Playing their first Northern Lights Conference game of the year, the Soldotna Stars got the job done against Kodiak with a 49-14 victory Saturday afternoon at Justin Maile Field.
However, longtime fans watching saw a performance that was quite un-Starlike.
Undoubtedly, SoHi had the upper hand the entire way, throwing down 401 offensive yards to Kodiak’s 172, and earning 17 first downs to Kodiak’s seven, but against a juggernaut like the Stars, the Bears tested SoHi at times with a well-managed game plan. Instead of rattling off 50-plus yard touchdowns with regularity en route to a second half running clock, SoHi had to grind this one out one set of downs at a time.
“It’s easy to see in years to come they’re going to be a team to be reckoned with,” said Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. of the Bears.
The Stars also suffered an unusual number of penalties — by their standards — with eight yellow flags that backed them up a total of 80 yards.
“We certainly weren’t as clean as we usually are,” Brantley Jr. said. “I don’t think we played with much passion that first half, and that’s not typical of us.
“If we show up next week half as flat as we did in this game, we’re going to be in real trouble.”
With the win in its pocket, SoHi moved into a tie at the top of the NLC standings with Palmer and Kenai Central at 1-0 (4-0 overall), and extended its state-record winning streak to 33 games.
A three-head rushing attack of Mason Prior (98 yards), Kristian Palaniuk (46) and Brenner Furlong (73) drove the SoHi offense for much of the day. Palaniuk scored a pair of rushing touchdowns and also caught a touchdown reception as well.
Kodiak starting running back Jay Miranda was forced to sit out due to a concussion, which put the onus on Bears quarterback Andreas Carros and his arm. Carros completed 11 of 25 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, and added a rushing touchdown for good measure.
SoHi quarterback Dylan Simons, who brought out his passing game for a 7-for-10 day, throwing for 114 yards and two touchdowns, said facing Carros on defense was made simpler after the Stars had to contend with the aerial attack of Service from a week earlier.
“They had a lot less passing schemes than Service did, so it wasn’t as hard, we just studied up on film,” Simons said.
Simons also threw two interceptions, a rarity for Soldotna. The last pick from a SoHi passer came nearly a full two years ago against (who else?) Kodiak. SoHi QB Colton Young tossed his only interception of his senior season that day, and since then the Stars have gone 18 games free of aerial turnovers since then.
“It was just mental mistakes, that’s all it was,” Simons said. “That probably won’t happen again after practice on Monday.”
Instead of its usual 30-point first quarter score that the SoHi faithful typically see, the Stars were held to a single touchdown strike, which came on SoHi’s first possession. Jesse Littrell picked off Carros on the Bears’ first possession to set up the scoring drive, which ended with Prior scampering 10 yards through the middle.
After a 30-yard drive ended with a punt at midfield for Kodiak, SoHi recorded the longest drive of the day, moving 76 yards over 17 plays — including a crucial fourth-down conversion in SoHi territory — that finally ended with Palaniuk scoring from 11 yards out early in the second quarter that put the Stars up 14-0.
Soldotna successfully grabbed an onside kick attempt, but the possession lasted only seconds, as Simons put up a hanging pass that landed in Kodiak defensive back Wesley Walker’s hands.
Carros matched Simons with a pick of his own that was brought down by Simons himself. On the next play from scrimmage, Simons found tight end Trevor Walden in the corner of the end zone for a 17-yard completion and a 21-0 SoHi lead.
Walden snatched a few passes out of the air that Simons sent over the middle, and also had a diving touchdown catch. He ended with five catches for 65 yards.
“He’s a talented player, and played well on both sides of the ball today,” Brantley Jr. said. “He did some very nice things today.”
Walker intercepted Simons for a second time late in the second quarter.
The most telling Kodiak possession came just before halftime. Carros guided the Bears 77 yards downfield, completing 6 of 7 passes for 83 yards on that drive alone, which culminated in a 23-yard touchdown catch by Tyler Wietfeld, who barely brought down the football amid a sea of blue-clad defenders. The score left Kodiak trailing 28-7 at the half.
“We have some fast kids, and that’s kind of our bread and butter, the smaller guys that can run,” said Kodiak coach Bill McGuire. “We try to run that spread and get them into space where they can make plays.”
If the Bears were looking for any momentum heading into the half, SoHi squeezed the air out of them with a 79-yard, eight-play drive that finished with a 37-yard scoring catch-and-run by Palaniuk that put SoHi up 35-7.
“SoHi is the class of the state, and we had a good game plan put together,” McGuire said. “Tough loss, but I’m proud of the kids, they kept fighting the whole time.”
The Stars will test their mettle next against a formidable Palmer team on the road next Friday night, the first matchup of the two schools as conference opponents.
Stars 49, Bears 14
Soldotna 6 22 21 0
South 0 7 0 7
Sol — Prior 10 run (kick failed), 9:07
Sol — Palaniuk 11 run (K. Finau run), 9:10
Sol — Walden 17 pass from Simons (J. Smithwick kick), 7:09
Sol — Crowder 7 run (J. Smithwick kick), 1:48
Kod — Brewer 23 pass from Carros (Recinos-Pineda kick), :06
Sol — Palaniuk 37 pass from Simons (J. Smithwick kick), 8:40
Sol — Palaniuk 3 run (J. Smithwick kick), 3:47
Sol — Furlong 7 run (J. Smithwick kick), 1:15
Kod — Carros 14 run (Recinos-Pineda kick), 4:42
First Downs 17 7
Rushes-yards 44-262 16-42
Passing yards 139 130
Return yards 38 114
Passes 8-12-2 11-26-2
Punts 0-0 5-30.4
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalty-yards 8-80 4-30
RUSHING — Soldotna: Prior 12-98, Furlong 9-73, Palaniuk 11-46, Urban 2-16, K. Finau 4-14, Simons 5-8, B. Crowder 1-7. Kodiak: Walton 1-17, Sega 6-13, Carros 9-12.
PASSING — Soldotna: Simons 7-10-2—114, B. Crowder 1-2-0—25. Kodiak: Carros: 11-25-1—130, Wietfeld 0-1-0—0.
RECEIVING — Soldotna: Walden 5-65, A. Gomez 2-37, Palaniuk 1-37. Kodiak: Brewer 4-61, Martinez 4-34, Galindez 1-20, Orille 1-8, Sega 1-7.