PALMER — The Soldotna Stars earned their 54th straight victory over the last team to beat them, the Palmer Moose, 28-10 Friday night at Machetanz Field in Northern Lights Conference play.
The Stars struck on their sixth play from scrimmage when quarterback Brandon Crowder found Galen Brantley III wide open down the middle of the field for a 32-yard touchdown. The Moose (0-1 NLC, 1-4 overall) did their Soldotna Stars impression on offense, using seven minutes to methodically march down the field. Junior quarterback Luke Guggenmoss scored on a 1-yard quarterback sneak on the first play of the second quarter.
“They gave us everything we thought we were going to get. There’s no shocker on our part, we knew it was going to be a dogfight when we got in here,” said Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. after moving to 1-0 in the NLC and 5-0 overall.
On the following drive, Crowder hit Cody Quelland with a 23-yard strike on third down. Crowder hid the football on his hip and ran to the corner of the end zone for a 5-yard score. With six minutes remaining in the first half, Palmer charged toward the end zone. Guggenmoss connected with Skyler Hale on two consecutive plays. Facing third-and-one inside the Soldotna red zone, Guggenmoss fumbled the snap. The fourth-down quarterback sneak attempt would fall short on the measurement, and Soldotna escaped the first half with a touchdown lead.
Palmer forced the first Soldotna punt of the game to start the second half. The Stars deception handoff offense confuses most defenses, as any of three ballcarriers may appear to have the ball. While the Moose offer a more conventional ground game, Palmer brought their own trio of gritty running backs. Jared Oviok, Jeff Glynn and Larry Cutsforth rumbled the ball all the way to the Soldotna 2-yard line, but were forced to settle for a Cutsforth field goal, cutting the Soldotna lead to four.
“We just needed to execute more when we got into the red zone,” said Oviok.
Where Brenner Furlong may be the quick, shifty lightning to the Stars offense, and Aaron Faletoi plays the the noisy, punishing thunder, Crowder moves like wind. Hiding the ball on his hip on the way to 78 yards on just six carries, you may not often see Crowder, but his impact is felt.
“They committed to stopping the inside run. You can take away any part of the offense you want, but you can’t take away the whole thing,” Brantley Jr. said.
On third-and-two, just inside of the fourth quarter, Crowder faked two handoffs and scampered to a wide open sideline, gaining 32 yards before being brought down at the Palmer 4-yard line.
Crowder then tried the middle of the line at the Palmer 1, but fumbled. Faletoi was there to recover and reap the benefits, padding the Stars’ fourth-quarter lead.
“They’re very, very physical,” Palmer head coach Rod Christiansen said. “They just keep coming and coming and they’re very disciplined and they keep doing what they’re supposed to do. It’s tough.”
Palmer attempted to retaliate quickly, desperate to close the gap. Guggenmoss threw to Levi Farris for 17 yards on third-and-10, but was then unable to connect with an open Skyler Hale down the sideline three times. Crowder again found 10 yards of open field en route to the game-clinching touchdown for Soldotna with less than four minutes remaining.
Cutsforth was excited following the game.
“It’s very positive! We got it done a lot, we just need to get it done in the fourth quarter,” he said.
Contact freelance writer Tim Rockey at email@example.com.
Soldotna 28, Palmer 10
Friday, Machetanz Field
Soldotna — Brantley III pass from Crowder (Sheridan kick) 7:01.
Palmer — Guggenmoss 1 run (Cutsforth kick) 11:55
Soldotna — Crowder 5 run (Sheridan kick) 6:32
Palmer — Cutsforth 25 field goal 3:31
Soldotna — Faletoi 1 run (Sheridan kick) 8:16
Soldotna — Crowder 10 run (Sheridan kick) 3:57.
RUSHING — Palmer: Cutsforth 13-101, Glynn 8-29, Guggenmoss 6-(-21), Elliot 1-0, Oviok 8-36, Daniels 1-5; Soldotna: Furlong 17-70, Crowder 6-78, Faletoi 11-51, Quelland 2-4.
PASSING — Palmer: Guggenmoss 4-9-0-79; Soldotna: Crowder 2-4-0-55.
RECEIVING — Palmer: Farris 2-26, Daniels 2-18, Hale 3-35; Soldotna: Brantley III 1-32, Quelland 1-23.
