Minutes after capping off another win with their traditional fight song at midfield, the Soldotna Stars were already dreading the Monday morning film session that coach Galen Brantley Jr. would be calling them in for to fix the mistakes they made.
When a team has a 41-game win streak on the line, every little detail matters.
“He’ll have us in the room at 8 a.m.,” said lineman Kyle Marcuson with a nod. “It’s all about perfection.”
Soldotna defeated the North Pole Patriots 57-13 in a nonconference clash Friday evening at Justin Maile Field. The Stars improved to 2-0 to start the season while North Pole dropped to 0-2 overall. Neither team has played a conference game yet.
Soldotna took charge early and never looked back at the Patriots, who suffered through 13 penalties that backed them up 65 yards in the loss. Soldotna committed just three penalties, but to a leader like Brantley Jr., who now holds an 88-5 record as head coach of the Stars, the negative yardage is glaring.
“The execution wasn’t great, we weren’t able to string things together,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’re the kind of team that’s gotta keep the train on time to get to the station.”
Not including the penalties, SoHi also had four plays go for negative yards, a higher number than usual for the precision-oriented Stars. But still, Soldotna rolled to 22 first-quarter points, then added 29 more in the second, scoring on all six possessions in the first half.
After putting up 448 team rushing yards a week ago against West Anchorage, Soldotna finished Friday with just 174 ground yards, but with a game that was wrapped up by halftime, necessitating a running clock, SoHi did not need the high volume of snaps to win.
North Pole outgained Soldotna on the ground with 227 yards, led by senior Lafi Skipps, who carried the ball 16 times for 102 yards. SoHi beat North Pole through the air, though, as junior quarterback Brandon Crowder threw 8 for 11 with three touchdowns and 203 yards. Two of those scoring strikes went to senior Levi Hensley, who opened the scoring by snaring a 40-yard bomb from Crowder on SoHi’s first offensive snap. North Pole’s Craig Borba was 1 for 2 with two yards.
Junior Cody Quelland led SoHi with 59 yards on five carries and a touchdown, all in the second half, while senior Austin Schrader scored twice on four carries, picking up 50 rush yards along the way.
“We had some mistakes that we have to fix, but overall, our line did their job,” Schrader said while praising his offensive line.
Behind a stout offensive line, Schrader and junior Brenner Furlong steadily made gains on every possession. Furlong finished with 25 yards on 11 carries, including a short touchdown run in the first quarter.
Senior James Bartley scored both North Pole touchdowns — a 58-yard romp late in the second quarter and a 4-yard plunge midway through the third frame — to finish with 62 rushing yards, but by the time Bartley broke loose for his first score, SoHi had staked out a daunting 44-0 lead.
North Pole incurred two penalties on its opening possession of the game, leading to a three-and-out punt to SoHi. It took one snap for Crowder to find Hensley in the end zone for a 40-yard touchdown, putting the Stars up 7-0 just 2:13 into the game.
On the ensuing drive, North Pole got some help from Skipps, who burst out of the backfield and skirted some defenders on his way to a 45-yard dash to the SoHi 20-yard line. From there, the Patriots couldn’t get any farther, and a 35-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jace Urban.
Soldotna continued the momentum with a 60-yard drive that ended in an 18-yard sweep to the outside by Schrader.
After another punt by North Pole that also resulted in a dead ball penalty that placed the ball on the Patriots 9, Soldotna scored again on a 2-yard run by Furlong. A penalty on the extra-point kick gave SoHi the opportunity to run a two-point play, which they converted with a run to the outside by Crowder, putting SoHi up 22-0.
As if they weren’t ready to settle just yet, the Stars successfully executed an onside kick attempt to get the ball right back. The resulting possession was capped with a 13-yard Schrader run, who then added a two-point dive into the end zone after another North Pole penalty. The score left the Stars leading 30-0 early in the second quarter.
The dagger came when North Pole was forced to punt yet again with 8:01 left in the second quarter. Backed up to their own 15, the Patriots kick was blocked and SoHi receiver Andy West scooped up the ball for the recovery touchdown.
West played a role in the next scoring drive, hauling in a 43-yard strike from Crowder along the sideline, which set up a 10-yard pass into the end zone from Crowder to Hensley, which pushed the lead to 44-0.
One of the few mistakes by SoHi came next, as the Stars lost track of Bartley along the outside edge, and the North Pole senior made them pay with a 58-yard romp to the end zone for North Pole’s first points.
SoHi led 51-6 at halftime, and with more than a 35-point deficit, North Pole coach Dennis Diviney opted to allow a running clock in the third quarter. By rule, the running clock is mandatory in the fourth quarter for a game separated by 35 or more points.
By that time, however, Brantley Jr. had pulled his starting cast for his subs.
Soldotna will travel for its opening road game next weekend in Wasilla, while North Pole hosts the Bartlett Bears.
Stars 57, Patriots 13
Stars 22 29 0 6 —57
Patriots 0 6 7 0 —13
Sol — Hensley 40 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), 9:47
Sol — Schrader 18 run (Jones kick), 2:34
Sol — Furlong 2 run (Crowder run), :21
Sol — Schrader 13 run (Schrader run), 10:35
Sol — West 2 fumble return (Jones kick), 8:01
Sol — Hensley 10 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), 5:33
NP — Bartley 58 run (Conversion failed), 3:07
Sol — Urban 7 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), :59
NP — Bartley 4 run (O’Rear kick), 6:14
Sol — Quelland 33 run (Conversion failed), 4:07
First Downs 9 6
Rushing yds 27-174 35-227
Pass yds 203 2
Comp-Att-Int 8-11-0 1-3-0
Punts 1-46.0 1-35.0
Fumbles 0-0 0-0
Penalties 3-20 13-65
Rushing — Soldotna: Quelland 5-59, Schrader 4-50, Furlong 11-25, Lefoa 2-21, Urban 3-17, Van Hout 1-4, Woodward 2-4, Sproul 1-3, Trammell 1-1, Crowder 2-(-10). North Pole: Skipps 16-102, Bartley 2-62, Fontana 3-25, Gaines 6-25, McBroom 1-7, Borba 4-4, Ervin 2-2, Kirven 1-0.
Passing — Soldotna: Crowder 8-11—203-3. North Pole: Borba 1-2—2-0, Fontana 0-1—0-0.