A punishing ground offense and a stout, opportunistic defense pushed Kenai Central to a 41-6 homecoming victory over Homer on Saturday at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
With the victory, the Kardinals sew up a playoff spot by moving their Northern Lights Conference record to 2-0 and their overall record to 3-3. Soldotna and Kenai will play for the NLC title Saturday.
Homer falls to 2-5 overall and 0-3 in the league, and sees an official end to playoff hopes.
The Kardinals controlled the ground, and thus controlled the game. Kenai rushed 50 times for 331 yards, while Homer rushed 15 times for negative 9 yards. Throw in four Homer turnovers to none for Kenai, and the Kards pulled all the drama out of a pleasant-side-of-brisk autumn afternoon.
“I’m happy with the win,” Kenai Central coach John Marquez said. “We controlled the ball and obviously the turnovers went our way.”
Senior running back Chase Logan led the way for Kenai on the ground, picking up 141 yards and three scores on 21 carries.
Logan and junior fullback Andrew Welborn, who had 69 yards on seven carries, each scored twice in the first half as Kenai went to the break with a 28-0 lead.
Kyle Foree, who rushed 14 times for 93 yards, had the other score for the Kardinals.
Marquez said Royal Brown was forced into line action due to an injury to Zach Koziczkowski, and Tanner Wortham entered the line when Chris Lawson was injured during the game. He said both did a great job of allowing the Kards to still gain yards.
By bottling up the Homer rushing attack, Kenai was able to turn the Mariners into a one-dimensional team. Quarterback Sheldon Hutt gamely went 13 for 28 for 194 yards, with two interceptions and one scoring strike.
“He has really grown into his role as a leader,” Homer coach Josh Fraley said of Hutt. “He took some flat out shots from Jace Baker and kept on getting up.”
Baker, also an outside linebacker, kept getting the green light to blitz. He said the tackle kept knifing down to leave him isolated on a running back. Most times, Baker would beat that running back. Other times, the running back would miss the assignment and Baker would nearly bend Hutt in half with blind-side hits.
Baker said he has always respected Hutt, and this game only heightened that feeling.
“He still gets the job done,” Baker said. “I know from experience how hard it is to get back up and get into the flow of things again.”
With Hutt under center, the Mariners were able to move the ball, but the Kards kept Homer off the board until late in the game due to turnovers.
Chase Gillies had a pair of second-half interceptions for the Kardinals, while Logan and Tyler Montague had fumble recoveries. Tom Randall also blocked a field goal for the Kards.
While Marquez said the offense could have been crisper, he was happy with the defense.
“There was no spottiness in our defense,” Marquez said. “They came out and did what we are known for.”
The Montague fumble recovery was one of two feel-good moments late in the game. Marquez said Montague, a senior, was seeing his first action on the field.
“There’s wins and losses, but it’s things like that we’re all here for,” Marquez said. “He’ll remember that moment for the rest of his life.”
Ditto for Ian Lowe, who caught a 26-yard touchdown from Hutt in the final minute of the game. Fraley said Lowe was just cleared to play from a separated shoulder two days ago. Fraley didn’t want to play Lowe, but injuries forced his hand.
The coach said the senior is his most dedicated player. Saturday marked his first varsity touchdown.
“You could see how excited all the kids were for him,” Fraley said.
Kardinals 41, Mariners 6
Homer 0 0 0 6 —6
Kenai 7 21 6 7 —41
Ken — Logan 8 run (Vest kick), 7:18.
Ken — Logan 6 run (Vest kick), 11:49.
Ken — Welborn 5 run (Vest kick), 4:24.
Ken — Welborn 1 run (Vest kick), 1:15.
Ken — Logan 8 run (kick failed), 9:50.
Ken — Foree 3 run (Creighton kick), 10:57.
Hom — Lowe 26 pass from Hutt (run failed), 0:40.
First downs 8 12
Rushes-yards 15-(-9) 50-331
Passing yards 194 8
Comp-att-int 13-28-2 2-6-0
Return yards 0 123
Punts 5-27.0 1-22.0
Fumbles 5-2 1-0
Penalties 7-35 11-95
Rushing — Homer: Hutt 8-(-24), Fisk 3-0, Hill 4-15. Kenai: Logan 21-141, Foree 14-93, Welborn 7-69, Baker 7-27, Gillies 1-1.
Passing — Homer: Hutt 13-28-2—194; Kenai: Baker 2-6-0—8.