Kenai Central put together three quality quarters of football Friday night at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, but unfortunately for the Kardinals, football games are made up of four quarters.
Wasilla ultimately topped Kenai in a 20-10 nonconference victory, pushing its season record to 3-2 overall while Kenai dropped to 2-3.
The Kardinals managed to keep the Wasilla offense in check for most of the evening, but mistakes on the other side of the ball dogged Kenai when it mattered most.
“We won two parts of the battle, and that’s how you win games,” said Wasilla coach Kent Rilatos. “We come down here every couple years, and I tell you what, the Kenai crowd was great and the young men were battling on every play, my hat’s off to them.”
Wasilla only took seven offensive snaps (of 38 total) in Kenai territory the entire night, but it was the Warriors defense and special teams that got the job done.
Beginning with an 83-yard kickoff return by Mosiah Renk to open the game, Wasilla then added a third-quarter, 15-yard fumble recovery touchdown by DJ Morrow and five forced turnovers in the second half that stymied the Kards, including two crucial interceptions by Caleb Wolfe and Layne Morrison in the final five minutes of the game.
“With Mosiah, he’s only a sophomore and he’s already doing great things for us,” said Wasilla senior Devin Otto. “I really expect him to have a great high school career. He really set the fire for us today.”
Otto had 35 rushing yards himself, while Renk led the Warriors with 92 yards on the ground, including a spectacular 67-yard dash late in the third quarter, breaking through the Kenai defensive line and shedding several other tackles to score the touchdown and put Wasilla ahead.
“When you get that, everybody just focuses better,” Otto said. “Kenai really did their homework, but we were still able to get other guys yards and touchdowns.”
Kenai senior Chase Logan led the home team with 213 rushing yards on 40 carries.
“When you have players giving you perfect effort, and things like that happen, it’s hard to get on them,” said Kenai coach John Marquez. “I’ll never do that to them. My players played well, and our defense was outstanding.”
Wasilla had more return yards from Kenai kicks, punts, fumbles and interceptions (137) than actual offensive yards (124).
Following the quick touchdown 12 seconds into the game by Renk, both sides traded punts, which made for a quick opening half.
Wasilla kicker Carson Reed, a sophomore, went kick for kick with Kenai’s Jace Baker, with many of his fourth down kicks leaving Kenai with a lot of field to work with under darkening, rainy skies.
“I just told him with the crosswind to aim at the right goalpost,” Rilatos said. “I said don’t make the referree have to make a decision, just let it drift on in and make your kick make the difference.
“He’s as good as or better than any kicker in the state. We’re blessed to have him. He’s getting all that he put in during summer workouts.”
However, Kenai led 10-7 at halftime, scoring all 10 of its points in a span of 68 seconds at the end of the first half.
After receiving a Wasilla punt, the Kards marched down to the Wasilla 18-yard line and scored their first points of the night on a 35-yard field goal from Marshall Vest with 1:24 to go. On the ensuing kickoff, the Wasilla kick receiver fumbled the ball and gave it right back to Kenai.
On the fourth play of the drive, quarterback Jace Baker connected with Chase Gillies on a fade route to the right corner of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown pass with 16 seconds left in the half. Gillies miraculously held on to the ball after juggling the initial catch.
The second half started with the same kind of drama. On the second snap of the third quarter, Logan fumbled the ball over to Wasilla, setting the Warriors up on the Kenai 19-yard line. After three plays, Wasilla attemped a 35-yard field goal, but missed.
Two Wasilla possessions later, Renk took the ball up the right sideline and broke through for the go-ahead, 67-yard touchdown, putting Wasilla ahead 14-10.
On Kenai’s very next drive, the momentum continued to swing the Warriors’ way. Foree proceeded to lose the ball in Wasilla territory, leaving Morrow with the easy scoop and score from 15 yards out.
“If you go look at us and the teams we’ve played, I really think we have an excellent run defense,” Otto said. “We came out in the second half, just keep doing the same thing we were doing, and we just came out there and stripped a lot of good balls.”
Coach Rilatos said he has his team working on defensive skills every practice and his team prides itself on that defensive intensity.
“All teams work on ball security, and that’s a paramount thing for us,” Rilatos said. “Our running backs work with coach (Abe) Salmon every day, and usually two separate times a day.”
After the Morrow touchdown with 1:48 remaining in the third quarter, Kenai embarked on a long drive that was extended on a Wasilla penalty following a Kenai punt. The Kards went from their own 20-yard line to the Wasilla 16 on a 15-play drive, but came agonizingly close to scoring when Logan fumbled the ball.
“What hurt us was when we were finally driving the ball, and Logan fumbles,” Marquez said. “But I tell you what, I’m still gonna hand No. 25 the football. I’m very proud of that young man.”
After a Wasilla three-and-out possession that resulted in a punt to give the Kards midfield position, Kenai gave the ball right back when Baker tossed an interception to Wolfe with 4:06 left.
After another Wasilla three-and-out, Kenai took over once again on a frenzied drive from their own 38 to the Wasilla 20 in an eight-play drive that ultimately ended in a second interception, this time to Morrison 4 yards out from the end zone. It prompted Rilatos to praise his defensive backs.
“Once we get into a situation that we know they’re going to pass, they do the things they’re taught to do,” Rilatos said. “We started backing our DBs a little bit, and pressuring the Kenai quarterback to throw.”
Marquez added that his squad is not primed to throw the ball as many times as it did in the final minutes.
“We’re not that team with a minute and a half left to throw the ball right down the field,” he said. “We marched the ball down the field, and we did what we did and threw it.
“Wasilla’s a fantastic team. They can hit, they fly around, they came in prepared for us, and we didn’t play a third quarter. In tight games, you gotta play four quarters.”
Kenai will enjoy an off week with a bye before facing Homer on Sept. 27.
Warriors 20, Kardinals 10
Wasilla 7 0 13 0 —20
Kenai 0 10 0 0 —10
Was — Renk 83 kick return (Reed kick), 11:48
Ken — Vest 35 FG, 1:24
Ken — Gillies 10 pass from Baker (Vest kick), :16
Was — Renk 67 run (Reed kick), 3:17
Was — Morrow 15 fumble return (kick failed), 1:48
Rushes-yards 52-229 27-124
Passing yards 24 0
Comp-att-int 3-10-2 0-1-0
Return yards 0 137
Punts 6 6
Fumbles 4-3 1-1
Penalties-yards 2-10 1-10
Rushing — Kenai: Logan 40-213, Foree 8-15, Welborn 2-1, Baker 2-0. Wasilla: Renk 6-92, Otto 16-35, Garnett 3-4, Hongslo 2-(-7).
Passing — Kenai: Baker 3-10-2—24. Wasilla: Hongslo 0-1-0—0.