The record will show that the Soldotna and Kenai football teams were able to add a 47th chapter to their rivalry during the new coronavirus pandemic.
The big game was at one point scheduled for Aug. 22, but a spurt of COVID-19 cases in the week before caused postponement.
With the central Kenai Peninsula sitting at 19 cases in the last 14 days, the game took place Saturday at Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central. The Stars won 58-14. SoHi’s 10th straight victory in the matchup moves the Stars to 31-16 against the Kards, and moves SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. to 16-2 against Kenai.
The rivalry game normally happens in Week 8 of the regular season — very late in September or very early in October.
In this strange year, it happened in mid-September and was SoHi’s second game of the year, Kenai’s first game of the year, and an afternoon during which 11 Kenai football seniors, 5 Kenai football cheerleaders and one manager were honored.
“I’m so glad to be playing,” Kenai senior Tucker Vann said. “If there wasn’t a season, it’d be hard on everyone. We put in all the work and it’s nice to have something to show for it.”
Last week in a victory against Homer, Brantley Jr. said his team was sloppy in the first half. While giving credit to Homer, the coach also said the first game is tough in this season of stop-and-start practicing and scrimmages here and there.
The Stars did not give the Kardinals any time to work out first-game kinks, taking a 42-0 lead after the first quarter.
“Some guys haven’t played football on varsity yet,” Vann said. “It was definitely something to get back used to. Hopefully next week, we’ll come out less flat.”
In a season in which there is no postseason scheduled, the rivalry had less of an edge. After Vann scored Kenai’s first touchdown, SoHi’s Brayden Taylor was the first to congratulate Vann.
Vann said he is buddies with SoHi players whether they are rivals or not.
“Every game we get to play, we’re thrilled for,” Brantley Jr. said. “We can’t thank coach (Dustin) Akana and his staff enough for making this happen.”
Senior Josh Heiber got Soldotna started by returning the opening kickoff 80 yards for a score. Heiber is out for football for the first time since his freshman year, but anyone who has watched his speed and elusiveness for the SoHi soccer team was not surprised by the return.
“He’s certainly one of those guys that’s almost like Devin Hester,” Brantley Jr. said of the return specialist who holds the all-time NFL record for return touchdowns. “You take a gamble when you kick it to him deep in the middle of the field. He’s a very elusive and very talented young man.”
Also in the first quarter, Josh Pieh would notch two touchdown catches from Brock Wilson, and Dennis Taylor, Heiber and Wilson would score on runs.
“We just came out prepared and ready for the game,” Pieh said.
Brantley Jr. said his team made big strides in practice this week. Pieh is one who noticed.
“Last week, I had two called back because of flags,” Pieh said of scoring catches. “It was nice to have some that counted.”
Kenai struggled on offense in the first quarter, losing two fumbles, losing the ball on downs and going three-and-out twice.
“The way you learn is mistakes and there’s definitely mistakes we’ve got to fix,” Akana said. “The first game of the season obviously can be a rough one.”
In the second quarter, Brayden Taylor ran for a score and Trenton O’Reagan booted a field goal before Vann got the Kards on the board with 1:49 left until the break.
The second half was played under a running clock. Bridger Beck scored on a run for Kenai, while Zack Buckbee scored on a run for the Stars.
Brantley Jr. gave credit to Wilson, the quarterback, for also playing a good game at middle linebacker, while Akana said Vann and River Tomrdle both always ran hard.
Stars 58, Kardinals 14
Soldotna 42 10 0 6 –58
Kenai 0 7 7 0 —14
Sol — J. Heiber 80 kickoff return (T. O’Reagan kick), 11:46.
Sol — Pieh 20 pass from Wilson (T. O’Reagan kick), 11:28.
Sol — D. Taylor 13 run (T. O’Reagan kick), 7:51.
Sol — J. Heiber 22 run (T. O’Reagan kick), 6:24.
Sol — Pieh 35 pass from Wilson (T. O’Reagan kick), 3:17.
Sol — Wilson 7 run (T. O’Reagan kick), :01.
Sol — B. Taylor 21 run (T. O’Reagan kick), 9:18.
Sol — T. O’Reagan 26 field goal.
Ken — Vann 14 run (Baisden kick), 1:49.
Ken — Beck 1 run (Baisden kick), 1:13.
Sol — Buckbee 5 run (run failed), 8:04.
First downs 12 9
Rushes-yards 31-326 41-161
Passing yards 55 34
Comp-att-int 2-2-0 2-8-0
Return yards15 0
Punts 0 2-27.5
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Penalties 5-35 5-50
Rushing — D. Taylor 4-29, J. Heiber 2-42, Escott 5-51, Richardson 4-37, Wilson 1-7, B. Taylor 2-28, T. O’Reagan 3-53, Medcoff 4-44, Buckbee 5-26, Mellon 1-9. Kenai: Beck 7-(-20), Tomrdle 11-73, Vann 8-71, Sparks 13-63, McCanna 1-(-4), Baisden 1-(-22).
Passing — Soldotna: Wilson 2-2-0—55; Kenai: Beck 2-8-0—34.