In a game Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said felt like a preseason scrimmage and a potential no-tomorrow contest all at the same time, the Stars defeated Homer 42-6 on Saturday at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna.
Brantley Jr. said the game felt a bit like a preseason scrimmage because Soldotna had just five continuous practices heading into the game.
Practice started for both the Stars and Mariners on July 29. Both saw each other at the football jamboree Aug. 15 at Kenai Central, but Aug. 18 the central peninsula rose to high-risk level and Soldotna practices were limited to conditioning while Homer, of the south peninsula, practiced on and also picked up a victory over Seward last weekend.
Monday, central peninsula returned to medium-risk level, allowing the Stars to return to practice and to schedule Saturday’s game with Homer.
Soldotna also scheduled senior night against Homer, honoring 17 players and three managers.
“Because of the unknown, we had senior night,” Brantley Jr. said. “They had to play it like it could be their last game, because they don’t know if they’ll get to play here again.”
The COVID-19 numbers are currently looking good for the Stars and Mariners to get some more games. The central peninsula has had 22 cases in the last 14 days, while southern peninsula has had two cases and Seward has had no cases. This means all peninsula schools are currently at low-risk level.
Soldotna seniors Dennis Taylor and Austin Escott certainly played like there was no tomorrow. Taylor had a key interception and fumble recovery in the first half and rushed for 58 yards on seven carries, while Escott had touchdown runs of 36, 92, 61, 24 and 64 yards in rolling up 312 yards in 10 carries.
Brantley Jr. gave credit to Taylor for his leadership through all the summer practices during which the team couldn’t touch a ball, and during the most recent shutdown when all players could do was condition 10 feet apart.
“I think it’s nice to finally get something out of it,” Taylor said. “It’s nice being able to play after all the time we put in during the summer.”
Taylor said Brantley Jr. told him he’d be a big part of the team on offense and defense. That was all the motivation Taylor needed.
“I just kept hoping and keeping positive that we would actually get a game,” he said.
Escott echoed those thoughts: “It’s my senior year. I’m happy to get to play.”
Homer trailed just 14-6 at the half as quarterback Carter Tennison, just a sophomore, made play after play to keep the Mariners in the game. Tennison finished with 152 yards rushing and 118 yards passing.
Brantley Jr. said Homer’s play, and not his team’s lack of practice, was the reason for the close first half. He credited Homer coach Justin Zank for building up the program.
“I think that’s the best Homer team I’ve seen in some time,” Brantley Jr. said. “Zank has gotten kids out and coached them up. If there was a small-schools title game, I think they would be in it.”
Escott got the Stars rolling with a 36-yard scoring run with 10:47 left in the first quarter, but Homer answered with a 13-yard touchdown run by Tennison with 5:24 left in the first quarter for a 7-6 game.
A big turning point came with 10:18 in the second quarter. On fourth-and-four from the Soldotna 11-yard line, the Stars stopped the Mariners at the Soldotna 8. On the next play, Escott ran 92 yards for a score.
After the game, Zank wasn’t focused on the missed fourth down conversion as much as he was Homer’s three turnovers in the first half. The Stars also lost two fumbles in the first half.
“They’re the most disciplined team in the state, hands down,” Zank said of the Stars. “They don’t make too many mistakes, so we can’t afford to make so many mistakes.”
With 56 seconds left in the half, a circus, 36-yard touchdown catch from quarterback Brock Wilson to Josh Pieh was called off due to a hold.
Brantley Jr. said getting the play called back kept the Stars from taking control in the first half, but SoHi would dominate the second half 28-0. In addition to three long Escott scoring runs in the second half, senior Josh Heiber also scored from 67 yards out.
“We got a little pick-me-up from coach at halftime,” Taylor said. “We got more into the mental part of the game.”
Escott said his long runs came due to great teamwork.
“I think the linemen did a good job on trap getting their blocks in,” he said. “When we run it fast, it’s hard to read it.”
Even as the Stars ran away in the second half, Zank said his team still showed it has some solid building blocks in place.
“I’m proud of the dudes,” he said. “They left it all out there. They were exhausted in the fourth quarter.”
The coach said Tennison continues to progress quickly after not getting many reps as the No. 3 quarterback last season.
“He’s still really raw, and that’s exciting,” Zank said. “He’s still able to make electrifying plays.”
Homer is scheduled to play at Nikiski on Friday at 5 p.m., while Soldotna is scheduled to travel to Kenai at 2 p.m. Saturday.
“I’m excited to play against Kenai,” Escott said. “It’s a big rivalry and it’s always fun to play against those guys. It gives you a lot of energy.”
Stars 42, Mariners 6
Sol — Escott 36 run (O’Reagan kick), 10:47.
Hom — Tennison 13 run (run failed), 5:24.
Sol — Escott 92 run (O’Reagan kick), 9:58.
Sol — Heiber 67 run (O’Reagan kick), 8:53.
Sol — Escott 61 run (O’Reagan kick), 6:40.
Sol — Escott 24 run (O’Reagan kick), 3:15.
Sol — Escott 64 run (O’Reagan kick), 9:10.
First downs 8 9
Rush-yds 33-463 42-208
Passing 46 118
Comp-att-int 2-5-0 10-26-1
Return yards 3-47 4-44
Punts 1-62.0 3-29.3
Fumbles 2-2 2-2
Penalties 7-70 10-60
Rushing — Soldotna: Escott 10-312, Heiber 2-69, D. Taylor 7-58, Medcoff 2-7, Richardson 1-6, Poe 2-5, B. Taylor 1-3, Wilson 3-3, Miller 1-0, Buckbee 1-0, Bond 2-0. Homer: Tennison 23-152, Doughty 16-50, Gaona 2-7, Smith 1-(-1).
Passing— Soldotna: Wilson 2-5-0—46; Homer: Tennison 10-26-1—118.