By JEFF OLSEN
Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE — Asked what he learned about his Kenai Central Kardinals after coasting to a 32-7 season-opening win Friday night at Eielson, coach Jake Brand emphasized execution.
“They took our game plan and put it into practice,” Brand said. “This should be a good confidence booster for our kids, but as coaches we have to keep refining and redefining what we do.”
Reagan Graves was at the heart of what the Kardinals did Friday night, running the ball 12 times for 199 yards and three second-half touchdowns. The game was a nonconference matchup between two Division II schools.
The Kardinals, however, had to fight for a 12-0 halftime lead against the undersized and outnumbered Ravens.
Other than a 1-yard rushing touchdown by William Wilson on the Kardinals’ first drive, and an 8-yard touchdown reception from Roc Riggle to Wade James with 6:53 to play in the second quarter, Kenai wasn’t able to strike pay dirt. That included the Ravens stopping two 2-point PAT rushes.
With under 9 minutes to play in the third quarter, the Ravens had a chance to make it a one-score ballgame. They had recovered a fumble on the opening kickoff at the 25-yard line before a pair of tackles in the backfield pushed them back. They gained 5 of it back on a third-down carry by Ayden White, but on fourth-and-six White was stopped a yard short of a first down.
After turning the ball over on downs, Kenai drove 82 yards in eight plays, capping the drive with a 10-yard touchdown run by Graves.
“Reagan goes all over the field for us,” Brand said. “He’s moved to so many positions not because he’s not able to play them but because we keep thinking we’ll be better if we put him in another spot. But he definitely sets the tone for us and is an incredible leader.”
After holding Eielson to a three-and-out on the next possession, Kenai drove 50 yards on nine plays. A 49-yard touchdown pass from Riggle to James was negated by a block-in-the-back call, but the Kardinals persevered and capped the drive on a 14-yard run by Graves to make it 24-0 with 9:09 to play in the third quarter.
The Kardinals defense again came up with a key play on the next series, as Ricky Mercado intercepted an Evan Brown pass at the Kenai 25 and returned it to the Eielson 30. Three plays later Graves scored from 12 yards out to make it 30-0. Riggle ran to tack on the two-point conversion.
With a running clock in the fourth quarter, the Ravens scored on a 64-yard touchdown pass from Brown to White with 32 seconds to play.
Soldotna 60, North Pole 6
Gehret Medcoff had three rushing touchdowns, while quarterback Brayden Taylor had two rushing touchdowns and a touchdown pass, as the Division II Stars started off the season with a nonconference victory on the road over a fellow Division II foe.
The Stars had ended the Patriots’ season last year with a 73-20 victory in the Division II semifinals.
In the first quarter, Medcoff started the scoring with a 39-run on the second play from scrimmage for the Stars. Collin Peck made it 14-0 headed to the second quarter with a 14-yard scoring run, then catching the two-point conversion from Taylor.
Taylor started the second quarter with a 1-yard run, then Wyatt Faircloth ran in the conversion for a 22-0 lead. Medcoff then had another 39-yard run followed by a Jace O’Reagan kick, and Zac Buckbee had a 37-yard field goal as SoHi led 32-0 with 6:39 left until halftime.
With just 7 seconds left in the first half, Logen Bellmay caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Lipari for North Pole’s only score of the game.
The Stars quickly regained control of the momentum of the game in the third quarter to get a running clock for the entire fourth quarter.
Medcoff led off the scoring in the third quarter with a 42-yard run followed by an O’Reagan kick, then Taylor found Andrew Pieh for an 8-yard scoring pass. An O’Reagan kick made it 46-6 with 5:49 left in the third quarter.
Taylor then scored on a 24-yard keeper and O’Reagan had the kick to make it 53-6 headed to the fourth quarter.
Jaykob Kemp scored from 15 yards out in the fourth, and O’Reagan had the kick, to account for the final score.
Clarion sports editor Jeff Helminiak contributed to this report.