Homer’s Jake Tappan runs with the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Jake Tappan runs with the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kardinals shock Mariners with wild comeback in final minute of DIII semi

Top seed Kenai Central defeated No. 4 Homer 21-16 on Saturday in a thrilling last-minute twist of the Division III semifinal match, after trailing for most of the game at Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School.

The Kardinals (7-2 overall) will advance to the Division III state final against Barrow (6-2) at 2 p.m. Saturday at Service High School in Anchorage. Kenai Central, appearing in its first state final since 2015, will look to add to state titles in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2009 and 2011.

With one minute left Saturday, Kenai was trailing Homer, the defending Division III champ, 16-8. A touchdown by Kardinals quarterback Zeke Yragui at 56 seconds opened the door to a tie, but the Kardinals missed their two-point conversion.

With 16-14 on the scoreboard and less than a minute of play remaining, that score might have seemed final — until Kenai’s Spencer Maw threw himself on top of an onside kick.

The Kardinals raced down the field, resetting plays as quickly as they could manage, and it was Bobby Hayes who finally delivered a game-winning touchdown at 17 seconds.

“They handled adversity extremely well,” Kenai coach Jake Brand said after the game. “They get behind, they’ve got to pick it up and keep trucking.”

For much of the game, Kenai and the Mariners (4-5) were trading possessions, unable to secure points. The first quarter passed without scores, and it was only in the last minute of the first half that Homer’s Jake Tappan intercepted a pass from Yragui and took it to the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. Tappan then carried in the two-point conversion.

“I’m really proud of my guys. I thought they left everything out there on that field,” Homer coach Justin Zank said Sunday. “Probably the best game we played all season, everyone working together to try to make it happen.”

Zank pointed to standout defensive play from Clark Milstead and Donovan Milstead, as well as Nathan Overson and Oak Anderson. They sustained Homer’s 8-0 lead for much of the third quarter.

It was Hayes who evened the score with a touchdown and a two-point conversion at 1:43 left in the third.

The Mariners responded quickly and saw their lead restored on the first play of the fourth quarter. Chris Martishev dove into the end zone with 11:48 left in the game, a two-point conversion by Preston Stanislaw putting the Mariners up 16-8. That score held until Yragui’s touchdown in the last minute.

Zank said that the Mariners came into the game with the belief that they would be successful, and he said it was that belief that kept the team going, especially through the ups and downs of the fourth quarter. He said, ultimately, it was mistakes that added up and cost them the game.

“This is gonna be a tough one to shake for a very long time,” he said.

Brand said that across all the ups and downs of the game, the Kardinals persevered by holding steady heads.

“We pride ourselves on being a team that doesn’t ride the roller coaster. We don’t go up and down,” he said. “It’s good play, bad play, onto the next play.”

Homer’s season is ended, and Zank said that they’re going to be seeing a lot of turnover as starters graduate — on offense and defense. He said they’ll be looking to coach up their younger talent for next year.

The Kardinals have one more game in their season.

In August, the Whalers topped the Kardinals 8-6. In September the Kardinals returned the favor with at 21-8 win. Brand described the Whalers as Kenai’s “mirror image” and said Barrow will present a tough challenge.

Host Barrow topped No. 3 Houston (7-2) 22-18 on Saturday to make the final.

Homer’s Preston Stanislaw runs with the ball pursued by Kenai’s Elliot Haakenson during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Preston Stanislaw runs with the ball pursued by Kenai’s Elliot Haakenson during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes moves with the ball while evading Homer’s Joe Gordon and Jake Tappan during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes moves with the ball while evading Homer’s Joe Gordon and Jake Tappan during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes runs with the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes runs with the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Jake Tappan runs with the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s Jake Tappan runs with the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s CJ Burns and Kenai’s Cole Langham leap for the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Homer’s CJ Burns and Kenai’s Cole Langham leap for the ball during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes moves with the ball while Homer’s Nikifor Reutov tries to pull him down during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes moves with the ball while Homer’s Nikifor Reutov tries to pull him down during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Zeke Yragui rises after scoring a touchdown with less than a minute left during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Zeke Yragui rises after scoring a touchdown with less than a minute left during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes, right, celebrates his game winning touchdown with Sawyer Vann during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai’s Bobby Hayes, right, celebrates his game winning touchdown with Sawyer Vann during a Division III playoff game at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Central Kardinals celebrate a game winning touchdown scored by Bobby Hayes during a Division III playoff game at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

The Kenai Central Kardinals celebrate a game winning touchdown scored by Bobby Hayes during a Division III playoff game at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

More in Sports

Kenai Central's Kate Wisnewski heads the ball wide of the net Friday, April 19, 2024, at Kenai Central High School in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Friday: Kenai girls soccer topples Grace

Kate Wisnewski netted a hat trick as the host Kenai Central girls… Continue reading

tease
Thursday: Homer girls soccer downs Grace Christian

The host Homer girls soccer team defeated Grace Christian 5-0 on Thursday… Continue reading

TEASE
Homer softball drops 2 at Sitka tourney

The Homer softball team opened its season Thursday at the Sitka High… Continue reading

tease
Soldotna baseball, softball teams cancel trip to Kodiak

The Soldotna baseball and softball teams did not travel to Kodiak due… Continue reading

A group of caribou mosey across Murwood Avenue near Soldotna, Alaska, on Sunday, April 14, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Out of the Office: ‘Let’s mosey’

Sunday, I photographed some caribou close to my home. As I photographed… Continue reading

Kenai Central’s Kylee Verkuilen races Nikiski for control of the ball during a soccer game at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, Alaska, on Friday, April 12, 2024. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai sweeps, shuts out Nikiski in Friday soccer games

Kenai girls and boys teams opened with early goals

Head coach Taylor Shaw (center) talks to the Kenai River Brown Bears during a timeout at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, March 23, 2024. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)
Season review: Brown Bears hope to build on solid finish to season

It’s not easy to finish a season in last place in a division, yet have plenty of reasons for optimism for the next season

tease
Homer snow shuffles sports schedule

The Mariners were supposed to host Kenai Central in Thursday

Most Read