Kenai’s Zach Burnett takes a handoff from Kardinals quarterback Bridger Beck as Tucker Vann (32) gets in position and North Pole’s Alexander Melson (9) moves in during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division II nonconference game at North Pole High School. (Photo by Danny Martin/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

Kenai’s Zach Burnett takes a handoff from Kardinals quarterback Bridger Beck as Tucker Vann (32) gets in position and North Pole’s Alexander Melson (9) moves in during the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Division II nonconference game at North Pole High School. (Photo by Danny Martin/Fairbanks Daily News-Miner)

North Pole football topples Kenai

  • By DANNY MARTIN Fairbanks Daily News-Miner
  • Saturday, September 7, 2019 10:26pm
  • Sports

Chris Wetland, when he came to North Pole High School for Saturday afternoon’s football game against the Kenai Kardinals, was accompanied by a memory of the last victory for the Patriots football team.

“The last time we won a game was Sept. 27 of 2017 down in Ketchikan,” Wetland, North Pole offensive coordinator, said after a 31-6 nonconference victory over the Kardinals to end the Patriots’ 12-game losing streak.

“It means everything,” Wetland said of the win in the Division II nonconference game. “Our kids faced a lot of adversity over the last year and finally to put everything together, it’s just so awesome to see these kids happy and to see that they can play football.”

The Patriots, of the Railbelt Conference, finished 0-8 in the 2018 regular season, and also saw then head coach Dennis Diviney placed on academic leave during the season.

Amid an eventual joyful Saturday at James Watson Patriot Pride Field, Chris Lovett aided the Patriots, and helped first-year head coach Mike Hollett gain his first win, by compiling nearly 200 yards in total offense.

“It feels great,” Lovett said of the win which came after an 0-3 start this season.

The senior, in his first season as North Pole’s starting quarterback, rushed 16 times for a game-high 145 yards. He completed five of eight passes for 92 yards, including a 16-yard strike to Kaden Bostwick to help North Pole go ahead 21-0 with 7:16 left in the third quarter.

Skyler Denny’s foot benefited the Patriots, too. The senior defensive back and wide receiver converted point-after kicks on all four touchdowns and he delivered a 26-yard field goal for a 24-0 lead with 1:01 left in the third quarter.

Hollett, a former North Pole offensive lineman and assistant coach, enjoyed the postgame celebration while he was surrounded by his family and the Patriots players and coaches.

Hollett told the team during its postgame meeting that losing was an illness and winning was the cure.

“It’s just one of those things like when you have a disease and it affects the body, you need something to come in and take it out; you need something extra,” Hollett said.

“Victories are a way to do that.”

“In order to win,” he said, “everybody has to play together.

“(With) losing teams, it’s real easy to break apart and (with) winning teams, it’s real easy to go through adversity because you’re winning.”

Before Saturday’s win, Hollett was impressed with his team’s cohesiveness.

“They’ve been tight the whole time,” he said.

“Coming off last year (0-8 overall finish), this group of returning kids has been real tight and doing all the little things well. They’ve been real receptive to the coaches and all the positive things. So we’ve just been real impressed with them and I’m excited them to get a ‘W.’ ”

Isaiah Harding was among a happy bunch of Patriots upperclassmen Saturday.

“After all this adversity, we’re were tired of losing. So we had to step it up in this game, and finally prove to people that we’re actually something,” said the senior running back.

Harding contributed to the Patriots’ affirmation with a pair of short, hard-fought touchdown runs in the first quarter, giving North Pole a 14-0 lead which stood for the rest of the first half.

He muscled in for a 1-yard TD with 9:05 left in the first for the game’s first score. Harding bolted into the end zone from four yards out with 54 seconds left in the opening quarter.

“All I thought was ‘I’ve got to do this for my team.’ So I just sacrificed my body for them,” said Harding, whose two touchdowns were part of his 40-yard rushing day on 10 carries.

Ryan Walters, another Patriots senior, sealed the win with a 2-yard run with 6:11 left in the game.

North Pole is scheduled to host the Palmer Moose in a conference game at 7 p.m. Friday.

The Kardinals, of the Northern Lights Conference, fell to 1-2 this season.

“We were just undisciplined. We shot ourselves too many times jumping offsides and not executing,” Kenai head coach Dustin Akana said. “Not doing what we prepared to do this week.”

Among the bright spots Saturday for the Kardinals were seniors Zach Burnett (running back) and Braedon Pitsch (wide receiver).

Burnett rushed 14 times for a team-best 129 yards and provided the Kardinals’ touchdown on an 11-yard sweep with 9:22 left in the game.

Before the touchdown, Kenai had fourth down and 14 yards to go from the North Pole 29-yard line. Kardinals freshman quarterback Bridger Beck threw a pass to Pitsch, who leaped simultaneously with Denny, who was playing defensive back for the team at the time, and outwrestled the North Pole senior for the ball as they landed at 11-yard line.

“Braedon Pitsch is an excellent athlete on our team,” Akana said. “His work ethic, his drive just showed in that play. He fought for that ball even though he was 4 yards away from that ball.

“When that ball landed, he fought for it and he got it. That just shows his heart, his drive and his leadership with the team.”

Kenai had 201 yards rushing and 61 yards passing but couldn’t finish drives. Also for the Kards, Tucker Vann rushed 12 times for 40 yards and James Sparks rushed four times for 16 yards. Pitsch caught two balls for 32 yards, while Aidan Milburn caught two for 10 yards and Burnett caught a ball for 7 yards. At QB, Bridger Beck was 7 of 14 with one interception.

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