Soldotna's Zayan Aberkane picks off a pass intended for Kodiak's Michael Odell.
Photos by M. Scott Moon
It was an unusual scene for sure.
Amidst the celebration of Soldotna's convincing 47-27 small-schools state championship victory over fellow Northern Lights Conference foe Kodiak Saturday afternoon at the Anchorage Football Stadium, Stars defensive lineman Josh DeTavernier took his turn while most of his teammates watched with smiles stretching across their faces.
He wasn't hoisting SoHi's second consecutive gold championship trophy over his head, nor was he speaking to one of the many news outlets on hand.
Rather, DeTavernier was clutching a razor and carefully shaving off senior running back Marvin Tate's red-tinted moustache that had been growing since before the season began.
Soldotna fans go wild near the end of the first half Saturday.
"We had this deal going, I couldn't shave my moustache until we lost," Tate said.
After Soldotna completed its first 10-0 campaign in the school's 27-year history, Tate was relieved to finally ditch the 'stache.
"Hated it," he said with a laugh. "We dyed it, had so much fun with it but I'm ready to be back to normal.
"I feel like a new man."
In more ways than one.
Soldotna's Matthew Strieby, Seth Dimick, Josh Denna and Nathan Strieby line up to celebrate with Marvin Tate following Tate's fourth-quarter touchdown Saturday during the small-schools football championship at Anchorage Football Stadium. The Stars took home the championship for the second consecutive year.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Tate, along with senior running back Bryce Gardner and junior quarterback Anthony Griglione, all surpassed 1,000 yards on the season while accounting for six of SoHi's seven touchdowns four by Griglione, who amassed 271 yards on the ground in staving off a late Bears' rally and winning their 19th straight game.
"It was kind of harder on us this year because definitely with every win, the target got bigger on our back the bull's-eye was bigger and bigger," said Tate, who had 128 yards on only 13 carries. "Coming into this game, we had a big name to hold up, going for back-to-back state championships and we got her done."
Did they ever.
Hardly tested all season, including a decisive 47-14 Week 2 victory over large schools opponent Palmer, which will take on Juneau-Douglas in the title game next weekend, Soldotna faced its toughest challenge in Kodiak, a team they defeated 70-14 in Week 6 and also 29-20 in last season's state title contest.
"We knew they were going to show up and play a good football game just like we were here to play," said senior lineman Josh Denna. "Those guys are amazing football players and they played hard and so did we.
"Oh, they're going to fight and they fought and they fought very well," he added. "I have immense, just huge, respect for those guys."
In only its fifth season of having a program, Kodiak was in the title game for the second straight season, coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Stars last year after jumping in front by 12 points early.
Soldotna was also looking to erase memories of past championship shortcomings as they carried a 1-7 overall title game record into the contest.
Both teams proved they belonged, though, and will probably be back again soon.
Just as they did in the their regular season matchup, Kodiak (7-3) found the end zone first.
Senior quarterback Jimmy Eggemeyer who was 15-of-25 for 251 yards launched a perfectly thrown ball deep down the middle and into the hands of David Cratty, who snuck behind Stars junior Zayan Aberkane and raced to pay dirt for a 61-yard score and a 7-0 advantage only 51 seconds into the game.
It was only the second time all year SoHi has trailed, the other coming against the Bears, too.
"He's got a pretty good arm for a kid who's 5-foot-4," said first-year Kodiak coach David Simmerman. "When I started him at quarterback this year, (people were) like, 'What are you doing?' But, I'll tell you what, all the naysayers, I think they've probably changed their tune a little bit."
Soldotna, however, never altered its offensive attack.
Hardly ever lining up a wide receiver, the Stars contin ued their pound-the-ball approach as junior Kyle Wood knotted the game with 8:58 to play in the first when he capped a six-play, 57-yard drive with an 8-yard plunge up the middle.
Aberkane later redeemed himself, intercepting an Eggemeyer pass at the SoHi 6-yard line, which then allowed Gardner to culminate an 11-play, 94-yard march with a spinning 6-yard TD run for a 14-7 lead.
After a pair of interceptions by Griglione, which led to no Bears' points as the SoHi defense stiffened, forcing a punt and picking off an Eggemeyer pass, Griglione also erased any lingering memories of those errant passes.
On third-and-one from the Kodiak 33, Griglione kept the ball as he scampered to the right. With the pigskin deceptively tucked behind his back, the junior walked virtually untouched down the right sideline and into the end zone for what appeared to be a commanding 21-7 cushion with 1:08 to play in the first half.
"Lots and lots of reps of that. It's experience," he said of hiding the ball. " I've been doing it for two years now. I've finally got it down pretty good."