Kodiak 27, Kenai Central 22
The host Bears jumped out to a 20-6 lead at halftime and held on for a big Northern Lights Conference victory.
“We didn’t play good for a quarter and a half in a game that should be pretty even, and it wasn’t even,” Kenai Central coach Ted Riddall said. “We didn’t execute or complete drives, and we had a lot of mental mistakes.
“It looked like the first game of the season. That’s what it reminded me of.”
Kodiak moves to 1-0 in the league and 1-4 overall, while the Kardinals fall to 1-1 in the league and 3-2 overall. With Palmer and Soldotna left on the conference schedule, the Kards face a tough road to the playoffs.
“Anybody can beat anybody on any given night,” Riddall said. “Seeing the score of SoHi and Palmer, we could do that same thing. If we won out, that would take care of it. At this point, it’s pretty much a have-to.”
The Bears led 10-0 after the first quarter on a field goal from Jovani Recinos-Pineda and a scoring run from Brandon Jimenez. Kodiak moved the gap to 13-0 when Recinos-Pineda booted another field goal to start the second quarter.
Titus Riddall got the Kards on the board with a 1-yard run in the second quarter, but Kodiak answered when Kaleb Finley caught an 11-yard TD pass from Shaun Walton.
Zack Tuttle led a second half comeback when he scored on a 6-yard run in the third quarter to cut the lead to 20-14. But Francisco hauled in a 50-yard pass from Walton with 2:31 left in the third quarter for a 27-14 lead.
“You don’t want to be in that position, but I challenged the kids at halftime,” Riddall said. “I told them we can’t get that half back. They played better and made some plays.”
Tuttle and quarterback Connor Felchle hit an 82-yard pass with 10:01 left in the game. The Kards continued the comeback, but the attempt ultimately failed when Kodiak stopped a third down from the Bears’ 2 with three seconds left, leaving fourth-and-goal from the 1. Riddall said he was yelling for a timeout as the final seconds ticked off, but the refs said they did not hear him.
“It could have easily went the other way, but we didn’t deserve to win on the scoreboard,” Riddall said. “We didn’t play well enough.
“I don’t want to take anything away from their win. They deserved it.”
Kenai, which got two interceptions from Tuttle and another from Caleb Streiff, did not have leading rusher Rykker Riddall in the game due to an ankle injury. Tuttle had six rushes for 31 yards and four catches for 173 yards, but coach Riddall said at times the Kards struggled to use other options on offense.
Clarion staff contributed to this report.
BEARS 27, KARDINALS 22
Kenai 0 6 8 8 — 22
Kodiak 10 10 7 0 — 27
Kod — Recinos-Pineda 31 field goal, 5:29
Kod — Jiminez 2 run (Recinos-Pineda kick), 2:26
Kod — Recinos-Pineda 31 field goal, 6:43
Ken — T. Riddall 1 run (run failed), 5:11
Kod — Finley 11 pass from Walton (Recinos-Pineda kick), :30
Ken — Tuttle 6 run (Baker pass from Felchle), 6:49
Kod — Francisco 50 pass from Walton (Recinos-Pineda kick), 2:31
Ken — Tuttle 82 pass from Felchle (Tuttle pass from Felchle), 10:01
First downs 14 17
Rushing 35-131 40-175
Pass yds 207 169
Total yds 338 344
Comp-att-int 8-20-2 10-22-3
Punts 2 3
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-yds 10-80 9-85
Rushing — Kenai: T. Riddall 15-65, McEnerney 5-22, Felchle 3-3, Tuttle 6-31, Burnett 3-0, McKibben 1-(-9), O’Brien 2-19. Kodiak: Finley 13-96, Walton 7-(-1), Galindez 4-6, Rastopsoff 15-72, Jimenez 1-2.
Passing — Kenai: Felchle 8-19-2 — 207, #40 0-1-0 — 0. Kodiak: Walton 10-22-3 — 169.
Receiving — Kenai: McEnerney 1-11, Tuttle 4-173, Baker 2-21, O’Brien 1-6. Kodiak: Galindez 4-40, Francisco 2-91, Jimenez 1-10, Finley 2-18, Ladera 1-10.