The Kenai Central football team didn’t get the win Saturday against North Pole, but they did get respect.
The Patriots topped the Kardinals 35-13 in nonconference action at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. Both teams lost in the state semifinals last season — North Pole at Division II and Kenai at Division III.
“We’re bigger than them at pretty much every position,” North Pole head coach Mike Hollett said of the Kardinals. “I thought they played pretty well.
“They had a pretty good game plan, honestly. They confused us a little bit.”
The Patriots were able to use their size advantage to control the line of scrimmage. Led by the 162 yards and two touchdowns from Via Skipps, North Pole finished with 264 rushing yards to Kenai’s 76. Hollett also gave credit to Ethan Clifford for playing well in his first game at center.
“We told the kids all week that this is a really big, hard-hitting team,” Kenai Central head coach Jake Brand said. “And they were as advertised and came out and hit us really hard in the mouth.
“I feel our kids didn’t get shaken up too bad. They really stayed in the fight. And they tried absolutely as hard as they could.”
The Kardinals were able to hang around in the game partially due to that grit and partially due to North Pole mistakes.
Hollett said his team did not play well in the first and fourth quarters. In the first quarter, the Patriots had 50 of their 95 penalty yards. In the fourth quarter, North Pole turned the ball over three times.
In addition to Skipps, quarterback Marcus Lipari made enough big plays to keep the Kardinals at bay. He rushed for 52 yards and passed for 108 yards and two touchdowns.
“This is his second varsity football game, and he is athletic,” Hollett said. “He’s going to be one of the most athletic kids on the field on every field that he’s on. So we’re working to develop him as a quarterback.”
With 43 seconds left in the first quarter, Lipari put North Pole up 8-0 when he hit Collin Drumhiller for a 49-yard scoring pass.
“Our pass coverage is usually the strength of our defense,” Brand said. “They got complacent and they gave up some big passes.”
Skipps increased the lead to 14-0 with an 8-yard run with 8:52 left until halftime, but then North Pole actually kicked the ball backwards attempting an onside kick, setting up Kenai at the North Pole 37.
Kenai quarterback Rock Riggle took advantage, hitting all of his three passes on the drive, including a 5-yard touchdown to Shane Taylor.
Brand said Division III schools typically run the ball a lot, and that makes it tough to go against Division II schools and their big defensive lines. The coach liked the way the offense kept fighting and taking advantage of opportunities when they came.
“Our kids really held their heads high and made some really high IQ plays really just all the way to the end of the game,” the coach said.
Ivan Nicholson scored on a 10-yard run for a 21-6 halftime lead, then North Pole stretched the lead to 35-6 at the end of three quarters. Izak D’Hondt caught a 19-yard scoring pass from Lipari and Skipps scored on a 41-yard run set up by a Logen Bellmay interception.
The Bellmay touchdown with 31 seconds left in the third quarter set up a run of turnovers in the game.
In the fourth quarter, Bridger Beck had an interception for Kenai, while Zeke Yragui and Regan Graves had fumble recoveries. Koa Bachert had a fumble recovery for the Patriots.
Beck’s interception came right before he took over at quarterback for the Kardinals. He quickly led a three-play, 46-yard scoring drive, hitting Wade James for a 27-yard touchdown. James finished with six catches for 85 yards and also had a 33.6-yard average on six punts.
Brand said safety Luke Armstrong deserves a ton of credit for moving up in the hole and taking on Skipps every time. The coach also said Adam Anglebrandt did a great job fighting all game against much bigger players on the line.
Editor’s note: A previous online version had the name of the North Pole quarterback wrong.
Patriots 35, Kardinals 13
North Pole 8 13 14 0 —35
Kenai 0 6 0 7 —13
NP — Drumhiller 49 pass from Lipari (Skipps run), 0:43.
NP — Skipps 8 run (kick failed), 8:52.
Ken — Taylor 5 pass from Riggle (kick failed), 4:37.
NP — Nicholson 10 run (Aleshire kick), 0:38.
NP — D’Hondt 19 pass from Lipari (Aleshire kick), 3:38.
NP — Skipps 41 run (Aleshire kick), 0:31.
Ken — James 27 pass from Beck (James kick), 9:42.
First downs 13 8
Rushes-yards 37-264 26-76
Passing yards 108 128
Comp-att-int 5-14-1 10-25-1
Punts 3-26.6 6-33.6
Return yards 47 43
Fumbles 5-2 1-1
Penalties 10-95 9-65
Rushing — North Pole: Skipps 16-162, Nicholson 7-54, Lipari 10-52, Bellmay 2-1, Melvin 2-(-5). Kenai: Wilson 10-25, Graves 6-23, Riggle 3-1, Perez 2-10, Whicker 3-12, James 1-5, Beck 1-0.
Passing — North Pole: Lipari 5-14-1—108; Kenai: Riggle 7-19-1—83, Beck 3-6-0—45.
Receiving — North Pole: Bellman 2-7, Drumhiller 2-82, D’Hondt 1-19. Kenai: James 6-85, Armstrong 2-37, Taylor 1-5, Perez 1-1.
Receiving — Soldotna: Dahlgren 3-68, A. Gavalis 1-25, Medcoff 1-6. North Pole: Bellmay 2-95, Dutra 3-26, Bostick 1-19, Hyson 1-17, Wallace 2-16, Drumhiller 3-15, N. Clark 2-5.