“We have to control the controllables,” Soldotna senior offensive and defensive tackle Spencer Kapp said after his team’s 63-8 victory over Kenai Central on Friday at Justin Maile Field.
That was the same thing Stars coach Galen Brantley Jr. told his team at the conclusion of the team’s first practice July 29.
The advice, which Brantley Jr. originally got from coach Bob Boudreaux when Brantley Jr. played football at Soldotna, was important during an on-and-off season of new coronavirus interruptions. It remained important on a Friday when COVID-19 cast questions into the playoff picture.
A dominant victory over the Kardinals should have been just the thing to propel the Stars into a first-round playoff game with Eagle River on Friday, except — with the scouting report on the Wolves already completed on the desk in his office — Brantley Jr. learned Friday that Eagle River’s season is over after a member of the program tested positive for COVID-19.
Brantley Jr. was not sure whether a new first-round opponent would be found, or if the Stars would automatically advance to the Division II state title contest.
“At this point I have no idea, kind of like everything else with this season,” he said.
One thing that is for sure is the Stars were able to pocket a pair of wins against the Kardinals in finishing the regular season 4-0. Kenai finishes 1-3. Both Kenai-Soldotna games happened after originally getting postponed.
Soldotna is now 32-16 against Kenai, while Brantley Jr. is riding an 11-game winning streak against his greatest rival. He is 17-2 against the Kards.
Kapp, a senior, said if this was his final game at Justin Maile Field, he made the most of it.
“We understood what could happen or couldn’t happen,” he said. “We played every game like it was our last. We got the best out of the season and made sure the seniors had fun.
“We’re a really tightknit group and it’s been a fun season.”
Both coaches saw improvement since SoHi’s 58-14 victory over Kenai on Sept. 12. The teams were supposed to play again Sept. 26, but Kenai pulled out due to non-COVID illness.
“I’m just happy to have had a four-game season,” Kenai coach Dustin Akana said. “It’s been hard with COVID. I’m happy we’ve been able to play, mainly for the seniors.
“This is the last time they’ll play high school football. That’s why we made this game happen again.”
Soldotna looked ready for the postseason on offense and defense, leading 28-0 after a quarter, 42-0 at the half and 56-0 after three quarters.
Soldotna ran 38 times for 364 yards. Austin Escott had seven carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. Josh Heiber, Dennis Taylor, Brock Wilson, Josh Bond, Kage Poe, Gehret Medcoff and Hunter Richardson added touchdowns on the ground.
Wilson was 3 for 4 for 65 yards, with all three tosses coming to Josh Pieh.
“We were trying to control the ball going into the playoffs,” Wilson said. “Hopefully, we’ll keep working hard in practice and be ready for whatever comes for us.”
Wilson, also a linebacker, said Kenai improved during the season.
“They did better on coverage,” he said. “Their backs ran a lot harder and their backers were getting after it.”
Kenai chipped away for some first downs, but was hurt by three turnovers. Dylan Dahlgren had two sacks, including a strip sack recovered by Kaidan Spies. Bond also had a fumble recovery, Wilson had an interception and Aidan Willets shined with open field tackles on kickoff coverage.
Akana, who got a TD run from Tucker Vann late in the fourth, said he knew the Stars would be tough to beat.
“We preached not to worry about the score,” he said. “Go out and finish the season and have fun. Enjoy it with your brothers.
“They’ve worked hard since the summer and the seniors have worked hard all four years.”
Brantley Jr. also is happy with his group, particularly his seniors. All of Soldotna’s starters last season were seniors, meaning this year’s seniors have waited for full-time roles until this year. The coach said the seniors have worked hard all the way through despite playing behind the Class of 2020 and dealing with uncertainty created by the pandemic.
“This is their chance to be in the playoffs and compete for a state title, so I’d be really disappointed if that doesn’t happen,” he said.
Kapp echoed those thoughts.
“I’m very proud of how far we’ve come,” he said. “Last year, we graduated all senior starters on both sides of the ball so we’ve never played a full game. We’ve worked hard to get to the point where we can meet expectations.”
Stars 63, Kardinals 8
Soldotna 28 14 14 7 —63
Kenai 0 0 0 8 —8
Sol — J. Heiber 7 run (O’Reagan kick), 9:54.
Sol — D. Taylor 3 run (O’Reagan kick), 8:28.
Sol — Escott 63 run (O’Reagan kick), 3:43.
Sol — Wilson 1 run (O’Reagan kick), 0:15.
Sol — Bond 4 run (O’Reagan kick), 3:31.
Sol — Escott 30 run (O’Reagan kick), 0:34.
Sol — Poe 10 run (Burns kick), 10:20.
Sol — Medcoff 28 run (Burns kick), 4:56.
Sol — Richardson 2 run (Burns kick), 10:33.
Ken — Vann 5 run (Vann run), 4:34.
First downs 12 9
Rushing yards 38-364 37-154
Passing yds 65 8
Comp-att-int 3-5-0 1-7-1
Return yds 3-37 8-71
Punts 0-0 4-27.3
Fumbles 0-0 4-2
Penalties 7-60 5-25
Rushing — Soldotna: Escott 7-140, Medcoff 6-64, J. Heiber 3-61, D. Taylor 4-57, Poe 2-17, Richardson 6-15, Bond 1-4, J. O’Reagan 1-4, Peck 1-2, Buckbee 2-2, Wilson 3-2, Tacey 2-(-4). Kenai: Vann 14-87, Tomrdle 12-48, Diorec 1-14, Good 2-5, Sparks 3-2, Beck 5-(-2).
Passing — Soldotna: Wilson 3-4-0—65; Kenai 1-7-1—8.