Only one team has played in the Northern Lights Conference each of the last 15 years. The same team that’s won the Northern Lights Conference the last 15 years.
Soldotna has now won the NLC every season since 2006 (taking a pause for the 2020 pandemic season) after toppling Wasilla 49-21 on Friday at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
The league was reconfigured this season, with Soldotna having the smallest school size of the five teams, but a senior class of 10 was able to overcome tests every step of the way to lead the team to a perfect record in conference and 5-1 overall record thus far.
Fittingly, the title was clinched on senior night, with Brock Wilson, Wayne Mellon, Cody Uribe-Koivisto, Noah Harper, Dylan Dahlgren, Dylan Davidhizar, Kaidan Spies, Atticus Gibson, Nate Mowrey and Harley Johnson getting honored after the game.
As sophomores, the senior class found varsity time very tough to earn because the starting lineup was all seniors. Last season, the senior class played a short season limited to Kenai Peninsula competition.
“It’s a big thing because last year we got robbed and the season before that we never got the experience we wanted to build our own legacy,” said senior running back and linebacker Wilson, who had to leave the Friday game with a rolled ankle. “Now, we finally get a chance to do that.”
Senior lineman Mowrey was quick to point out the contributions underclassmen made to the title and to clinching home field in the first round of the Division II playoffs.
Junior Brayden Taylor scored on two touchdown runs and also threw scoring passes to Dahlgren and Mellon, who also ran for a score. Sophomore Gehret Medcoff had two touchdowns and led the Stars with 153 yards rushing.
Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said Friday to him was all about the smiles on the seniors faces, especially during a challenging season of injuries and constant personnel questions due to COVID close contact issues.
“It’s a special group,” the coach said. “They’ve put in a lot of time and effort. It’s their team.
“The leadership we’ve gotten from these guys has been fantastic all year. We’re just excited to see how far they can take it.”
Wasilla, now 1-2 and 4-3, came in with a shot at still making the playoffs and stayed with the Stars early.
Soldotna scored on its first two drives, but the Warriors answered both times. The first was on a touchdown run from Jacob Mahoney and the second was on a run from Timothy Grisso.
After that, SoHi stopped Wasilla’s offense while the Stars kept rolling offensively, scoring on their first five drives and leading 42-14 at halftime.
Brantley Jr. said coverage issues and missed tackles were issues early for his defense. Wasilla head coach Matt Jaronik said little errors in execution started to pile up and cause third-and-long situations.
Mowrey had a simpler explanation — avoiding the nasty cold of Fairbanks in the first round of the playoffs.
“I think the attitude changed,” he said. “We knew we didn’t want to go up to Fairbanks. We wanted it to be here.”
Soldotna’s offense thrives on not making mistakes and keeping the chains moving with 4- to 5-yard gains that eventually break into big plays. Brantley Jr. sees the offense getting better and better, but he still said there are mistakes that must be eliminated for the playoffs.
“Everybody knows it’s a really good offense, and they execute it at a high level,” Jaronik said. “You just have to go out and play disciplined to stop it.
“I think it can be done, we just weren’t able to do it tonight.”
Brantley Jr. said going into the game Wasilla has some great athletes. They were on display with Mahoney passing for 216 yards and Grisso rolling up 126 yards receiving.
“I love our young class and I love our senior guys,” said Jaronik, in his first year as head coach. “They’ve set a great example for our young guys, and we’re going to be able to build off the successes and victories we’ve had this year.”
Stars 49, Warriors 21
Soldotna 14 28 7 0 —49
Wasilla 14 0 0 7 —21
Sol — Taylor 1 run (Buckbee kick), 10:41.
Was — Mahoney 22 run (Sheveland kick), 7:54.
Sol — Mellon 25 pass from Taylor (Buckbee kick), 5:21.
Was — Grisso 12 run (Sheveland kick), 3:47.
Sol — Medcoff 1 run (Buckbee kick), 11:25.
Sol — Mellon 9 run (Buckbee kick), 8:56.
Sol — Taylor 4 run (Buckbee kick), 6:38.
Sol — Dahlgren 45 pass from Taylor (Buckbee kick), 0:30.
Sol — Medcoff 27 run (Buckbee kick), 3:23.
Was — Lattin 32 pass from Mahoney (Sheveland kick), 2:47.
First downs 16 17
Rushing yards 47-279 33-142
Passing yds 134 311
Comp-att-int 5-7-1 22-34-2
Punts 1-25 1-0
Fumbles 2-1 1-1
Penalties — 1-5 4-35
Rushing — Soldotna: Medcoff 17-153, Mellon 9-68, Taylor 6-27, O’Reagan 4-11, Uribe-Koivisto 2-6, Michael 2-5, Wilson 1-4, Buckbee 5-3, Peck 1-2. Wasilla: Mahoney 16-76, Grisso 5-29, Huffman 6-21, Lattin 4-7, Ates Jr. 1-5, Jeffus 1-4.
Passing — Soldotna: Taylor 5-6-1—114, Buckbee 0-1-0—0. Wasilla: Mahoney 14-23-1—216, Huffman 8-11-1—112.