The Kenai Central football team held off a Homer comeback for a 27-23 victory Friday in Mid Alaska Conference play at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
The Kardinals improved to 1-2 in the league and 1-3 overall, while Homer saw its playoff hopes fade in falling to 0-2 and 1-4.
Kenai gained 207 yards, while Homer had 98, in jumping to a 27-0 lead after the first half. In the second half, Homer stormed back with 23 unanswered points, outgaining the Kards 232-3.
“That epitomizes our season, I guess,” Homer coach Justin Zank said. “We’re like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide. You see how we played in the first half, then we play in the second half.”
Kenai made the defensive plays it needed to secure the victory.
Clinging to that four-point lead, Homer had a fourth-and-five from the Kenai 40-yard line with 3:55 to play. The Kardinals held Homer quarterback Carter Tennison, who passed for 104 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 197 yards, just short of the first down.
After the Kardinals went three-and-out, Homer set up shop at its own 11 with 1:58 to play, but Kenai’s Owen Whicker quickly ended the drama by intercepting Tennison on first down.
“What it came down to was just finishing,” Kenai coach Dustin Akana said. “Owen Whicker, that’s what he had to do — finish. And he finished the game. Owen had a great game. He had good hits and caused a fumble on the kickoff.”
At halftime, Whicker’s heroics did not seem like they’d be necessary. Kenai quarterback Bridger Beck was 5 of 8 for 101 yards and two touchdowns in the first 24 minutes, while also scoring on the ground and intercepting a pass.
“To be honest, the first half was everything I wrote down for the boys,” Akana said. “They did their job. They did everything we asked them.”
James Sparks opened the scoring in the first quarter on a 9-yard pass from Beck.
Then 1:38 in the second quarter decided the game.
Beck scored on a 1-yard run with 6:31 until halftime, then Homer fumbled away the kickoff and Beck hit David Martin for a 25-yard touchdown at the 6:09 mark.
Homer did not field the ensuing kickoff cleanly and this time it took Kenai three plays for Reagan Graves to score on a 1-yard run for a 27-0 lead with 4:53 remaining until halftime.
“We made no adjustments,” Zank said of halftime, allowing there were a few personnel adjustments. “There are no adjustments to be made when you’re making a mistake every single play on offense — you’re just not catching the ball or blocking your man.
“We just needed to execute. And we began executing to some degree in the second half.”
In the third quarter, Tennison threw a 20-yard pass to Jack Hrenchir and a 15-yard pass to Seraphim Macauly to tighten the score to 27-15.
With 8:29 left, another pass from Tennison to Hrenchir cut it to 27-23 and set up Kenai’s big two defensive stops.
“At halftime, we said the score is back to zero,” Akana said. “We’ve got to do what we do and continue to drive. As you saw, it was stressful.
“But you know what? We always preach to the boys that you’ve got to finish, and they finished.”
The kicking game ended up being huge for the Kards. Not only did Homer lose the two kickoffs, but the Mariners fumbled another only to recover. Kenai had a 62-yard kickoff return to the Homer 18 in the second half that helped slow Homer’s momentum, and Wade James had punts of 36 and 45 yards before Homer’s last two drives to make them more difficult.
Zank gave Tennison credit for bringing the team back in the second half, and added that Kamdyn Doughty had a great game on the line.
Kardinals 27, Mariners 23
Homer 0 0 15 8 —23
Kenai 7 20 0 0 —27
Ken — Sparks 9 pass from Beck (James kick), 7:21.
Ken — Beck 1 run (James kick), 6:31.
Ken — Martin 25 pass from Beck (James kick), 6:09.
Ken — Graves 1 run (kick failed), 4:53.
Hom — Hrenchir 20 pass from Tennison (Tennison run), 5:28.
Hom — Macauly 15 pass from Tennison (pass failed), 2:27.
Hom — Hrenchir 13 pass from Tennison (Tennison run), 8:29.
First Downs 17 8
Rushing yds 39-226 36-109
Passing yds 104 101
Comp-Att-Int 10-26-2 5-10-0
Return yds 0 0
Punts 0-0 2-40.5
Fumbles 2-1 1-1
Penalties 5-40 6-35
Rushing— Homer: Tappan 9-18, Tennison 26-197, Dax 4-11. Kenai: Graves 15-40, James 7-21, Sparks 6-51, Robinson 2-8, Whicker 1-7, Beck 5-(-18).
Passing— Homer: Tennison 10-23-1—104, Raymond 0-3-1—0. Kenai: Beck 5-10-0—101.