If the Soldotna High School football team can clinch its first state title Saturday in Anchorage, it would be a win for 23 years of players who have come up just short in the championship game.
“Hopefully, if we win, it will be a win for all the SoHi Stars who have played at state and lost. This will be for them if we win,” said Soldotna senior Kelly Seggerman.
“Hopefully, we can make them proud,” said teammate Jose Gomez.
The Stars will face Kodiak in the Alaska School Activities Association First National Bowl Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium. Kickoff for the small-schools title game is 3:30 p.m.
Indeed, the Stars have a long history of postseason success, making the playoffs in its various incarnations 11 times since 1990, including two runs of five straight playoff appearances, from 1990 to 1994, and from 2000 to 2004.
However, with all that playoff success, the Stars have yet to win a state title. Soldotna has appeared in seven state championship games without clinching a title. When the state tournament was organized by Anchorage’s Cook Inlet Conference in the 1980s, Soldotna made the final in 1983 and 1988.
ASAA organized an official state tournament in 1990, and the Stars made the finals that year and in 1992. The small-schools format was instituted in 2000, and the Stars have played in three title games since, losing to Nikiski in 2000 and to Kenai in 2002 and 2004.
Soldotna enters the game riding an eight-game win streak. The Stars dropped their season opener to Colony, a large-schools state semifinalist, but have picked up momentum ever since and currently are 8-1.
The Bears also are 8-1, with their only loss a one-point defeat at the hands of the Stars.
In that game, played in Kodiak during week three of the season, the Stars trailed 13-0 late in the game before rallying for a 14-13 win.
“I think both teams have forgotten about that other game,” said Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell. “I was worried our kids would think, ‘Hey, we got them once, we can get them again.’ We really snuck out of that Kodiak game, but our kids haven’t even mentioned that game. It seems like it was two different teams playing,” Truesdell said.
The Bears went to Fairbanks to beat Eielson 18-13 to advance to the title game, their first in the five-year history of the program, to set up the rematch with the Stars.
Stuart McFarland leads a potent passing attack for the Bears, and running back Michael Odell returned from a six-week layoff to post 44 yards on six carries.
“The key for us is stopping their passing offense,” Seggerman said, noting that most of the teams the Stars have faced this season run the ball predominantly. “It will be a challenge for us.”
“We need to keep our heads on straight, stay focused and play the best game we can play as a team,” Gomez said.
Seggerman said that while the artificial turf at AFS may speed up Kodiak’s receivers, the Stars, as a speed-oriented team, will have the same advantage.
Soldotna’s defense has been stingy of late, and the offense has been all but unstoppable. Since their one-point win at Kodiak, the Stars have outscored their opponents 299-56, with an average margin of victory of 41 points.
“I think both teams are pretty evenly matched. It should be a very close game,” Seggerman said. “We’ve been preparing for Kodiak for a couple of weeks now, as I’m sure they’ve been doing for us.”
The Stars practices this week have been brisk and focused, Seggerman said.
“We’re spending a lot of time tuning up our offense and defense. It’s more getting ready mentally than physically,” Seggerman said.
Truesdell said his squad has simply been going about its business all season, and preparing for the state championship game has been no different.
“Nothing really seems to affect how they perform when they get there on game day,” Truesdell said. “This group, sometimes they’re pretty intense, sometimes they’re looser than I’d like, but they just show up on Saturday and perform.”
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