NORTH POLE — Last week, the North Pole High School football team needed its offense to shine to upend Palmer in its season opener.
The Patriots scored 20 unanswered points — all in the fourth quarter — to escape with a 20-19 road victory over the Moose.
Friday, North Pole showcased its defense in its home opener against the Kenai Central Kardinals.
Although the Kardinals amassed more than 200 rushing yards, the Patriots’ defense held the visitors to only six points.
That was enough for North Pole to improve to 2-0 on the season, as it outlasted Kenai 8-6 in a nonconference tilt.
“It was a battle but we pushed through it,” said North Pole senior Jamie Johnson, who hauled in a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Craig Borba for the Patriots’ only score.
“Our theme this year is pushing through adversity. That’s what we’ve been able to do so far.”
Although neither team scored during the second half, the North Pole offense clinched the victory with a long, methodical drive that used up the final 6:50 of action.
Seniors CJ Fontana and Easton Kirven traded carries with junior Bradley Antesberger, as the Patriots’ three-headed running attack picked up five first downs to ensure Kenai, which dropped to 1-1 on the season, never sent its offense back onto the field.
After struggling at times during the first three quarters, North Pole’s offense delivered when it needed to the most.
“That was huge,” Patriots head coach Dennis Diviney said of the final drive.
“I didn’t know about the clock,” Fontana added. “But I knew that if we wanted to win, we had to get our offense going. Throughout the game, our offense wasn’t doing that well. The offensive line did a lot of hard work (on the final drive).”
Kenai nearly found the end zone on its first offensive possession. After starting on their own 14-yard line, the Kardinals rumbled down the field inside the Patriots’ red zone.
Facing fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line, Kenai handed the ball off to senior running back James Siamani.
The Patriots stopped him at the 3-yard line, and moments later took a 6-0 lead when Johnson capped off a seven-play, 60-yard scoring drive with his touchdown grab.
“Craig Borba is an amazing quarterback,” Diviney said. “The way he leads this team, I couldn’t ask for anything more from him.”
Fontana plunged into the end zone on a dive up the middle for the 2-point conversion to make it 8-0.
Although the Kenai offense failed to finish its first drive, the unit wasn’t denied when it returned to the field.
The Kardinals again turned to its running attack, which was led by seniors Rykker Riddall (20 carries, 137 yards) and James Siamani (eight carries, 51 yards), as well as junior Tyrone McEnerney (nine carries, 31 yards).
Riddall put the exclamation point on the Kardinals’ nine-play, 58-yard drive with a 5-yard touchdown up the middle to cut the team’s deficit to 8-6.
However, Antesberger tackled Riddall in the backfield when Kenai gave it back to the senior on the 2-point try, allowing the Patriots to keep their narrow lead intact.
“There is a result on the scoreboard, but there’s a whole lot we can learn from this game,” Kardinals head coach Ted Riddall said after his team dropped to 1-1. “It was a great defensive struggle both ways. This is one of the hardest football games — hitting wise — that I’ve seen in a longtime.”
In addition to Fontana, who finished with 71 yards on 17 carries, North Pole also benefited from big performances by Antesberger
(12 carries, 69 yards) and Kirven (eight carries, 41 yards).
Defensively, Johnson mirrored his strong play on offense by intercepting Kenai junior quarterback Connor Felchle midway through the second quarter.
The Patriots will hit the road for a nonconference showdown at Wasilla at 7 p.m. Friday.
For the team to remain unbeaten, Fontana said the Patriots would have to bring the same collective focus they had on display against the Kardinals.
“It takes a team effort,” he said. “There were seniors, juniors and sophomores that helped us out there tonight.”
Contact News-Miner sports writer Brad Joyal at 459-7530. Follow him on Twitter: @FDNMSportsGuy.