Soldotna defeated Eagle River 49-13 on Saturday at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna to win the Northern Lights Conference title for the 16th straight year.
The Stars finish the regular season 4-0 in the conference and 8-0 overall and will host a Division II semifinal against North Pole on Friday at 4 p.m.
The Wolves are 2-2 in the league and 4-4 overall. Eagle River is tied for the second playoff spot with Chugiak and Wasilla. Wolves head coach Brad Myers said after the game he is not sure who will win the tiebreaker and head north to face undefeated Lathrop in the other Division II semi.
On a day the Stars honored seniors Gabriel Kennard, Zeek Miller, Brayden Taylor, Aidan Gavalis, Will Inman, Joe Whittom and Logan Katzenberger, dominant offensive games by juniors Zac Buckbee and Gehret Medcoff assured SoHi would not have to worry about a tiebreaker.
Medcoff rushed 14 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns. His 95-yard scamper in the first quarter after a SoHi goal-line stand was a big reason the Stars pulled away.
Buckbee ran for a pair of scores and also threw touchdown passes to Gavalis and Luke Miller. Buckbee also went 7 for 7 on extra points.
Galen Brantley Jr., who has won all 15 NLC titles available during his time as head coach, said this senior class started out bigger, but was gradually whittled away by various factors.
He said Taylor, Katzenberger, Whittom, Gavalis and Miller made it through all four years and their leadership has been pivotal in another title.
Brantley Jr. said the consistency it takes to win 16 straight titles, no matter how big the senior class is or what injuries strike, is what gives him the most pride.
“We’ve had a number of quality coaches in the program over the years, and the expectations those coaches have for the players, and the expectations players have for players, has led to that level of consistency,” he said. “It’s something we’re really proud of.”
Whittom, a left guard and middle linebacker, is 17 years old. That makes him as old as Soldotna’s NLC streak, because a league title wasn’t awarded in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“It makes me look up to those other guys and kind of puts a lot of pressure on us this year to get it done and live up to that SoHi Stars legacy,” Whittom said of the streak.
Whittom said he’s proud of the way the team has come together and underclassmen have filled in where seniors are lacking.
The senior specifically credited the offensive line for a great game Saturday and a great season. He mentioned junior Hakoa Montoya, junior Ala Tuisaula, sophomore Kenai Lepule, Katzenberger and tight ends Gavalis and Talon Gavalis.
That line cleared the way for 466 rushing yards on 50 carries Saturday, with Wyatt Faircloth also rushing for 110 yards.
Whittom also said he’s proud of how the tight ends stepped up after an injury to Andrew Pieh, and how Buckbee stepped up after quarterback Taylor was injured.
The sum has the senior feeling good headed to the playoffs.
“I think we have a really good line,” he said. “And I think we have a good backfield. And I think if we just continue to do what we’re supposed to do and continue to do our job, we’ll have a really good chance.”
Eagle River managed 176 yards on the ground and 82 through the air, but Brantley Jr. said he was happy the yards didn’t lead to a lot of points.
Kaleb Sherman caught a touchdown pass from Dawson Myers for the Wolves, while Joshua Collins also had a touchdown run.
Coach Myers said it’s been a rough past three weeks for his team, with low numbers in practice due to illness.
“We’ve had the plague, or whatever you want to call it,” he said. “We’ve been sick all year. For the past three weeks, I think I’ve had 15 at practice like twice.”
Several Eagle River drives stalled due to low snaps to the quarterback. Myers said his starting center was lost to injury two weeks ago.
Myers also is proud of how his seniors did, as SoHi won the second half 7-6.
“I think we’re coming back on the mend,” Myers said. “So if we go to the playoffs, I think we have a better shot at it.”
Stars 49, Wolves 13
Eagle River 0 7 0 6 —13
Soldotna 21 21 0 7 —49
Sol — Buckbee 15 run (Buckbee kick), 10:20.
Sol — Medcoff 95 run (Buckbee kick), 4:26.
Sol — A. Gavalis 53 pass from Buckbee (Buckbee kick), 1:22.
Sol — Medcoff 10 run (Buckbee kick), 10:27.
ER — Sherman 33 pass from Myers (Settle kick), 5:50.
Sol — Medcoff 20 run (Buckbee kick), 3:40.
Sol — L. Miller 10 pass from Buckbee (Buckbee kick), 0:10.
Sol — Buckbee 1 run (Buckbee kick), 9:42.
ER — Collins 16 run (kick failed), 7:28.
First downs 19 11
Rushing yds 50-466 34-176
Passing yds 82 82
Comp-att-int 4-6-1 6-15-0
Punts 0-0 3-33.0
Fumbles 0-0 3-1
Penalties 6-65 9-45
Rushing — Soldotna: Medcoff 14-217, Faircloth 11-110, C. Peck 6-48, Z. Buckbee 8-42, Wong 4-21, Kemp 2-15, Wolverton 2-8, Dickinson 2-5, O. Buckbee 1-0. Eagle River: Sherman 7-61, Roschi 13-50, Legenza 7-49, Collins 2-17, Bird 1-2, Myers 4-(-3).
Passing — Soldotna: Z. Buckbee 4-5-1—82, O. Buckbee 0-1-0—0. Eagle River: Myers 6-15-0—82.