Soldotna’s Zac Buckbee and Gehret Medcoff celebrate a touchdown during the Division II semifinal against North Pole at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Zac Buckbee and Gehret Medcoff celebrate a touchdown during the Division II semifinal against North Pole at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Undefeated Soldotna storms into Division II final by toppling North Pole

Top seed Soldotna defeated No. 5 North Pole 69-20 in the Division II semifinals on Saturday at Justin Maile Field at Soldotna High School.

The Stars (10-0 overall) advance to the Division II state final against No. 2 Lathrop at Service High School on Saturday at 1 p.m. Lathrop (8-2) defeated No. 3 Eagle River 42-18 on Saturday in the other semifinal.

Soldotna defeated North Pole (3-7) in the semifinal for the third straight year as head coach Galen Brantley Jr. improved his playoff record to 31-4, including 7-0 against the Patriots.

“We’re glad we took care of business,” Brantley Jr. said after the game. “We’re where we wanted to be.”

The Stars didn’t allow a score by the Patriots until the game’s third quarter — by which time they already had 55 points on the board.

Soldotna’s Collin Peck secured a touchdown off an 18-yard pass from Zac Buckbee to open scoring at 5 minutes, 45 seconds, in the first quarter. Jace O’Reagan made the kick.

At 3:34, Buckbee carried the ball into the end zone himself on a 59-yard run — again with a good kick from O’Reagan to close the first quarter at 14-0.

The second quarter was busier for the Stars. Gehret Medcoff turned in a 58-yard run for touchdown at 9:07, Peck delivered another on a 20-yard run at 3:32, then Medcoff had another 22-yard run for a touchdown at 38 seconds.

Lokeni Wong caught an interception and ran it 52 yards for one more score with 2 seconds left until half. All four touchdowns were supplemented with successful kicks by O’Reagen.

Looking at the series of early touchdowns by Medcoff and Peck, Brantley Jr. said after the game, “Those two just do what they do.”

Brantley Jr. also pointed to strong offensive play by Andon Wolverton, a sophomore who stepped up for several big runs during the semifinal game, and saw a touchdown of his own.

Another successful interception by the Stars opened the third quarter, with Trevor Michael reclaiming the ball for Soldotna. At 10:20, Wolverton turned that possession into a touchdown with a 8-yard run, an extra point brought in by O’Reagan.

Wong caught his second interception only a couple of plays later. Jaykob Kemp scored a touchdown on the possession with a 12-yard run at 8:55, but the kick attempt by Luke Hillyer was blocked.

Wong and Michael were both recognized for their interceptions — and otherwise “standout” defensive play — by Brantley Jr. after the game.

North Pole’s Devon Cooper-Jackson almost delivered his team’s first score on a long run, narrowly stopped at the 4-yard line by Marcus Hagedorn. Ivan Nicholson carried in a 4-yard run for the Patriots on the next play at 6:51, bumped by a kick from James Aleshire.

The Stars received a kickoff for the first time since the start of the game, with Michael Dickinson eventually scoring on a 13-yard run at 3:19. Hillyer’s second kick was successful for a 62-7 lead at the end of the third quarter.

North Pole’s Patrick Melvin opened the fourth quarter early with a 3-yard run for touchdown at 9:40, capped by another good kick by Aleshire.

The Stars answered with another touchdown by Dickinson at 2:32, this time on an 18-yard run. Hillyer booted the extra point.

In the final minute of the game, at 44 seconds, Cooper-Jackson scored a touchdown for North Pole on a 73-yard run. The team failed an attempted two-point conversion, closing the game at 69-20.

After the game on Saturday, Brantley Jr. didn’t yet know which team the Stars would be facing in the title match, but he said he was pleased with what he saw Saturday.

“Just another week with these guys,” he said. “Just an awesome group of guys to be around. The seniors, I’ve been with most of them for four years — getting them back to this point is really going to be a special week for us.”

The Stars lost in the state title game to the Malemutes in 2021 and 2022. In the first week of this year, Soldotna topped Lathrop 56-20.

In a Monday interview, Brantley Jr. said the Week 1 victory didn’t mean much headed into Saturday.

“We’re different teams,” said the coach, who is 11-3 in state finals and is in a program looking for a 13th state title. “They’ve got a couple kids back, and we’ve lost a kid along the way.”

The Stars offense has been unstoppable all season, scoring at least 55 points in every game. Brantley Jr. has said the Stars can only stop themselves all year long, but said that changes a bit against Lathrop and defensive coordinator Nathan Zody.

