With their playoff hopes hanging in the balance, the Kenai Central football team came up clutch when they needed it most.
The Kardinals rolled to a 41-22 victory over Kodiak on Saturday afternoon at a gusty Ed Hollier Field to keep their state playoff hopes alive.
At 1-1 in the Northern Lights Conference, Kenai can force a three-way tie atop the NLC standings with a win over Soldotna (2-0 conference) next weekend. Eagle River currently sits second at 2-1 in conference.
“It was a big win, a big confidence booster for the boys as well,” said Kenai head coach Dustin Akana. “It’s a game where they saw that if they execute and play the way we coach them, they will have success, and they did just that.”
Titus Riddall led the offensive attack Saturday with five touchdown runs of 7, 7, 10, 50 and 36 yards out to finish with 203 total ground yards on 17 carries. Tyrone McEnerney also scored for Kenai to end with 73 yards, while Braedon Pitsch and Kaden McKibben both hauled in interceptions on defense.
“They all stepped it up, they were doing their job,” Akana said. “They were playing great, those have been our leaders since day one.”
Overall, Kenai picked up 371 rushing yards on 50 carries as a team. Kardinals QB Connor Felchle also dished out 13 air yards on 5 of 7 passing.
Kenai went up 14-0 in the first quarter on a pair of Riddall scores before the Bears were able to answer with a Micah Bartel touchdown with 7:13 left in the second quarter. A two-point conversion cut the lead to 14-8.
McEnerney got into the end zone for Kenai late in the quarter to put Kenai ahead 22-8 at halftime.
Kodiak was concocting a third-quarter drive when Bears quarterback Micah Arndt lobbed up a third-down pass, only for it to be picked off by Pitsch at midfield. The interception resulted in Kenai driving down to the red zone and scoring on a Riddall rumble up the middle from 10 yards out, putting Kenai up 28-8 with 4:38 left in the third quarter.
Kodiak continued to fight as Arndt found receiver Gerald Ekin on a 25-yard touchdown pass that almost resulted in another pick by Pitsch, who got caught with Ekin behind him with room to score.
The Ekin score and the Bartel two-point run cut Kenai’s lead to 28-16 with 47 seconds left in the third quarter, but the Kards responded with another Riddall run, this one a 50-yard breakaway through the defensive line on the first snap of the drive that put Kenai up 35-16.
Yet again, Kodiak answered back, as Arndt connected with Bartel just 40 seconds into the fourth quarter on a long catch-and-run to slash Kenai’s lead to 35-22.
However, the dagger came with 9:43 left when Riddall broke through the defense once more for a 36-yard scramble. From there, the Kardinals defense stuffed Kodiak on a fourth-down attempt at midfield with just over 7 1/2 minutes to play, and the Kenai offense drained the clock with a long drive that brought the home team to Kodiak’s 15-yard line, only to be stuffed with 3:39 to play, effectively sealing the win.
McKibben picked off Arndt with 3:20 to go.
Soldotna 57, Service 13
SoHi scored the first 36 points in the first half en route to a dominating home victory Saturday over the Division I Cougars at Justin Maile Field.
While the Stars were not able to clinch the Northern Lights Conference crown due to Kenai’s win over Kodiak, SoHi will have a chance to do so next week with a win over the Kardinals on their home field. A win would deliver SoHi a record 13th consecutive NLC title.
SoHi QB Jersey Truesdell scored three touchdowns runs in the first half, then added two passing scores in the second to finish with five total TDs on the day and 115 rush yards. Aaron Faletoi scored twice on the ground for 128 yards and Zach Hanson brought down both of Truesdell’s TD passes.
Overall, the SoHi running game had its most productive outing of the season, getting 514 team rush yards on 56 carries. Wyatt Medcoff led the way with 181 rush yards on 18 carries.
Hanson took up the spot of Soldotna junior tight end Galen Brantley III, who went down with a leg injury in the first half and sat on the bench the rest of the day. Brantley III will likely sit out next week vs. Kenai, according to Stars head coach Galen Brantley Jr.
Truesdell got the Stars on the board first with a scoring rumble on SoHi’s opening drive of the game, then added another 28-yard TD run with 4:11 left in the quarter to make it 14-0 Soldotna.
Led by QB Jason Villanueva-Kaeo, the Cougars drove downfield to SoHi’s 4-yard line, only for Villanueva-Kaeo to throw an interception to SoHi defensive back Cy Updike in the end zone early in the second quarter.
The pick led to an 80-yard SoHi drive that was capped by a one-yard push into the end zone by Truesdell at the 6:22 mark of the second, putting SoHi up 21-0.
After a Service three-and-out, Faletoi broke off a 22-yard rush to push the lead to 28-0, and it continued to widen with a third Truesdell run on the next possession, a 30-yard score with 1:08 to play before the half.
The Cougars finally finished a drive at the end of the first half to put points on the board. Villanueva-Kaeo burst through for a 6-yard TD with 14 seconds left that led to a 36-7 halftime score.
Soldotna made up for it on its first drive of the second half as Wyatt Medcoff exploded for a 62-yard run less than two minutes after the break.
STARS 57, COUGARS 13
Service 0 7 0 6 —13
Soldotna 14 22 21 0 —57
Sol — Truesdell 14 run (Truesdell kick), 8:21
Sol — Faletoi 28 run (Truesdell kick), 4:11
Sol — Truesdell 1 run (Truesdell kick), 6:22
Sol — Faletoi 22 run (Truesdell kick), 2:38
Sol — Truesdell 30 run (Morrison pass from Truesdell), 1:08
Ser — Faulkner 6 run (Williams kick), :14
Sol — Medcoff 62 run (Truesdell kick), 10:19
Sol — Hanson 14 pass from Truesdell (Truesdell kick), 9:11
Sol — Hanson 16 pass from Truesdell (Truesdell kick), 4:29
Ser — Faulkner 1 run (kick failed), 10:45
First downs 20 14
Rush yds 56-514 31-132
Pass yds 30 132
Comp-att-int 2-2-0 16-25-2
Return yds 2-34 8-100
Punts 1-33.0 4-36.0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties 3-30 3-35
Rushing — Soldotna: Medcoff 18-181, Faletoi 12-128, Truesdell 11-115, Metcalf 5-42, Taylor 1-19, O’Reagan 3-17, Jaime 2-10, T. Johnson 2-5, C. Johnson 2-(-3). Service: Faulkner 25-85, Villanueva-Kaeo 4-23, Hostetter 1-7, Williams 1-4.
Passing — Soldotna: Truesdell 2-2-2—30. Service: Villanueva-Kaeo 10-18-0—93, Williams 6-7-0—39.