The Soldotna football team defeated Chugiak 63-7 on Friday in Railbelt Conference play at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School.
The Stars celebrated senior night by improving to 6-0 in the conference and 7-0 overall, while Chugiak fell to 0-6 and 0-7. Also in the league, Eagle River is 5-1 and 6-1, Lathrop is 5-1 and 5-2, West Valley is 3-3 and 3-4, North Pole is 2-4 and 2-5 and Palmer is 1-5 and 2-5.
Soldotna can wrap up the conference title and top seed in the Division II playoffs by winning at Eagle River on Saturday at 4 p.m. The Wolves are coming off a 34-27 win over Service.
While the Mustangs were able to put together a few things on offense Friday — rushing for 81 yards and passing for 150 — they had no answer for Soldotna’s first string offense.
The Stars starters scored every time they touched the ball, except for when the first half clock ran out on them. Soldotna rushed for 531 yards and passed for 166.
Wyatt Faircloth ran seven times for 145 yards and four touchdowns, Gehret Medcoff ran seven times for 145 yards and two touchdowns, and Collin Peck ran four times for 41 yards and two touchdowns.
Quarterback Zac Buckbee had 51 yards rushing and also was 5 for 11 for 166 yards though the air, with Andrew Pieh catching three balls for 102 yards.
“I feel like we have the right mix of big guys up front and athletic backs,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “Zac ties them all together.”
Senior left tackle Hakoa Montoya doesn’t think the offense, which has scored 56 or more points each game, can be stopped.
“To be honest, I don’t really think we can,” he said. “I think we probably have the best O line in the state.
“Brantley keeps us really disciplined and everything. We just strive to be the best we cane be. We really need to win the state championship this year.”
Even with the weekly domination, Soldotna’s 14 seniors — and the team in general — don’t have to reach far for inspiration.
The senior class that graduated from the school in 2006 is the last class that left without a state title in football.
Thanks to losing the postseason to the pandemic as freshmen and title losses to Lathrop the past two years, the Class of 2024 doesn’t have a state title.
Brantley Jr. won a state title in his first year as head coach in 2007, so every senior class he’s coached at this point has a state title.
“Brantley told us if we didn’t win this state title, we’d be the first ones to go through SoHi and not win state, so that’s just motivation for us,” Montoya said.
Soldotna senior right tackle and defensive tackle Ala Tuisaula watched as the program went 4 for 4 with state titles when his brother, 2018 graduate Wendell, played. Wendell became a starter his sophomore year.
“We want that state title ring on our finger,” Tuisaula said of the senior class. “We started really early this year, we started focusing on it.”
Tuisaula said the motivation of a state title helps the team fix what needs to be fixed at each practice.
“We’re always looking for that next opponent,” Tuisaula said. “Lathrop’s a big problem.
“We’ve had two state runner-ups. We really want to beat them this year.”
With the exception of some penalties, Brantley Jr. was happy with the execution on offense. The same can’t be said of defense.
“Defensively, we certainly showed that we have a few things that need to be fixed,” the coach said. “We let them drive on us a few times.
“We had some breakdowns and missed tackles.”
In the third quarter, Chugiak quarterback Kaleb Worland found Luke Poland, who had 108 yards receiving, for a 30-yard touchdown.
The Mustangs nearly scored again in the third quarter, but freshman Koda Lepule stuffed a run on fourth-and-goal from the Soldotna 1-yard line.
Brantley Jr. said Lokeni Wong, who had a fumble recovery on a kickoff, had a great game at safety, while Faircloth, as usual, led the team in tackles from his linebacker position.
Peck recovered an onside kick for the Stars, while Pieh and Matt Schilling had interceptions. Andon Wolverton had a late touchdown run.
Kaden Lockwood had an onside kick recovery for the Mustangs.
Senior cheerleader Gracie Bras was honored along with football seniors Leigh Tacey, Buckbee, Pieh, Landon Hinds, Peck, Charles Huff, Nick Rackley, Gehret Medcoff, Jace O’Reagan, Tanner Clyde, Aidan Stinnett, Tuisaula, Henry Williams and Montoya.
“Everybody around — it’s like a family,” Montoya said. “It’s the best thing I could ask for.
“My teammates are all like brothers to me. I can ask them about anything.”
Before the game, the Stars unveiled a new sign designating the Coach Dan Gensel Press Box.
Gensel graduated from Kenai Central in 1975, where he lettered in three sports. He went on to be a teacher and coach at SoHi, leading the girls basketball team to a Class 4A state title in 1993.
Upon leaving SoHi, he became the sports director for KSRM Radio Group in 1999 and served in that role until his death in May at 66.
Brantley Jr. said it was an honor to have Gensel’s family at midfield before the game for the ceremony, including grandson Brendan Daniel Frey doing the coin toss.
“Dan was such a huge, huge part of our school as a teacher, coach and even as a broadcaster,” Brantley Jr. said. “I think I can count the games I’ve coached on one hand where he wasn’t broadcasting the game.
“I think it was a way for us as a school, community and a program to show how much he really means to us.”
Stars 63, Mustangs 7
Chugiak 0 0 7 0 —7
Soldotna 27 15 14 7 —63
Sol — Medcoff 7 run (kick failed), 10:32.
Sol — Faircloth 6 run (Medcoff run), 7:52.
Sol — Faircloth 12 run (O’Reagan kick), 6:27.
Sol — Peck 4 run (kick failed), 1:04.
Sol — Peck 25 run (Peck run), 8:26.
Sol — Faircloth 38 run (O’Reagan kick), 1:54.
Sol — Faircloth 11 run (O’Reagan kick), 11:42.
Chu — Poland 30 pass from Worland (Masterson kick), 9:05.
Sol — Medcoff 85 run (O’Reagan kick), 4:59.
Sol — Wolverton 24 run (Hillyer kick), 10:50.
First downs 17 8
Rushes-yards 43-531 41-81
Passing yards 166 150
Comp-att-int 5-11-0 10-19-2
Punts 1-31.0 3-37.3
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-1
Penalties 15-165 4-35
Rushing — Chugiak: Billman 16-54, Poland 4-12, Sparrow 5-9, Williams 2-4, Worland 14-2. Soldotna: Faircloth 11-167, Medcoff 7-145, Buckbee 4-51, Wolverton 3-50, Kemp 6-42, Peck 4-41, Huff 3-20, Dickinson 2-10, Walden 2-7, Ohnemus 1-(-2).
Passing — Chugiak: Worland 9-18-2—141, Sparrow 1-1-0—9. Soldotna: Buckbee 5-11-0—166.