“They’re really the team that has game-planned the best against us,” Brantley Jr. said. “I think their defensive coordinator has done a very solid job.

“They also have a little higher caliber athlete than most teams we’ve played all year long. I feel like they’re equipped to make it difficult on any offense.”

The coach said it helps to have a senior quarterback in Buckbee, who started taking varsity snaps as a sophomore. Senior fullback Medcoff also played on varsity as a sophomore, while senior halfback Peck and junior halfback Wyatt Faircloth both started last season as well.

“It’s a three-headed monster,” Brantley Jr. said. “All three can break tackles and take it to the house.”

The coach also said the offensive line of seniors Tanner Clyde, Ala Tuisaula, Henry Williams and Hakoa Montoya, and junior Kenai Lepule, has done a great job.

On defense, SoHi has stopped opponents quickly and often jumped to 14-0 and 21-0 leads. That won’t be easy against Lathrop.

“They’re tough,” Brantley Jr. said. “They have some dynamic skill kids.”

He specifically mentioned quarterback Solomon Wade, tight end Luke Skinner and running back Jenner Webb.

None of the players in SoHi’s program have won a football state title. Now Lathrop is all that stands between the Stars and an undefeated season. It’s a big game between two teams continually on a Division II collision course.

“It’s a single game and we’ve worked really hard to get to this point,” Brantley Jr. said. “They’ve done everything possible to get to this point, they’re playing well and they certainly deserve it, but deserve doesn’t have anything to do with it.”

Saturday

Stars 69, Patriots 20

Sol 14 28 20 7 — 69

NP 0 0 7 13 — 20

1st Quarter

Sol — Peck 18 pass from Buckbee (O’Reagan kick), 5:45

Sol — Buckbee 59 run (O’Reagan kick), 3:34

2nd Quarter

Sol — Medcoff 58 run (O’Reagan kick), 9:07

Sol — Peck 20 run (O’Reagan kick), 3:32

Sol — Medcoff 22 run (O’Reagan kick), 0:38

Sol — Wong 52 interception return (O’Reagan kick), 0:02

3rd Quarter

Sol — Wolverton 8 run (O’Reagan kick), 10:20

Sol — J. Kemp 12 run (kick failed), 8:55

NP — Nicholson 4 run (Aleshire kick), 6:51

Sol — Dickinson 13 run (Lu. Hillyer kick), 3:19

4th Quarter

NP — Melvin 3 run (Aleshire kick), 9:40

Sol — Dickinson 18 run (Lu. Hillyer kick), 2:32

NP — Cooper-Jackson 73 run (conversion failed), 0:44

First Downs 17 11

Rushing Yards 44-518 36-226

Passing Yards 54 61

Comp-Att-Int 4-4-0 6-17-3

Return Yards 3-30 11-175

Punts 0-0 2-28.5

Fumbles 2-1 2-1

Penalties 11-100 10-85

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Rushing — Sohi: Medcoff 6-118, Wolverton 8-88, Buckbee 3-79, Dickinson 8-65, C. Peck 4-43, Walden 3-32, Bock 6-32, Schilling 3-26, J. Kemp 1-12, Tacey 1-12, Ohnemus 1-11. North Pole: Cooper-Jackson 4-111, Nicholson 12-56, Martin 14-40, Melvin 6-19.

Passing — Sohi: Buckbee 4-4–54-1. North Pole: Martin 6-17–61-0.

Receiving — Sohi: Pieh 1-25, C. Peck 1-18, Wolverton 1-7, Medcoff 1-5. North Pole: D’Hondt 1-27, Ponder 2-24, Ritter 2-13, Melvin 1-(-3).

Soldotna’s Gehret Medcoff outpaces North Pole’s Kamden Stark to score a touchdown in the Division II semifinal at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Gehret Medcoff outpaces North Pole’s Kamden Stark to score a touchdown in the Division II semifinal at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Andon Wolverton runs with the ball while fending off North Pole’s Gage Runnels in the Division II semifinal at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Andon Wolverton runs with the ball while fending off North Pole’s Gage Runnels in the Division II semifinal at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Jaykob Kemp rises after a scoring a touchdown while playing in the Division II semifinal against North Pole at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Jaykob Kemp rises after a scoring a touchdown while playing in the Division II semifinal against North Pole at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Dax Walden runs with the ball while playing in the Division II semifinal against North Pole at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

Soldotna’s Dax Walden runs with the ball while playing in the Division II semifinal against North Pole at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Oct. 14, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)

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