Football Stadium.
The Kardinals, who last year won their fifth small-schools state title, will play Soldotna in a rematch for the big prize on Saturday at noon. Soldotna defeated Kenai 52-8 in Week 8 of the season.
The Kardinals featured a different look on Saturday, putting Colton Hayes at quarterback and moving AJ Hull from quarterback to running back.
Hull caught two touchdown passes and rushed for another score. He finished with 72 yards rushing and 129 yards receiving.
"We just wanted to put him in a position where he could get the ball in a bunch of different ways," said Kenai head coach Jeff Baker, now 5-0 in the playoffs as a head coach. "That makes him even more dangerous."
Hayes was able to hit 11-of-21 passes for 165 yards and three touchdowns. The other scoring toss went to Alex Nason.
"He threw the ball a lot better than his numbers show," Baker said. "He had a couple of long balls that should have been caught."
Even though Homer made the semifinals last year, the Mariners graduated 14 seniors from that team. That had Homer coach Camron Wyatt worried before the game about lack of experience.
Homer had six turnovers in the game, including turnovers on its first two possessions of the game.
Tyler Glidden recovered the fumble for Kenai on Homer's first drive and then scored on a 1-yard run just one minute into the game.
Hull then had an interception and scored on a 34-yard pass with 9:45 left in the first.
Wyatt said that moving Hull to running back messed up his team's game plan.
"Our game plan was to keep him in the box at quarterback," Wyatt said. "That didn't work really well when he started some plays outside the box as a running back."
Wyatt said beating a seasoned team like Kenai is hard to do when making mistakes.
"When you have a lot of turnovers against a team like that, pretty soon turf is flying in your face," he said.
A 1-yard run by Daniel Carlson to start the second quarter put the Kardinals up 20-0, but then Homer fought back.
Dyllan Day broke free for a 69-yard scoring run, then Drew Raymond returned a Hayes fumble for a 35-yard score with 28 seconds left in the half.
"They're a tough team," Baker said. "They play every snap with emotion."
Due to turnovers and penalties, the first half took 1 1-2 hours to play.
Kenai grabbed the momentum and got the game moving with a long scoring drive to start the second half. The Kards took the kickoff and eventually scored on a pass from Hayes to Nason with 5:18 left in the third quarter.
"They just came out and took control," Wyatt said.
After Homer lost the ball on downs, Kenai came back with a scoring pass from Hayes to Hull. When Homer fumbled the kickoff, Kenai quickly cashed that in for a 41-12 lead to start the fourth quarter.
Defensive lineman Richie Ziehmer returned a fumble 8 yards for the game's final score.
"It's always big when a lineman is able to do that," Baker said. "That was a lifetime dream for him."
Wyatt's squad has just five seniors on the roster.
"We talked after the game that next season starts right now," Wyatt said. "Every season, we want to get a step closer to Kenai and Soldotna."
Wyatt gave credit to his coaching staff for taking such a young team and marching them to the state semifinals.
Kardinals 47, Mariners 12
Homer 0 12 0 0 --12
Kenai 13 7 14 13 --47
Ken -- Glidden 1 run (run failed), 11:00.
Ken -- Hull 34 pass from Hayes (Hayes kick), 9:45.
Ken -- Carlson 1 run (Hayes kick), 9:35.
Hom -- Day 69 run (run failed), 8:01.
Hom -- Raymond 35 fumble return (run failed), 0:28.
Ken -- Nason 10 pass from Hayes (Hayes kick), 5:18.
Ken -- Hull 48 pass from Hayes (Hayes kick), 1:41.
Ken -- Hull 1 run (Hayes kick), 11:51.
Ken -- Ziehmer 8 fumble return (kick failed), 0:14.
First downs 4 22
Rushes-yards 27-158 51-104
Passing yards 28 165
Return yards 79 24
Passes 2-11-2 11-22-1
Punts 1-39.0 2-35.0
Fumbles-lost 5-4 2-1
Penalties-yards 12-97 18-147
Rushing -- Homer: Day 13-137, Resetarits 2-18, Downes 2-12, Cotney 2-(-7), Frank 8-(-12). Kenai: Hull 27-72, Carlson 11-28, Glidden 10-26, Risung 2-9, Hanson 1-2, Hayes 5-(-31).
Passing -- Homer: Cotney 2-11-28-2; Kenai: Hayes 11-21-165-1; Hull 0-0-0-0.
Receiving -- Homer: Kennelty 1-16, Rosencrans 1-12. Kenai: Hull 5-129, Nason 3-43, Sandahl 1-14, Risung 1-7, Glidden 1-6.
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