One year after losing a state semifinal game against Soldotna, the North Pole Patriots are headed back to a rematch with the Stars in next Saturday’s medium-schools state championship, courtesy of a 47-14 drubbing of Kenai Central on Saturday evening at Alumni Field at Dimond High School in Anchorage.
The Patriots have not been to a state football championship game since winning the large-schools title in 2004. That’s why Saturday’s semifinal triumph was so sweet.
“Our kids have taken a great journey and have matured a lot,” said North Pole defensive coordinator Nick Rogers. “It’s exciting, it’s really exciting, and playing in games that are tight and games that you have to be at your best every play, that’s what it’s about.”
Rogers led a Patriots defense that held Kenai to 234 yards Saturday, while the offense racked up 587 total yards.
Leading the Patriots’ offensive charge was sophomore quarterback Andrew “Dew” Rogers, who scored five touchdowns — four rushing and one passing — and racked up 271 offensive yards — 138 rushing and 133 passing. Rogers is the younger brother of Nick.
“We always go into a game saying it’s a twelve-round fight,” the younger Rogers said. “We’re not focused on winning the first quarter, the second quarter or the third or fourth. We going to use the entire game, the entire fight to break them down and work hard the whole time.”
For the Kardinals, it was a somber night as they watched a 14-14 tie after one quarter slip away. Kenai coach John Marquez said in an emotional interview that he was proud of the team’s effort.
“I hurt,” Marquez said when describing his emotions. “We talk family, and those are my kids. They deserve to be where they’re at, they deserve to win more games, and we just couldn’t pull it off this year.
“There’s no way that anyone in the state would doubt us or take us for granted.”
Marquez said the Patriots challenged the Kenai offense more than any other team had this season, and when it came down to gaining yards and scoring, the Kards found it difficult.
“That’s our thing, adversity all year long with this team,” Marquez said. “I’d go to battle every year with guys like this. Winning ballgames is important, but when you have kids that were freshman that are seniors now that you’ve watched grow to be mature and have the character they have … that’s what it’s about.”
Senior Chase Logan led the Kenai offense with 175 rushing yards on 24 carries and a touchdown. Senior Kyle Foree added a touchdown with 27 ground yards as well.
Before the score turned ugly for Kenai, the game featured a back-and-forth nature.
A wild first half saw North Pole experience a case of “yellow fever,” as the Patriots suffered a number of penalties — mostly procedural — and at the halftime break, were sitting with 13 penalties for 110 yards. North Pole ended up losing 155 yards on 17 flags in the game.
Additionally, North Pole coach Richard Henert didn’t even make it through the first quarter before being ejected from the game by the refs.
“We know they never loved us,” Andrew Rogers said. “People are gonna hate, and that’s gonna happen. The refs are doing their job so it happened to be that. We’re expecting that, so our game plan is to stay together.”
However, the ground the Patriots lost to mistakes was often erased by the blinding speed that De’Aundre Campbell and company displayed. Campbell scored a touchdown on 152 rushing yards.
Foree scored an early touchdown after three consecutive North Pole penalties left the Kards on the Patriots’ 6-yard line. North Pole answered back with a 44-yard dash along the sidelines from Campbell to even the score.
After Kenai punted on its next possession, it took North Pole one play to go 45 yards, a pass from Rogers to Garrett Wollmann to give the Patriots the lead. Wollmann ended the day with 76 receiving yards.
On the third play of the ensuing Kenai drive, Logan burst through the defensive line to rumble 50 yards for the game-tying touchdown.
However, Rogers responded with a 19-yard run on the next North Pole drive, zigzagging between defenders to dive into the end zone.
On North Pole’s next drive — midway through the second quarter — Corbin Streiff intercepted a pass by Sommer and returned the ball 20 yards, but the Kards could not come up with any points when they turned it back over on downs.
North Pole led 27-14 at halftime, and never looked back. Rogers scored his third rushing touchdown of the day on the first possession of the second half with a 15-yard scamper.
Patriots 47, Kardinals 14
North Pole 14 13 6 14 —47
Kenai 14 0 0 0 —14
Ken — Foree 6 run (Vest kick), 8:12
NP — Campbell 44 run (Wollmann kick), 5:41
NP — Wollmann 45 pass from Rogers (Wollmann kick), 3:27
Ken — Logan 50 run (Vest kick), 1:44
NP — Rogers 19 run (Wollmann kick), 11:11
NP — Rogers 37 run (run failed), 1:34
NP — Rogers 15 run (kick failed), 10:15
NP — Rogers 44 run (Wollmann kick), 7:05
NP — Skipps 10 run (Wollmann kick), 1:22
First downs 27 24
Rushes-yds 45-438 24-175
Passing yds 149 10
Comp-att-int 11-15-1 2-8-1
Return yds 22 151
Penalties-yds 17-155 7-45
Punts 0 3
Rushing — North Pole: Campbell 16-152, Rogers 11-138, L. Skipps 7-89, S. Skipps 7-47, Bennett 1-1, Wollmann 1-5, Sommer 2-6. Kenai: Logan 24-175, Foree 8-27, Welborn 2-16, Baker 2-(-5), Bowen 2-5, Gillies 1-6.
Passing — North Pole: Rogers 10-13-0—133, Sommer 1-2-1—16. Kenai: Baker 2-7-0—10, Foree 0-1-0—0.