Once the hubbub of last Friday’s game-ending touchdown, streak-busting loss to West died down and the celebratory din of the traveling Eagles crowd was no longer occupying Justin Maile Field, Soldotna football coach Galen Brantley Jr. had some time to think about what occurred.
“It’s a piece of history, and we’ve got handful of records and the streak,” he said. “We’re proud of that.”
Brantley Jr. said that while it is disappointing for the streak to end, what he truly regrets is how the hard work his players have put in over the course of the entire year went unrewarded in a rare loss by the Stars, and added that he hopes the support and fervor the community brought to the stands every weekend doesn’t die now the The Streak has.
“We always knew it’d end, but the level of community support and attention our kids receive and the amount of time and effort they put in, they deserve to have stands full of people,” he said. “That goes for every sport, of course, but I know that streak has brought in, for whatever attention they brought in, the kids love it.”
Starting Aug. 18, 2012, when SoHi routed a then-Division II Ketchikan squad 70-0, the Stars have been nothing but consistently stellar.
The Streak wasn’t without its moments. Local rival Kenai Central gave SoHi some scares, like the 2014 regular season finale when it took a Drew Gibbs interception on the final play in their own end zone to wrap up a 21-14 win, or the 2015 state title game when Kenai pushed their rivals all the way en route to a 33-18 SoHi win.
While Kenai proved, for the most part, one of the few teams that could challenge SoHi, others had their moments. In the 2013 state title game against Juneau, SoHi fell into a daunting 28-6 hole by the second quarter, but staged a powerful rally to topple the Crimson Bears 56-49 for the school’s second straight state crown.
The game that broke the original state record of 29 straight wins, the 2015 season opener against South Anchorage, was far from easy. The Stars had to sweat out a 21-17 win that wasn’t decided until the final minute in that one.
The 2016 state semifinal round against North Pole featured one of the closest shaves, as SoHi sat facing a 15-0 deficit with halftime approaching. The momentum in that game took a decisive swing on a North Pole kickoff, starting with the ball shooting between the legs of Brenner Furlong, who managed to retreat to collect the ball, then return it 94 yards for a touchdown, helping spark a SoHi rally that resulted in a 25-21 win.
The team’s “golden” win No. 50, the 2017 season opener at West Anchorage, saw the Stars survive a late scare when a sure game-tying, fourth-quarter touchdown pass was flicked away by the fingertips of defensive back Cy Updike, keeping points off the board as SoHi eventually pulled away for a 21-0 win.
In all, two classes of students never experience a varsity loss in the Stars program, as five straight undefeated seasons will attest to.
As a mark of the program’s consistency, Brantley Jr. explained that this week’s practice sessions did not change one bit just because of one loss.
“The process never changes,” Brantley Jr. said. “We had the same number of corrections this week that we would’ve had in a game we won by 60 (points). We’re always focused on self-improvement, so that didn’t change at all.”
With The Streak now firmly in the past, Week 2 of the football season beckons with a chance to renew winning ways. The following is a breakdown of this weekend’s contests:
Kenai at Homer, 6 p.m. Friday
Like their crosstown rivals, the Kardinals didn’t start their 2018 campaign with a win either. Kenai faced Division II newcomer Lathrop and stumbled to a 49-21 loss in Dustin Akana’s first game as head coach of the team.
Akana said he holds a lot of hope for the rest of the season with the rate the younger players are improving.
“There’s only one way to go, and that’s up,” Akana said. “We learn from our mistakes, and we’re preaching that to the boys.”
Now, Akana says, the Kardinals are back to the grindstone and ready for Division III opponent Homer.
“This week was about repetition, repetition, repetition,” he said. “We continue to get reps, working on our skill and getting better.”
Against Lathrop, Kenai found the most success running the ball, getting 80 yards from junior Titus Riddall and another 100 combined yards from Justin Anderson and Zach Burnett. Riddall also found the end zone twice.
In a preseason interview, Homer head coach Walter Love praised the returning talent of his linebacking crew, but against Kenai, the Mariners defense will need to be ready for a stout run attack.
“It’s very important for all our players to have big days,” Akana said. “Our offense is a running offense, we pound, pound, pound, pound on our main guys. It’s big for them to come out strong.”
Homer also took an opening week loss in its first game since losing a heartbreaking Division III championship to Barrow last fall. The Mariners opened 2018 with a 56-15 dud to Division II opponent Kodiak.
The new-look Mariners lost a core of talented seniors from last year’s Peninsula Conference champion crew, but Akana said he expects a strong run game from Homer, led by junior Noah Fisk, who popped off 75 yards on 18 carries last weekend against Kodiak.
