With or without the steady rain that inundated the field and bleachers Saturday at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, Ethan Falaniko was going to slip away time and time again. It was only a matter of who he had to evade.
The senior running back led a strong Bartlett charge Saturday to the tune of a 47-6 nonconference victory over Kenai Central in the season opener for both schools’ 2015 campaign.
After giving up a touchdown to Kenai on the opening possession of the game, Bartlett responded with 47 unanswered points to cruise home to the win.
“We’re family,” Falaniko. “It’s good we play as a family. We hung in there and finished strong.”
Falaniko packed on 249 rushing yards and a pair of touchdowns, using a blend of speed and brute strength to evade linebackers and shed tacklers like a fish through a pair of hands.
“Ethan’s one of the best backs in the state,” said Bartlett assistant coach John Jessen. “He’s a leader, and give him the ball.”
Kenai sophomore Zack Tuttle led the Kards with 75 yards on the ground on 17 carries, while Andrew Welborn picked up 29 yards including a touchdown, Chase Gillies ran for 47 and Draiden McMinn added 30.
“We didn’t run out of effort or heart, we ran out of gas,” said Kenai coach John Marquez.
Marquez said without the loss of senior Andrew Welborn, a powerful fullback and linebacker that sat for most of the second half due to injury, the score would be much closer. With much of the Kardinals squad having to double on offense and defense, the energy to keep up with Falaniko and company just wasn’t there in the end.
“We played two quarters of football, with 14 kids,” Marquez said. “I thought for the first half, we did the same thing, and they adjusted in the second quarter, but we moved the ball on them.”
Marquez said as much as the Kenai defense keyed in on Falaniko, there is only so much one can do.
“You just got to put your head down and lay into him,” Marquez said. “You can’t tackle guys like that high, you gotta grab a leg, and even then he’s gonna drag you.”
The Kardinals started hot with a 10-play, 68-yard drive on their opening possession that resulted in a 1-yard plunge into the end zone by Welborn.
The Golden Bears struggled to finish strong offensive drives in the early going, as evidenced by a 44-yard, nine-play drive that ended with three straight incomplete passes, and a fumble on their second possession.
Once the mistakes were tied up, Bartlett began to work. A soaring pass from quarterback Aaron Egoak that landed in the lap of receiver Damarian Garrett — which appeared incomplete at first — left Bartlett at Kenai’s 11-yard line early in the second quarter. Two plays later, Falaniko pushed his way to a 7-yard score, and the ensuing point-after kick put Bartlett into the lead 7-6.
“Our guys just stayed with it, and finally our talent and depth showed through,” Jessen said.
From there, the Golden Bears defense dictated play, as Kenai was forced to punt on four straight possessions to end the first half, which Bartlett led 14-6 at halftime.
The second half quickly got out of hand for Kenai, as Falaniko opened the third quarter with a 29-yard scramble to set up shop at the Kenai 20. Falaniko cashed in three plays later with a 4-yard run to put Bartlett up 21-6. The scoring drive took a grand total of 59 seconds.
“The third quarter is where everything showed,” Falaniko said. “I’m just glad we pulled through and did everything we had to do.”
After stopping Kenai on down at their own 14, Bartlett continued its momentum with four-play drive that saw Falaniko compile runs of 39 and 25 yards, setting up teammate Jordan Pace to crank out a 15-yard touchdown romp to put the visitors up 27-6 with 3:10 left in the third quarter.
In all, Bartlett scored touchdowns on all five second-half possessions, while Kenai cobbled together drives that ended in a punt, fumble and twice a turnover on downs. Only two possessions went further than the original starting line of scrimmage.
Kenai also saw an interesting shuffle between junior Nick Beeson and senior Corbin Streiff at the quarterback position, as coach Marquez swapped the two out between plays on more than one occasion. Marquez said that was all a plan of evaluation.
“We use this game trying to figure out who our definite guy is,” he said.
With a bye week upcoming already, Marquez said the team will take more time to pinpoint a true starting quarterback and prepare for Kodiak.
“Fix the mistakes and go in knowing we can play with anybody,” he said. “We just need to play four quarters, and win the games we can win.”
Golden Bears 47, Kardinals 6
Bartlett 0 14 20 13 —47
Kenai 6 0 0 0 —6
Ken — Welborn 1 run (kick blocked), 6:56
Bar — Falaniko 7 run (Carey kick), 10:03
Bar — Pace 21 run (Carey kick), 6:09
Bar — Falaniko 4 run (Carey kick), 11:01
Bar — Pace 15 run (kick failed), 3:10
Bar — S. Falaniko 1 run (Carey kick), :11
Bar — S. Falaniko 35 pass from Egoak (kick failed), 10:10
Bar — Sagatu 80 run (Carey kick), 2:50
Rushes-yards 33-388 50-178
Pass yards 94 19
Total yards 482 197
Comp-att-int 4-9-0 2-10-0
Return yards 21 78
Punts 0 5
Fumbles 1 1
Penalties-yards 10-83 7-41
Rushing — Kenai: Tuttle 17-75, Welborn 7-29, Gillies 12-47, McMinn 10-30, Beeson 2-3, Streiff 2-(-6). Bartlett: Falaniko 20-249, Pace 6-53, S. Falaniko 4-13, Egoak 2-(-7), Sagatu 1-80.
Passing — Kenai: Streiff 1-8-0—8, Beeson 1-2-0—11. Bartlett: Egoak 4-9-1—94.