The Kenai Central football team used a powerful second-half effort Friday night at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai to take down large-schools opponent Palmer with a 44-20 win under darkening skies.
Holding a slim three-point lead over the Moose early in the third quarter, the Kardinals had the last laugh by scoring 21 unanswered points to improve to 2-2 overall.
Senior running back Chase Logan did most of the damage on the ground, getting 29 carries for 292 yards and three touchdowns.
“The front line took care of this game,” Logan said. “If we wanted to win, it’ll be the front line. It was all about the front line this week. It’s a family thing.”
With a staunch offensive line consisting of center Toby Randall, right guard Kyle Hunter, right tackle Chris Lawson, left guard Zach Koziczkowski, left tackle David Beck and tight end Tom Randall, the Kenai backfield was able to run Palmer over with 370 rushing yards.
Palmer, which was coming off a thrilling 54-49 victory over North Pole the week before, was led by junior Chase Ferris, who ran for 130 yards and two scores.
Kenai coach John Marquez said it was important for his squad to get the win with the tough slate of games the Kards have had in the early schedule. Next week, Kenai will travel up to play Wasilla, another Railbelt Conference powerhouse.
“Momentum swings all the time,” Marquez said. “Momentum swings are huge and we had a bunch of those. We also had some adversity and we were happy to overcome that.”
The biggest swing of the night came with two minutes left in the third quarter and Kenai holding a 30-20 lead.
Desperately driving downfield, Palmer quarterback Justin Roth attempted a short screen pass to Darrion Angol to his left side, only for Kenai quarterback and defensive linebacker Jace Baker to snatch the ball out of the air and return it 51 yards to the house for a touchdown and a 17-point Kardinals lead.
“We practiced that play about 10 times in a row, and I knew it was coming,” Baker said. “It was doubles on the right side and I knew it was gonna be a screen and I was supposed to be in the flats and I was in the right place at the right time.”
On defense, Baker said his father, assistant coach Jeff Baker, made the call for the coverage at the right time.
“As soon as the Palmer quarterback looked to my side, I knew it was coming to number eight, or me,” Baker said.
Even with the disparity in offensive yards that Kenai had on the Moose, Palmer managed to stay in the game by taking advantage of special teams mistakes. Palmer’s first touchdown came late in the first quarter while trailing 16-0 on a 92-yard kick return from Angol, who’s top end speed came into play numerous times throughout the evening.
With seconds left on the clock in the first half, Ferris nearly added a second kick return, sprinting 84 yards only to be tackled at the Kenai 8-yard line. Unfortunately, Palmer got zero points out of that since the half had ended on that play.
But right from the start, Kenai showed whose turf Palmer was playing on. On Kenai’s first offensive play of the game, Logan scrambled 31 yards to the right on a sweep play to give the Kards a quick 7-0 lead.
Kenai extended the lead with a 3-yard touchdown run from Kyle Foree and a 30-yard field goal by Marshall Vest. Foree was used pre-snap in several plays as a motion man, breaking from Kenai’s “I” formation and jogging along the line of scrimmage to trick the Palmer defense into thinking it was a pass play. Foree ended with 52 rushing yards and a touchdown.
“A lot of teams think that every time we motion, we pass the ball,” Marquez said. “That’s what our tendencies have been the first three games, so we figured that if we motioned, Palmer would jump that and everyone would be out on the defense, and we had power on the outside.”
Palmer had three punts and a fumble on its first four possessions of the game, all while the ball never left Moose territory until the long Angol kick return with 56 seconds left in the first quarter.
Following the return score, Kenai executed a 10-play, 42-yard drive that ended with a turnover on downs at the Palmer 25. The Moose answered with a 20-yard rumble by Ferris to cut Kenai’s lead to 16-12.
Kenai then embarked on an 11-play, 73-yard drive that resulted in a 21-yard scoring toss from Baker to Chase Gillies in the left corner of the end zone with seven seconds remaining in the first half.
“We knew all game we could get the hitch-and-go,” Marquez said. “We were just going down to the wire and I knew we had a shot at it, so I knew if it was incomplete we’d have time to kick the field goal.”
Baker ended the night throwing 3 for 9 for 15 yards and the touchdown.
“I got lucky to throw a good ball, and Chase Gillies is an athlete,” Baker said. “He’s got a super high vertical (jump) and he’ll go up for anything. He’s not scared.”
After Kenai punted to begin the second half, Palmer closed the deficit to Kenai with a massive 68-yard touchdown hustle from Ferris. After the two-point pass from Roth to Tom Leigh, Kenai led 23-20.
That’s when the Kenai offense really got going. Logan added his second touchdown run of the night on a 22-yard rush, which was preceded by a 40-yard dash to put Kenai in good field position.
Then, after Palmer punted and Kenai turned the ball over on downs on the Moose 34-yard line, Baker grabbed the pick-six to ice the game.
“They’d been hitting us on that little sail route early on, and we knew if they threw it to Baker’s side, he was our key,” Marquez said. “We were waiting for them to throw to that side, and he called it. He knew it was coming and jumped it early.”
In the fourth quarter, Logan went 47 yards for his third touchdown, and Kenai called it good.
“I’ve never seen Kenai more of a unit, as a family,” Logan said. “We worked on that the past two weeks.”
Kardinals 44, Moose 20
Kenai 16 7 14 7 —44
Palmer 6 6 8 0 —20
Ken — Logan 31 run (Vest kick), 9:40
Ken — Foree 3 run (kick failed), 6:00
Ken — Vest 30 FG, 1:11
Pal — Angol 92 kick return (run failed), :56
Pal — Ferris 20 run (pass failed), 4:26
Ken — Gillies 21 pass from Baker (Vest kick), :07
Pal — Ferris 68 run (McGann pass from Roth), 9:30
Ken — Logan 22 run (Vest kick), 8:31
Ken — Baker 51 interception return (Vest kick), 2:05
Ken — Logan 47 run (Vest kick), 8:49
Rushes-yards 51-370 36-147
Passing yards 15 50
Comp-att-int 3-9-0 4-9-1
Return yards 95 244
Punts 2 6
Fumbles 0 1
Penalties-yards 6-60 5-40
Rushing — Kenai: Logan 29-292, Foree 14-52, Welborn 3-10, Baker 2-13, Gillies 3-3. Palmer: Ferris 17-130, Daniels 4-19, Hershman 4-10, Roth 2-(-11), Layton 2-(-4), A. Ferris 1-3.
Passing — Kenai: Baker 3-9-1—15. Palmer: Roth 4-9-0—50.