Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner squad scores big win at regions

The Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner Junior Midget team defeated the Spokane North Falcons 49-13 on Saturday in the Division III Northern Region Championships at Doc Harris Stadium in Camas, Washington.

Head coach Sarge Truesdell said his Saints were not on the right track at the Pacific Northwest Region Regional Championships to advance to the Pop Warner Super Bowl.

Instead, the Saints will be finishing their season by going to the Best of the West competition on Dec. 5 in Murrieta, California.

Truesdell said he would have liked to be playing in Division II and have a chance to go to the Super Bowl.

“Because it was our first time coming down here, we couldn’t get on the track to go to the Pop Warner Super Bowl,” Truesdell said.

The coach said this group of players is now 8-0 this season with a state championship, after going 7-0, 7-0, 7-2 and 9-0 in previous years.

Truesdell said some of the players have been together since they were 4 years old, and most have been together since age 7.

Truesdell started coaching the group in 2009 after serving as head coach for Soldotna’s small-schools state championship in 2006 and assistant for titles in 2007 and 2008.

Even with that past record and experience, Truesdell said the 49-13 score was a bit surprising. He said the game was like watching SoHi roll over opponents en route to their current, state-record, 39-game winning streak.

According to Truesdell, Kenai Peninsula Pop Warner had sent a Midget team Outside six or seven years ago and that team lost handily.

“I always expect us to win, but I didn’t expect to blow their doors off,” said Truesdell, also the principal at Soldotna Middle School.

There were 22 players that made the trip. There had been 23 scheduled to go — 14 from Skyview Middle School, five from Kenai Middle School, two from Nikiksi Junior/Senior High School, one from K-Beach Elementary and one from Cook Inlet Academy.

Most of the players are eighth-graders, and the weight category is 95 to 155 pounds.

“Without sounding too sentimental, I’ve coached this team for so long and I’m going to be losing some of my favorite kiddos to Kenai,” Truesdell said. “We wanted to do this before the parents and kids are on different sidelines.”

Truesdell said he had never taken the group Outside in the past because it is so tough. The team hadn’t played since the end of September, and had to coordinate around weather plus hockey, wrestling and basketball practices in order to prepare for Saturday.

The coach said it all came together with the support of the community.

“I could not believe the support of the community,” Truesdell said. “I’m 40 and I’ve spent my whole life in the community, except for four years going to college in North Dakota.

“Nothing has surprised me more than this Pop Warner effort to try and raise 15, 18 grand.”

Truesdell thought the fundraising would be difficult, but every business approached said yes. Six hundred raffle tickets were sold with ease. At a steak dinner and pie auction, the pies were going for $250.

“It’s also basically funding us to go to California,” Truesdell said. “We never intended to do a second travel, but we basically have the fundraising done for it already.”

That community support did not stop when the team left Soldotna.

“There were so many fans, you wouldn’t have believed it,” Truesdell said. “There were so many parents, aunts, uncles and cousins that traveled from all over the Pacific Northwest.

“It felt just like a home game. When the fans made the tunnel at the end of the game, it was just like at regular games.”

The coach said there were over 100 fans cheering for the Saints at the game.

Those fans saw players that will power area high schools, mostly SoHi, for the next four years.

Truesdell said his squad runs the same power-T scheme SoHi uses on offense and the same split 4-4 defense. Even the special teams are things Truesdell worked out with SoHi head coach Galen Brantley Jr. back in the day.

The squad even had SoHi player Drew Gibbs serving as an assistant coach. Gibbs tore his anterior cruciate ligament in his first game for SoHi and needed 10 to 15 hours of community service for a class in school, so he helped with the Saints.

Sarge’s son, Jersey Truesdell, started the scoring Saturday with a 1-yard quarterback sneak.

Later in the first period, Josh Heiber, the youngest brother of former SoHi standout Anthony Griglione, had a 43-yard touchdown run. Heiber is a seventh-grader, but next year will join this year’s Saints Pee Wee team that has lost just three games in three years.

The Saints’ final score of the first period was a 50-yard pass from Truesdell to Tyler Morrison.

In the second quarter, Truesdell hooked up with Mekhai Rich on a 25-yard screen pass for a score.

In the second half, Zach Burnett had a 63-yard run, Brayden VanMeter scored on a 36-yard option play and Zach Hanson scored on a 2-yard run.

Truesdell said the defense was once again anchored by linebacker Cameron Johnson, while the offensive line was anchored by Joseph Sylvester.

The coach also mentioned the win came without Ray Chumley, the team’s best lineman. Chumley broke his wrist in four places during a practice, but was with the team Saturday signaling plays.

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