High school football returned to the Kenai Peninsula on Friday as the visiting Kodiak Bears took on the Kenai Central Kardinals in a season-opening game.
Kenai handily won the night, putting a decisive 37-0 on the scoreboard, but both coaches said the season was very young. There’s much more football to play.
Kodiak head coach Taylor Masterson said that Kodiak always has a slower start. Their school year opens later, and many players haven’t returned from seasonal fishing jobs. Only four of the Bears who hit the field on Friday had ever played in high school games before.
The Kardinals knew that Kodiak would have that slow start, but that doesn’t mean the win was any less important. Kenai head coach Jake Brand said that the team needed to win Friday — “That’s step one taken care of.”
“It’s only gonna get harder from here,” he said. “But for today, the kids should be proud of themselves.”
The game opened with a serious injury on its first play — Kodiak’s Tyce Cunningham suffering a bone fracture in his arm. Kenai Fire Department staff responded onto the field, and Masterson said after the game that it was a “pretty bad fracture” and that the Bears would be checking in on their teammate as soon as they left.
Especially with such a young squad playing for the Bears, Masterson said that experience was “traumatic.”
“They’ve never experienced anything like it, and so I think we just have to be honest … Things happen, this is life. This is the game of football,” he said. “Coming out of the huddle, we said two things, ‘we’ve gotta be brave’ and ‘we’ve gotta fight like hell,’ and that’s all we can really do and that’s all we can ask of them.”
When play resumed, Kodiak was quickly held to a punt, and Kenai drove the ball across the field, led by a 25-yard push by Tyler Van Sky.
With more than five minutes left in the first quarter, Kenai’s Bobby Hayes delivered a touchdown, the extra point secured off a kick by Sawyer Vann for 7-0.
After taking possession, the Bears were held to punt again, but a fumble resulted in the ball being downed in the end zone, prompting a safety, advancing Kenai’s lead to 9-0 with three and a half minutes left in the quarter.
In the next minute of play, Kenai regained possession and drove the ball all the way to the Bears’ end zone once again. Hayes almost secured another touchdown on a roughly 30-yard drive, but he was stopped by Kodiak’s Kyler Poulos-Pugal with only 3 yards to go. Kenai’s William Wilson landed the touchdown on the next play — supplemented again by a successful kick by Vann for 15-0.
Kodiak was held to punt for the third time with 30 seconds on the clock, and Kenai brought it 3 yards from the end zone before time ran out.
At the start of the second quarter, Wilson brought the ball in again. Vann again landed the kick and put 23-0 on the scoreboard.
Kodiak punted for the fourth time with nine minutes on the clock, and Kenai quickly delivered it back to their side of the field with a 35-yard gain by Hayes off a pass from Zeke Yragui. On the next play, Makai Johansen carried the ball to a touchdown, and Vann made his kick for 30-0.
Kodiak was held to punt again with six minutes left in the half, but a penalty called on Kenai during the punt gave the Bears a first down and the ball back.
The Bears were again held, with several hard shutdowns by Kenai’s Rohan Hansen, and made to punt. Again, the ball was swiftly returned to their hands off a Kenai fumble on the next play.
After all that back and forth, Kodiak lost the ball again, on downs rather than a punt, with around two minutes in the half. In the next play, Hayes carried the ball 49 yards for a touchdown, and Vann made the score 37-0. Those would be the final points scored for the night.
In the third quarter, Kodiak’s Daniel Farmer recovered a Kenai fumble to kick off a drive that was stopped less than a yard from the Kardinal end zone. Despite several close calls, neither team would manage to land any scoring plays before the game closed.
Masterson, though his team was “pretty beat up,” said he was proud of the way they persevered, and that they would have plenty to work on as they spend the next four weeks playing on their own field.
Masterson credited the leadership of junior running back Nathan Bungay with keeping the team in the game. “We’re asking him to do a lot.”
He also looked to senior quarterback Martin Canaveral, stepping up in only his first year playing football, and Timu Aukustino, a sophomore offensive lineman with “a lot to work on,” but who’s already shown “he’s gonna step up and be a big player.”
The Kardinals left the field reveling in their strong opening showing.
On Friday, Brand said that the offensive team of Wilson, Hayes and Yragui delivered yards and leadership. He also pointed to the defensive squad, including Hansen — “he just shut down that middle” — and Logan Myers, who together consistently saw the Bears’ held to the fourth down.
Opening the season with a strong performance is “great for confidence,” Brand said, but now he has to temper expectations. Next week, the Kardinals will have to contend in an away game with the Barrow Whalers, who are “ready to rock.”
Brand also said that Kodiak will be looking to get even when they meet later in the season in an away game.