Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
Up 12-0 just seven minutes into Saturday’s game at the Thunderdome, surging Thunder Mountain looked poised to ride its aerial attack to a 3-0 record. On the second play of the game, senior quarterback Cale Jenkins hit sophomore receiver Hansel Hinckle for an 85-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing drive, Falcons junior Jacob Tapia ran an interception back for a touchdown.
Tapia’s pick six would be the Falcons’ last points of the game as the Kardinals controlled the clock with their relentless rush, combining for 224 yards on the ground and shutting out Jenkins and Co. for three quarters to steal the nonconference game 23-12.
Rykker Riddall had 93 yards on 18 carries for Kenai, while Zack Tuttle added 81 yards on 12 carries.
Though Kenai wore the Falcons down with the run, Thunder Mountain’s red zone defense kept the Falcons in the game as Thunder Mountain was able to hold the Kardinals to field goals on three trips to the red zone.
“Our defense held up pretty well, they basically kept us in the game,” Falcons coach Randy Quinto said. “For a long time our offense just sputtered. … Our offense couldn’t really execute and our defense played a heck of a game just to keep us in it.”
The Falcons kept the Kardinals out of the end zone the whole first half and headed to halftime up 12-6 after two second-quarter Kenai field goals. With only three first downs to Kenai’s eight, however, the writing was on the wall — Kenai was going to run the ball until the Falcons’ wheels fell off.
The Kardinals’ winning strategy clicked in the third quarter. After a Thunder Mountain punt, the Kardinals linked runs and gassed the Falcons defense on a nine-minute touchdown drive, putting the visitors up 13-12 heading into the fourth.
“From a program standpoint we felt we had to establish the run. We also couldn’t allow Thunder Mountain to control the clock, because they would,” Kenai coach Davis Lowery said. “We knew we had to try and win the battle up front.”
Thunder Mountain’s defense wouldn’t get much of a break after the long drive as Jenkins threw a pick to Chase Gillies on the ensuing drive. Gillies returned the ball 55 yards on his second interception on the night, setting up a goal line battle in Thunder Mountain’s red zone. A pair of red zone penalties kept the Kardinals from scoring, however, and they got themselves another Tuttle field goal and a 16-12 lead.
“The momentum shift there was the tough one. We saw that they were just hungrier and wanted it more than we did at that point,” Quinto said.
The Falcons gave up another turnover with 10:15 left in the fourth, putting their backs against the wall after a bobbled pass would up in the arms of Kenai’s defense. With a four-point lead and the ball on their own 45, the Kardinals needed only to milk the clock and kick a field goal to give them a one-touchdown lead and the Falcons a last chance at tying the game.
At third-and-long on the Falcons 38 with five minutes left, the Kardinals pulled the ace from their sleeve, finally passing the ball over the middle for a 22-yard gain to break into Thunder Mountain’s red zone. A pair of runs brought the ball to the goal line and Kardinals junior James Siamani punched the ball in for the decisive lead, putting the game out of reach for the Falcons.
Falcons 12, Kardinals 23
Thunder Mountain 12 0 0 0 —12
Kenai Central 0 6 7 10 —23
TM — Hickel 85 pass (two-point conversion failed), 10:03
TM — Tapia 54 interception return (2-pt failed), 5:03
Ken — Tuttle 15 field goal, 4:40
Ken — Tuttle 10 field goal, 2:11
Ken — Gillies 3 run (Tuttle kick), 2:23
Ken — Tuttle 5 FG, 10:21
Ken — Siamani 1 run (Tuttle kick), 2:55
Rushes-yds 9-23 49-224
Pass yds 124 63
Comp-att-int 7-16-4 5-11-1
Return yds 72 61
Punts 3-48.3 2-32.0
Fumbles 1 0
Penalties 8-45 12-65
Rushing — Thunder Mountain: Olmstead 6-21, Frenette 4-2. Kenai Central: Riddall 18-93, Tuttle 12-81, Beeson
7-34, Gillies 11-15, Siamani 1-1.
Passing — Thunder Mountain: Jenkins 7-16-4—124. Kenai Central: Gilies 5-11-1—63.