But Kodiak wasn't about to cave as they had in the regular season meeting in Soldotna.
"At first, it hurt a lot. It hurt in the heart. It hurt our kids," Simmerman said. "But then over time, it turned to anger. Our kids knew that they're a better team than that 70-14 score."
They showed it in the second half Saturday.
After Griglione made it 35-7 by scoring on consecutive possessions, the first a 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal and the second a 69-yard bootleg down the right sideline with nobody even close to touching him, Kodiak and Eggemeyer turned to the air.
The senior QB completed a 46-yard pass to Jon Bryant and following three straight runs by senior Michael Odell, who racked up 123 yards on 20 carries, Eggemeyer found his favorite target, senior tight end Randy Diocares, on an 8-yard slant to trim the deficit to 35-14.
Following a successful onside kick, Eggemeyer and Diocares (seven catches, 105 yards) connected again, first on a 24-yard deep route to the SoHi 46-yard line and then on a 22-yard slant for a TD. All of a sudden, the Stars were up by only 14.
"It's like anything, sometimes you have on nights and sometimes you have off nights and Jimmy Eggemeyer was definitely on (Saturday)," SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. " He is a special kid. He puts the truth into the old clich, 'It's not the size of the dog in the fight.'
"He's got a big heart. He put some balls absolutely on the money."
Another successful onside kick by the Bears stunned the mostly blue and gray crowd, but Kodiak's ensuing drive stalled on the Stars' 35 early in the fourth quarter.
From there, it was all SoHi.
Tate broke loose down the left sideline for a clinching 50-yard touchdown run and Griglione added a 37-yard TD jaunt of his own in extending the lead to 47-21 with 1:27 to play.
While Kodiak's Michael Odell hauled in Eggemeyer's fourth touchdown pass of the day with only 22 seconds remaining, the Stars' sideline was already celebrating with championship hats resting on everyone's heads while handshakes and hugs were being exchanged.
"Without question," Brantley said of feeling nervous. "That third quarter they got momentum on their side. They had a couple of onside kicks. They figured out a way to stop our offense and they were just beautifully executed."
With Palmer vying for the large-schools title next weekend, it begs the question, should the Stars get another crack at the best the large schools has to offer?
"Palmer, who we had an excellent game against, being in the large schools finals, I think, obviously says a lot about our kids and where they kind of fit in regardless of classification," Brantley said. "This is such a rare year for us. I don't know how long it's going to be before we have a group of kids like this again. To enter that argument with 500 kids in your building is kind of suspect.
"We knew we could hang with them," he added of bigger schools. "As far as where we fit in, it will be an unanswerable question."
What has been answered, however, is that Soldotna undeniably belongs in the picture after its dominating, and never really in question, perfect season.
"That was our goal. One of our goals the first day of practice, try to go undefeated this year," Griglione said. "Back to back, definitely, it's exciting. The seniors worked hard, they deserve to win this year. And hopefully next year we'll find a way to win it again.
"I'm hoping next year that we can bring it back to Soldotna again."
That quest begins today.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
STARS 47, BEARS 27
Kodiak 7 0 14 6 27
Soldotna 14 7 14 12 47
Kod Cratty 61 pass from Eggemeyer (Cratty kick), 11:09.
Sol Wood 8 run (Elson kick), 8:58.
Sol Gardner 6 run (Elson kick), 0:59.
Sol Griglione 33 run (Elson kick), 1:08.
Sol Griglione 1 run (run failed), 8:14.
Sol Griglione 69 run (Jansen pass from Griglione), 5:31.
Kod Diocares 7 pass from Eggemeyer (Cratty kick), 3:05.
Kod Diocares 22 pass from Eggemeyer (Cratty kick), 1:03.
Sol Tate 50 run (kick failed), 6:00.
Sol Griglione 37 run (kick failed), 1:27.
Kod Odell 9 pass from Eggemeyer (kick failed), 0:22.
First downs 18 28
Rushes-yards 52-570 36-202
Passing yards 251 0
Return yards 144 59
Passes 15-26-3 0-2-2-0
Punts 5-26.2 1-37
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 9-59.5 7-65
RUSHING Kodiak: Odell 20-123, Schwantes 6-24, Eggemeyer 8-19, Dittman 2-6. Soldotna: Griglione 23-271, Gardner 13-156, Tate 13-128, Wood 3-15.
PASSING Kodiak: Eggemeyer 15-25-3 -- 251, Odell 0-1-0 -- 0. Soldotna: Griglione 0-2-2 -- 0.
RECEIVING Kodiak: Diocares 7-105, Cratty 2-82, Bryant 2-49, Odell 2-8, Dittman 1-5, Francisco 1-5.
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