The Palmer football team went for it on fourth down three times in the first half and made it every time, leading to three scores.
The Kenai Central team went once and was stopped on Palmer’s 2-yard line.
That’s pretty much the tale of Palmer’s 34-6 nonconference victory over host Kenai at Ed Hollier Field on Friday.
“We just couldn’t finish,” Kenai coach Dustin Akana said after his team fell to 1-2. “On the plays and drives where it counted the most, we didn’t execute.”
After stopping Kenai’s opening drive of the game, Palmer was driving when it faced fourth-and-two on the Kenai 31 with 5 minutes, 24 seconds, left in the first quarter.
Chase Bruesch picked up fresh downs with a 4-yard run, then four plays later Ronny Marshall gave Palmer a 7-0 lead on a 2-yard run. Marshall led the Moose with 66 yards on 11 carries.
After Kenai went three and out, Palmer faced fourth-and-four from the Kenai 34 with 10:16 left in the second quarter.
Quarterback Luke Guggenmos hit Levi Farris in stride for a 34-yard scoring strike and 14-0 lead.
Guggenmos was just getting rolling. He finished 7 of 9 for 163 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
“My coaches did a great job on offense,” Palmer head coach Rod Christiansen said after improving to 2-1. “They knew they had two downs. We weren’t going to punt into the wind and have it go only 10 yards.”
After Kenai quarterback Connor Felchle made his lone major mistake of the day with an interception to Bruesch, Guggenmos came to the fore again.
Palmer faced fourth-and-nine from the Kenai 34 with 4:49 left until the half. This time, Guggenmos hit Leif Mumma streaking down the right sideline for a touchdown.
“I didn’t really pay attention to the down,” Guggenmos said. “They were good play calls.
“We worked on fourth down in practice this week and we went out and executed that in the game.”
The Kardinals had a chance to make it a two-score game just before the half, but on fourth-and-goal from the Palmer 5 with 53 seconds left in the half, Titus Riddall gained 3 yards on a run.
Palmer then put the game out of reach with a scoring drive to start the second half that was nine rushes, the last a 13-yard touchdown by Marshall.
“That goal-line stand was a big deal,” said Christiansen, whose squad also got a fumble recovery from Parker Smith. “Then our offense came out in the third quarter and took time off the clock.”
Guggenmos said the line did a fantastic job, and gave particular credit to Ethan Bleakney for filling in for the injured starter at right tackle.
Kenai then mounted a 14-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by a 1-yard plunge by Titus Riddall, but Palmer answered with a 27-yard scoring strike from Guggenmos to Dawson VanTassel.
“That was all him,” Guggenmos said of VanTassel getting wide open. “Anyone could have made that throw.”
The Moose out-gained the Kards 326-231, a total not as lopsided as the final score.
“It’s just the tiny, little mental mistakes that are hurting us,” Akana said. “We don’t have to fix anything huge. That’s a positive.”
The coach said Riddall (61 yards on 20 carries), Felchle (6 of 9 for 118 yards) and Zach Burnett (61 total yards) all did well on offense.
On defense, the coach liked the play of Jarett Wilson and Joe Sylvester.
Moose 34, Kardinals 6
Pal — Marshall 2 run (Knittle kick), 2:31
Pal — Farris 34 pass from Guggenmos (Knittle kick), 9:48
Pal — Mumma 34 pass from Guggenmos (Knittle kick), 4:42
Pal — Marshall 13 run (Knittle kick), 7:07
Ken — Riddall 1 run (pass failed), :07
Pal — VanTassel 27 pass from Guggenmos (kick failed), 7:20
First downs 11 11
Rushes-yards 37-163 36-113
Passing yards 163 118
Comp-att-int 7-9-0 6-10-1
Return yards 11 0
Punts-avg 1-26 2-12
Fumbles 0-0 1-1
Penalties 2-12 5-45
Rushing — Palmer: Bruesch 6-20, Guggenmos 5-4, Marshall 11-66, Christiansen 5-24, Freeman 7-42, Caple 3-7. Kenai: Anderson 7-19, Riddall 20-61, Burnett 2-2, Sylvester 2-2, Felchle 3-3.
Passing — Palmer: Guggenmos 7-9-0—163. Kenai: Felchle 6-9-1—118, Riddall 0-1-0—0.
Receving — Palmer: Farris 2-55, Mumma 2-47, VanTassel 3-61. Kenai: Carver 2-27, Pitsch 2-58, Burnett 2-33.