Getting a chance to man the helm of the fearsome Soldotna Stars football offense is tantamount to riding a Triple Crown winner around Belmont Park. The sheer performance is simply unstoppable.
Just ask SoHi sophomore Brandon Crowder what it’s like, and he will tell you.
“They do the job faking plays, and coach calls great plays,” Crowder said of his offensive line.
Crowder got the start at varsity quarterback Saturday afternoon at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna and effortlessly guided the Stars to a 62-6 Northern Lights Conference victory over Eagle River on homecoming weekend, while also locking up a postseason ticket.
“Great job to these guys,” Crowder said after the game, referring to his teammates. “They’ve been behind me all the way, supporting me, letting me know they’re behind me.”
With head coach Galen Brantley Jr. and offensive coordinator Phil Leck calling the plays, Crowder finished the day with two touchdown passes and 5 of 12 throws completed for 82 yards. Crowder also added a 36-yard touchdown on his feet.
Crowder has played the role of backup quarterback to usual starter Dylan Simons throughout the year, but he also roams the defensive backfield as a safety. Crowder started the first drive against Kodiak in Week 4 of the season before handing the reigns over to Simons.
The Stars improved to 3-0 in the conference and 6-0 overall in 2015, while also extending their state-record win streak to 35 straight games. With Kenai’s win over Palmer on Saturday, both the Stars and Kardinals wrapped up postseason berths, with only the regular-season finale between the two schools left to decide the No. 1 and 2 spots.
“We’re certainly excited to be locked in without question,” said Brantley Jr. “It’s not an easy conference anymore. Palmer beat the No. 1 large school in the state (Chugiak) earlier this year, and now they’re missing the playoffs.”
SoHi had seven different players score touchdowns Saturday, with Brenner Furlong and Kristian Palaniuk picking up two each on the ground. Overall, SoHi compiled 202 rush yards to Eagle River’s 73.
Brantley Jr. praised Crowder on his performance under center, adding that most importantly he did not give the ball up, something that Brantley Jr. worked with the team to fix after consecutive weeks of double interception games.
“He did a great job and he showed signs of things that he’s gonna be able to do down the road,” Brantley Jr. said. “He’s a very gifted athlete and we’re excited for the future with him.”
Early on, Crowder ran into some difficulties, as he missed his first four targets, three of them to senior tight end Trevor Walden. However, the sophomore busted that brief slump in a big way, as he finally connected for the first time with Walden on an arcing 22-yard pass to the corner of the end zone midway through the first quarter to put SoHi up 21-0.
“We had a few mishaps, I was trying to get used to throwing to him,” Crowder said. “He’s a great guy to throw to, he’ll get the ball wherever you put it.”
Walden also recovered a Wolves fumble deep in Eagle River territory late in the second quarter that set up a Palaniuk touchdown run.
On SoHi’s opening possession of the game, the Stars drove 49 yards over 13 plays to score on a 1-yard plunge by Jace Urban. The Stars had to convert three third-down situations and one fourth down to keep the drive alive.
After successfully recovering the ensuing onside kick, it took SoHi only three plays to score again, as Crowder took a bootleg to the right 36 yards to the end zone to extend the lead to 14-0.
After the Walden touchdown pass, Eagle River attempted a fake punt in its own territory, but the pass fell incomplete, and SoHi took over on the Wolves’ 25-yard line. Four plays later, it was Palaniuk finding the land of scoring on a 4-yard dash.
With a comfortable 28-point lead in the second quarter, SoHi attempted 35-yard field goal, but the kick by Johnny Smithwick fell just shy of the goalposts.
After another Eagle River punt, Crowder found a wide open Adrain Gomez-Dickson to his left and sent up the touchdown pass of 39 yards, as Gomez-Dickson went untouched into the end zone. The two pulled the same stunt for 33 yards on the next possession, but it was called back due to a penalty.
SoHi led 49-0 at halftime, when the homecoming royalty was announced.
In the second half, senior defensive back Tommy Flores made an appearance with a perfectly executed interception of Eagle River quarterback Thad Heagy, cutting off a receiver and returning the ball 34 yards to the Eagle River 6-yard line, where Furlong punched in the touchdown. Heagy ended up throwing 7 for 20 for 67 yards, and added 24 yards on seven carries.
With large-schools opponent Lathrop on the horizon for Week 7 of the season, Brantley Jr. said the Stars cannot afford to look to Week 8 against Kenai just yet.
“We’re not going to look past what we’re doing now and Kenai won’t either,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’re gonna have our hands full.”
Stars 62, Wolves 6
Eagle River 0 0 0 6 —6
Soldotna 28 21 13 0 —62
Sol — Urban 1 run (Smithwick kick), 7:32
Sol — Crowder 36 run (Smithwick kick), 6:51
Sol — Walden 22 pass from Crowder (Smithwick kick), 3:45
Sol — Palaniuk 3 run (Smithwick kick), :27
Sol — Dickson-Gomez 39 pass from Crowder (Smithwick kick), 6:11
Sol — Furlong 2 run (Smithwick kick), 1:13
Sol — Palaniuk 7 run (Smithwick kick), :42
Sol — Prior 23 run (Smithwick kick), 6:35
Sol — Furlong 7 run (Kick failed), 1:40
ER — Heagy 1 run (Kick failed)
First Downs 7 5
Rushes-yards 32-202 19-73
Passing yards 82 69
Return yards 37 36
Passes 5-13-0 8-22-1
Punts 0-0 3-22.7
Fumbles-lost 0-0 3-2
Penalty-yards 7-60 4-35
RUSHING — Soldotna: Prior 9-54, Crowder 2-42, Urban 5-38, Palaniuk 6-38, K. Finau 3-21, Furlong 3-10, Trammell 1-3, Schrader 2-(-1), Metcalf 1-(-3). Eagle River: Smith 1-31, Heagy 7-24, Porter 7-15, Hunter 1-3, Thompson 3-0.
PASSING — Soldotna: Crowder 5-12-0—82. Eagle River: Heagy 7-20-1—67, Clarke 1-1-0—2, Thompson 0-1-0—0