While the Soldotna Stars football team isn’t known for excessive frivolity in regular season games — they like to save that for the season-ending championship.
However, Friday night’s showcase against South Anchorage had enough cause for celebration.
The Stars erupted with 52 points in the 52nd win of The Streak with a 52-7 victory over Division I opponent South at Justin Maile Field.
The win was the 100th in head coach Galen Brantley Jr’s career, all 10-plus seasons at SoHi, and the mastermind behind the uber-successful program received a surprise from his players in the dying seconds of the game as they doused him with an ice bath.
The praise went around in spades after the game.
“I couldn’t ask for a better coach,” said senior quarterback Brandon Crowder. “I think he’s the best coach in the state, and one of the best in the nation.”
Brantley Jr. improved to 100-5 as a coach in just his 11th season on the job, and said the recent string of big wins over Anchorage schools like South have given him a better appreciation for the football program.
“(South is) an extremely well-coached football team, and they switched back into their fly offense,” Brantley Jr. said about South’s game plan for SoHi. “But our kids adjusted really well.
“As a coach, that’s the biggest compliment I can get, when people tell me my kids played hard.”
In his 105th game manning the helm of the fearsome Soldotna ship, Brantley Jr. guided the Stars to another typical SoHi ground attack.
Overall, the Stars pummeled the Wolverines with 349 rushing yards and 545 total, while the SoHi defense, led by the imposing play of linebacker Wendell Tuisuala, stifled South to just 154 total yards of offense.
The dominance that Soldotna has displayed on some of the state’s best teams was enough for South coach John Lewis to make an offensive scheme change in the days before Friday’s game.
It didn’t do much good, but Lewis, who himself has an impressive coaching resume of 80 wins in over 13 years with South, had only good words to say about the success of Soldotna, which also beat South 21-17 two years ago.
“I think it’s fantastic for Brantley,” Lewis said. “They’ve built a feeder program that just has blossomed in the last few years.”
A shining example of what kind of impact the SoHi program has was senior running back Brenner Furlong, who rumbled to a big night by scoring three times and amassing 234 rushing yards on 13 carries.
The passing game wasn’t far behind. Crowder put together one of his best games of his high school career with three touchdown passes and 200 yards on 6-for-10 efficiency.
Crowder found sophomore tight end Galen Brantley III for a whopping 128 of those yards and two touchdowns on six total receptions.
“He’s one of those kids where if you throw it in the air, it’s coming into his hands,” Crowder said about his young receiver.
Crowder credited Furlong’s running game and the play of the SoHi offensive line for his own production as quarterback.
“We run the ball really, really well, it’s what we do best,” Crowder said. “It opened up our passing game a lot, and I thought our O-line did a great job, they let me get time in order to get those passes off.
“If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have been able to get those stretch plays and find a window to get the ball in there.”
With SoHi owning a 29-0 lead at halftime, Furlong scored on the first play of the second half on a 67-run scamper past the South secondary to kick off an explosive 23-point third quarter. Furlong later added a two-point safety to the score on an endzone tackle on South quarterback Paoa Bentz late in the third quarter.
Soldotna scored on its first possession of the game, moving the ball 31 yards on just two plays and opening the scoring on a 17-yard pass from Crowder to Cody Quelland. The point-after kick was botched, but holder Jersey Truesdell was able to run the ball in for a two-point conversion, putting SoHi up 8-0.
It didn’t take long for SoHi to score the next time up, as Furlong blasted through the middle for 73 yards on the first snap of the drive.
Meanwhile, the SoHi defense churned away by forcing South to punt again and again. Wolverines junior Henry Kimmins made the biggest moves against the Soldotna offense with 77 rushing yards on 17 carries.
“When we’re in control it feels good,” Brantley Jr. said. “We like to play on a lead and sit on the football.”
The only stumble SoHi took was on its third possession early in the second quarter, when the Stars moved down to South’s four-yard line but fumbled the ball away. The Wolverines recovered and returned the ball to midfield, where they set up for a possible scoring run.
However, the SoHi defense made sure to not let the error cost them, keeping South at bay by forcing a turnover on downs.
From there, SoHi marched yet again to the red zone, where they punched in on a two-yard run by Faletoi to go up 22-0 on South with just six minutes left in the half.
With under two minutes left in the first half, the SoHi special teams unit made a big play when Faletoi burst through the lines to block a South punt kick, allowing Furlong to recover in South territory.
Stars 52, Wolverines 7
South 0 0 0 7 —7
Soldotna 15 14 23 0 —52
Sol — Quelland 17 pass from Crowder (Truesdell conversion), 9:23
Sol — Furlong 73 run (Sheridan kick), 6:10
Sol — Faletoi 2 run (Sheridan kick), 6:17
Sol — Brantley 14 pass from Crowder (Sheridan kick), 3:16
Sol — Furlong 67 run (Sheridan kick), 11:40
Sol — Crowder 1 run (Sheridan kick), 2:38
Sol — Furlong 2 safety, 1:41
Sol — Brantley 46 pass from Crowder (Sheridan kick), :01
Sou — Bentz 1 run (Winsor kick), 5:41
First Downs 17 7
Rushing 36-349 40-120
Pass yards 200 34
Total yards 545 154
Comp-att-int 10-16-0 6-10-0
Return yards 104 133
Punts 0-0 4-35.0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 5-55 5-45
RUSHING — Soldotna: Furlong 13-234, Faletoi 9-67, Quelland 4-39, Updike 1-5, Rich 1-4, Johnson 2-1, Heiber 1-0, Crowder 1-(-1). South: Kimmins 17-77, Stokes 10-34, Jobarteh 1-8, Bentz 7-3, #20 1-3, Lincoln 1-2, Phonsavang 3-(-7).
PASSING — Soldotna: Crowder 10-16-3—200. South: Bentz 6-10-0—34.