Soldotna junior Jersey Truesdell (pointing) is mobbed by teammates after scoring a touchdown Aug. 10, 2018, against West Anchorage at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna junior Jersey Truesdell (pointing) is mobbed by teammates after scoring a touchdown Aug. 10, 2018, against West Anchorage at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna eyes 7th straight title against newcomer Eagle River

The tale of the tape of the two teams matching up for the Alaska Division II state football crown tells two very different stories.

In one corner is the upstart Eagle River Wolves, the traditional basement dwellers of Alaska football that have finally broken out and established themselves as serious contenders in 2018, 12 years after the school’s first varsity season. This is Eagle River’s first playoff appearance ever, and the senior-laden Wolves are determined to show everyone they mean business.

“Eagle River has 22 seniors, and this is their last time playing,” said Soldotna senior center Cody Nye. “They have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

Then there is the six-time reigning state champions of Division II, the Soldotna Stars. The team that has been there, done that. The Stars have won 10 total state titles in the last 12 years, and in that span have missed the state final only once (2011).

The two teams face off Saturday at 11:30 a.m. at Palmer High School.

SoHi head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said the 22 seniors that drive the Wolves core are not to be taken lightly. In their regular season meeting, the Wolves laid the first points of the game on the Stars after putting up a defensive stand early on SoHi, a game that SoHi eventually took control of in a 55-19 win.

“Eagle River has taken some big steps this year,” Brantley Jr. said. “They’ve beaten (crosstown rival) Chugiak, and they want to take it a step further.”

The SoHi offensive line features three veteran starters in Nye, guard Brennan Werner and tackle Levi Benner. The trio are all second-year starters on the O-line, but also have spent all four years of high school in the SoHi football program. They make up a line that also includes tight ends Galen Brantley III and Zach Hanson, guard Trenton Walden and tackle Lucas Kline.

After the Week 5 meeting, Werner made it clear that the Stars can’t let Eagle River get off to a fast start again, especially with a state championship on the line.

“We need to start fast, we can’t ease up,” Werner said during a midweek practice. “If the other team scores first it’s big motivation.”

The Stars are no stranger to facing an early hole. Just last week in the state semifinals, the Palmer Moose grabbed an early lead on a broken play by Soldotna on their first possession of the game, taking advantage of a missed assignment to break off a long touchdown run in the first quarter.

Soldotna, in its typical pound-the-rock style, rallied back to score the next 41 points en route to the blowout win, but it served as an important reminder to take nothing for granted.

Brantley Jr. said the team reserved one hour of practice time in the Anchorage Dome facility for Friday, a time that he hopes to see the team come together one last time before facing the hungry Wolves.

“We have a lot of kids playing in their first state title game too,” Brantley Jr. pointed out. “So it’s about who takes control, and we want to make sure we do everything right.”

A state championship would be one of the crowning achievements of Eagle River’s prep sports history, which dates back to 2005. The team’s softball program won a state title in its first year (spring 2006), and have traditionally flaunted a talented cheer squad, but have little else to show for it in major team sports.

The Wolves football program has seen many tough years, including consecutive winless campaigns in 2014 and 2015.

This Eagle River team, however, is different. The senior class grew up together through tough years and are now reaping the rewards of hard work and lessons learned. Quarterback Ryan Adkins leads a big and tall group of offensive stars, including receivers Quinard Cox — whose long touchdown reception in the final minute of last week’s semifinal over Palmer left the Wolves with a thrilling 30-24 win — and Bryson Rollman, whose one-handed highlight reel TD catch over Chugiak in Week 7 made ESPN’s Monday Night Football pregame show.

As much motivation as the Wolves have as they target their first football championship, the Stars bring their own fuel to light as well.

SoHi’s state-record 59-game win streak came to a crashing halt in Week 1 with a game-ending touchdown by the West Anchorage Eagles on SoHi’s home field. Benner said that loss only served to light a fire under the Stars, which have won eight straight since that opening week disappointment.

“None of us liked losing that game,” Benner said. “But it really motivated us to put forth more effort. It made us come back and fix the mistakes.

“I feel pretty confident now, it’s our job to focus on the field and be confident.”

Soldotna’s Jersey Truesdell hugs teammate Brennan Werner (53) along with Zach Hanson and Hudson Metcalf (5) Sept. 1, 2018, against West Valley at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Jersey Truesdell hugs teammate Brennan Werner (53) along with Zach Hanson and Hudson Metcalf (5) Sept. 1, 2018, against West Valley at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna junior Zach Ziegler tackles West running back Lewis Malala Jr., Aug. 10, 2018, at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna junior Zach Ziegler tackles West running back Lewis Malala Jr., Aug. 10, 2018, at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Eagle River quarterback Ryan Adkins winds up for a throw Sept. 15, 2018, against Kenai Central at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Eagle River quarterback Ryan Adkins winds up for a throw Sept. 15, 2018, against Kenai Central at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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