A bold fourth-down call in the opening minutes of Saturday’s state football semifinal contest by the hometown Palmer Moose led to an early lead and some nervous looks by the Soldotna crowd.
It could have set the tone for SoHi, which has seen some October scares in previous years, but Soldotna shrugged it off to score the next 41 points en route to a dominant 55-21 victory, cementing its place in next week’s Division II state championship final. It marks the seventh straight year for SoHi making the title game.
The Stars will face the Eagle River Wolves next Saturday for the Division II crown. Eagle River defeated Lathrop 30-24 in Saturday’s other semifinal.
After getting on the board first with the 61-yard scoring run from junior Duston Corbin, Palmer either punted or turned the ball over on its next five drives while the Stars outscored the Moose 28-0 in the second quarter alone. SoHi scored on all six first-half possessions, and scored on every possession in the game except their final one that ended the contest.
“Our team has faced adversity before and we really regrouped and stopped the run from there on out,” said SoHi junior Hudson Metcalf. “We finished out strong.”
Metcalf had a big day in tallying the “football cycle” — scoring a rushing touchdown, passing touchdown and hauling in two receiving touchdowns for four total. Metcalf notched 226 all-purpose yards of offense himself, most of that (132) as a receiver.
Stars signal-caller Jersey Truesdell connected for three touchdown passes — two to Metcalf — for 189 yards, and ran for another 134 yards and two touchdown runs.
The Stars racked up 318 team rush yards, and 542 total yards of offense.
Metcalf’s 35-yard halfback option heave to receiver Cy Updike in the end zone with 43 seconds left in the second quarter capped a 41-point flurry for SoHi.
“We worked on that in practice this week,” Metcalf said. “I like to show off my arm.”
The Moose appeared to take some much-needed early momentum with a call to go for it on fourth-and-one on their own 39-yard line, which resulted in Corbin finding a seam and breaking loose for a crowd-pleasing touchdown run that put Palmer up 7-0.
Metcalf scored SoHi’s first points of the afternoon after that, finishing a seven-play drive with a 40-yard scramble through the Palmer secondary with 6:21 left in the first quarter. The drive was keyed by a crucial fourth-and-two midfield conversion by Aaron Faletoi, who ended with 46 rush yards for the day on nine carries.
While Palmer’s first scoring run was made possible by a few missed assignments by the SoHi defense, Stars head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said the team recovered well from there.
“Panic isn’t in the game plan for us,” he said. “We made a mistake like that after a missed play by one of our kids and the ball finds an open hole … but we just came back and our kids did their jobs.”
An incomplete toss by Moose quarterback Luke Guggenmos on third down led to a Palmer punt on the home team’s next possession, and the Stars drove 61 yards in 10 plays score on a 1-yard keeper by Truesdell, putting SoHi into the lead 13-7 — a lead the Stars never gave up.
“We proved that they don’t deserve to host a playoff game,” Brantley Jr. said, referring to the Alaska School Activities Association decision to keep the Division II semis at Palmer High School for a third straight year.
Guggenmos finished the day with 169 passing yards on 11-for-20 efficiency. Truesdell was also able to haul in an interception late in the first half.
Truesdell broke free for an 81-yard scoring rumble in the opening minutes of the second quarter to put the Stars up 21-7, following a two-point pass play to Zach Hanson.
Guggenmos began to make things work on offense for the Moose on the ensuing drive, connecting with Levi Farris for 26 yards that preceded a SoHi penalty, leaving Palmer at SoHi’s 33.
However, a dropped catch up the middle by Dawson Van Tassel on fourth down turned the ball back to the Stars, who drove back down the field for a 29-yard connection from Truesdell to a wide-open Metcalf.
SoHi ended up scoring three times in the final 2:49 of the first half, including a pass play up the middle of the field to Galen Brantley III, who returned after two weeks on the bench for a knee injury to make his impact on the game.
Palmer opened the third quarter with style, successfully converting a long onside kick that left the Moose on the Stars 23-yard line. Palmer scored on a short pass from Guggenmos to Makeehan Knittle.
SoHi effectively iced the game by answering with a 28-yard connection from Truesdell to Wyatt Medcoff with 4:50 left in the third.
STARS 55, MOOSE 21
Palmer 7 0 6 8 —21
Soldotna 13 28 8 6 —55
Pal — Corbin 61 run (Knittle kick), 9:38
Sol — Metcalf 40 run (Truesdell kick), 6:21
Sol — Truesdell 1 run (kick failed), :11
Sol — Truesdell 81 run (Hanson pass from Truesdell), 9:34
Sol — Metcalf 29 pass from Truesdell (kick failed), 2:49
Sol — Brantley III 21 pass from Truesdell (Faletoi run), 1:45
Sol — Updike 35 pass from Metcalf (run failed), :43
Pal — Knittle 4 pass from Guggenmos (Knittle kick), 9:10
Sol — Medcoff 28 pass from Truesdell (Medcoff run), 4:50
Sol — Metcalf 79 pass from Truesdell (kick failed), 6:29
Pal — Bruesch 12 run (Van Tassel pass from Guggenmos), 3:45
First downs 8 13
Rush-yds 26-125 38-318
Pass yds 169 224
Total yds 294 542
Comp-att-int 11-20-1 7-8-0
Return yds 138 11
Punts 3-28.3 0-0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties 6-60 2-25
Rushing — Soldotna: Truesdell 10-134, Faletoi 9-46, Medcoff 10-65, Metcalf 5-59, O’Reagan 2-14, T. Johnson 1-(-2), Sorhus 1-2. Palmer: Marshall 13-20, Corbin 1-61, Bruesch 7-46, Christiansen 5-(-2).
Passing — Soldotna: Truesdell 6-7-3—189, Metcalf 1-1-1—35. Palmer — Guggenmos 11-20-0—169.