It took six years to get playoff football back to Soldotna’s Justin Maile Field, but the SoHi Stars made the wait worth it.
SoHi pounded West Valley 54-22 in a Division II state football semifinal Friday night to punch its spot into the championship game for a record eighth straight year. It was SoHi’s first home playoff game since Oct. 12, 2013, after six years of neutral game sites in Anchorage and Palmer.
In the other Division II semifinal, Lathrop pounded Eagle River 54-10 on Saturday to set up a Soldotna vs. Lathrop championship showdown next Saturday at 4 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium. The title game appearance is the first for Lathrop since 1985.
Soldotna (8-0) was led by senior Aaron Faletoi, who scored three touchdowns in the first half for the Stars and finished with 87 rushing yards. Hudson Metcalf and Wyatt Medcoff both scored twice on the ground, and Medcoff recorded a game-high 146 rush yards.
SoHi scored on its first five possessions and led 21-0 in the first quarter and 35-8 at halftime, outgaining the Wolfpack 265 to 56 yards in the first half.
“It feels pretty good,” Faletoi said. “Just help the guys out, and help coach (Galen Brantley Jr.) out. He always wants more. All the excitement is about working hard for this.”
West Valley (3-5) quarterback Shaun Conwell threw for two TD passes and 263 yards, while senior back Keegan Daoust had a pair of touchdowns to go with 154 receiving yards.
Accustomed to lopsided scores and fourth-quarter running clocks, SoHi took care of business Friday night, but West Valley nevertheless showed signs of brilliance against the Stars defense.
“They have really good skill players, across the board,” Medcoff said. “Cummings is shifty, and (receiver) Avery Weston, the guy I was covering all night, he was just fast, good on the double move.”
Brantley Jr. said West Valley’s deep passing game kept the Stars on their toes all game, as Weston and Tyriq Nance were able to get into the defensive secondary for several big catches.
“They have athletes,” he said. “They have guys that can make big plays and they certainly exposed us a little bit here and there. There’s always something to work on.”
“I think we have a lot more work to do,” added Faletoi.
SoHi quarterback Jersey Truesdell finished 7 for 8 for 121 yards and a passing TD. The senior signal-caller also maintained his clean sheet in 2019 with no interceptions through eight games.
Brantley Jr. said getting the senior class to the championship game for all four years of their tenure is what he wanted to see most.
“It’s awesome,” Brantley Jr. said. “I’m excited for these guys, they’ve worked hard over four years, and are right exactly where they want to be.”
Soldotna will attempt to win an eighth straight state title next Saturday in Anchorage against the Malemutes. In the regular season, SoHi defeated Lathrop 51-14. Brantley Jr. said the Malemutes are the team he wants.
“We expect to see Lathrop,” he said. “We’ve played both teams and feel like they’re the more talented team, but anything can happen. We’ll be ready for whoever it is.”
Most of West Valley’s first-half yards came on a 10-play drive in the second quarter. That scoring drive finally woke up the West Valley offense as 6-foot-3 senior receiver Tyriq Nance hauled in two circus catches from Conwell, including a one-handed grab in the end zone to close SoHi’s lead to 28-8, following a two-point pass from Conwell to Avery Weston.
However, that momentum didn’t last long. It took SoHi two plays to go 70 yards for the answer, first on a 42-yard gashing run by Medcoff, then on a 28-yard TD catch by Galen Brantley III, who was wide open for the score. Brantley III finished the night with 73 receiving yards on three catches.
“Offensively, we’re in a good spot right now,” Brantley Jr. said. “The only drive we sputtered, we ran out of time. Our starters got up and down the field and scored at will.”
Prior to that West Valley drive, the Wolfpack had two punts and a fumble for minus-11 yards.
The Stars opened the second half with authority, as seniors Zack Zeigler and Trent Walden teamed up for a sack of Conwell, forcing West Valley to punt.
From there, SoHi moved the ball 60 yards, capped by a 22-yard scoring scamper by Medcoff to push the lead to 41-8. Medcoff notched his second TD of the night on the next posession, a 34-yard rush to the end zone.
Tyler Morrison grabbed an interception for SoHi in the second half.
Stars 54, Wolfpack 22
West Valley 0 8 8 6 —22
Soldotna 21 14 19 —54
Sol — Metcalf 10 run (Truesdell kick), 8:31
Sol — Faletoi 2 run (Truesdell kick), 5:14
Sol — Faletoi 11 run (Truesdell kick), 4:11
Sol — Faletoi 33 run (Truesdell kick), 11:52
WV — Nance 18 pass from Conwell (Weston pass from Conwell), 5:52
Sol — Brantley 28 pass from Truesdell (Truesdell kick), 5:04
Sol — Medcoff 22 run (kick failed), 8:48
Sol — Medcoff 34 run (kick failed), 4:25
Sol — Metcalf 3 run (Truesdell kick), 2:32
WV — Daoust 67 run (Cummings run), 1:33
WV — Daoust 87 pass from Conwell (run failed), 6:59
First Downs 19 8
Rushing yds 39-404 26-28
Pass yds 121 263
Comp-Att-Int 7-9-0 10-21-1
Return yds 3-46 8-69
Punts 0-0 4-31.0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties 4-45 5-40
Rushing — Soldotna: Medcoff 7-146, Aa. Faletoi 6-87, Metcalf 7-51, Truesdell 6-49, Escott 4-30, J. Spies 2-20, Brantley 1-7, Taylor 2-7, C. Johnson 1-3, Wilson 2-3, Al. Faletoi 1-1. West Valley: Cummings 15-45, Nance 1-5, Conn 1-(-4), Conwell 9-(-18).
Passing — Soldotna: Truesdell 7-8—121-1, Wilson 0-1—0-0. West Valley: Conwell 10-20—263-2, Weston 0-1—0-0.