“We can’t overlook Homer,” he said. “Yeah they play a division lower than us and they lost a lot of seniors, but that’s one thing coach (Ted Riddall) told me, the one thing we can’t do is look past them. If we look past them, we get complacent, and that’s when things go bad.”
Valdez at Nikiski, 2 p.m. Saturday
An encounter with the defending Division III state champions on their home turf wasn’t the start to the season the Nikiski Bulldogs envisioned, and a 40-8 loss confirmed their fears that the Whalers are still the team to beat.
However, Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson said the team returned to practice this week full of energy and ready for another divisional opponent at their home field, nicknamed the “Dawg Pound.”
“We have a big group of tough kids, and they give it everything they have every game,” Nelson said. “They play hard, and that’ll serve us well throughout the season.”
Nelson said Barrow has returned another team of big, fast players this year, and the season-opening clash served as a reminder of what the Bulldogs need to improve on.
It also allowed Nikiski a glance at what could fuel them to a playoff run this season. Junior quarterback Noah Litke, in his first start under center, hit half of his targets over the day and threw in a touchdown pass late in the game.
“Noah managed the game well,” Nelson said. “He made some smart plays when things broke down.”
With Valdez coming into town, Nelson said he’s looking for bigger contributions. Nelson said the Bulldogs got a chance to see Valdez in action at a preseason jamboree in Houston, and said Division III opponents, even the nonconference foes, are still important to defeat with a possible tiebreaker on the line later in the season.
“We put a lot of emphasis on it, every game counts,” Nelson said. “It’s not only just for playoff implications, but you want to make sure you’re putting everything out there.
“The season’s so short, we can’t afford to think that it’s not a big deal because they’re not in our conference.”
Nikiski and Valdez haven’t matched up since Week 1 of the 2016 season, a 38-20 loss for Nikiski.
North Pole at Soldotna, 6:30 p.m. Friday
The Stars look to begin anew with a fellow Division II opponent this week, the North Pole Patriots of the Railbelt Conference.
Brantley Jr. said in order to put the West loss behind them, he impressed upon his players that the win streak was not unbreakable.
“The way we reiterated it to our kids was that you can be beat,” he said. “You have to work harder, because if we can lose a game in Week 1, we can lose a game in Weeks 9 or 10.
“Other teams aren’t going to stop playing just because you have a star and S on the side of your helmet.”
North Pole was one of the schools that gave SoHi a scare during their win streak, as a close semifinal win in the 2016 playoffs proved.
Brantley Jr. said North Pole has moved to a more spread-friendly style of offense this season, with Bradley Antesberger becoming a formidable force in the Patriots backfield.
While the Stars will need to keep Antesberger contained if they wish to start a new streak, Brantley Jr. said they are sticking with their old game plan.
“Making changes is a sign of panic, and panic is not in the game plan,” he said.
In last year’s state semi against the Patriots — SoHi comfortably won 35-12 — the Stars ran up nearly 400 yards of rushing, but 225 of those yards came from 2017 NLC Offensive Player of the Year Brenner Furlong, who is gone.
That means the load will continue to be placed on junior backs Aaron Faletoi, Hudson Metcalf and Wyatt Medcoff. Last week against the Eagles, the trio churned out a combined 144 rushing yards.
Seward at Redington, 7 p.m. Friday
Seward’s season can be easily cut into two halves. The first half consists only of nonconference, Division III opponents, while the Seahawks’ second half is only conference clashes.
While the nonconference games don’t count in the final Peninsula Conference standings, they can be used to determine tiebreakers at season’s end, so Seward head coach Kelly Cinereski isn’t taking anything for granted, especially with the Redington Huskies ready to rumble.
“It’s always a game with Redington,” he said. “They seem to play us hard.”
Last year, Redington prevailed 34-14 over Seward in Week 4 of the 2017 season.
Cinereski said the Monroe game showcased a lot of youth and inexperience by Seward, but also gave him confidence about the future of the team.
“Some of our young guys really stepped up,” he said. “For as many young kids that have never played football before, we did OK. I think seven out of 21 have never played before.”
Cinereski said the biggest takeaways from Seward’s Week 1 loss to Monroe Catholic was the mistakes that cost the team points. Cinereski said three touchdowns could’ve been put on the board if not for fumbles within Rams territory.
“They have a very good offensive line, and we didn’t get pressure on their QB,” Cinereski said. “Other than that, our kids did better than we thought. We learned from it, and the coaching all week has been about learning from your mistakes.”
Like Monroe, Cinereski said Redington likes to spread the field and run a variety of receiver routes that can scramble a defense.
With that in mind, the Seward coach added that sophomore safety Collin Mullaly will make his return after a collarbone break sidelined him last spring.