Heading into last weekend’s Friday night showdown in sunny San Diego, Soldotna Stars football coach Galen Brantley Jr. warned about the tough matchup facing SoHi.
The Stars were staring at a 10-time Eastern League champion of the San Diego City Conference, the Christian High School Patriots, and while SoHi flaunts the last seven Alaska Division II football state titles, the matchup appeared lopsided.
Brantley Jr. called it a David vs. Goliath moment, the “San Diego version of us,” a team that the Stars would have to break out every play in the book to have a shot of beating.
Well, not only did the Stars pummel the Patriots to the tune of a 42-7 blowout, they did it using their typical ground-and-pound style of running attack, keeping Christian off kilter with their misdirection madness.
It only continued to build on SoHi’s legacy as one of, if not the, best football program in Alaska, despite their Div. II ranking.
“It’s one of those things where everything lined up for us,” Brantley Jr. explained on Wednesday. “I think they got hit by graduation, then they had some transfers, and that compounded with the fact our kids showed up and played extremely well.”
As far as the method that SoHi employed to wear them down, the “pound the rock” philosophy that has helped the Stars win 71 of their last 72 games, Brantley Jr. said the teams of California might have simply been out of their element.
“We’re a little foreign to them,” he said. “They’re a team that defends the spread every weekend, and then we show up and play our brand of football. We’re just different.
“We run an offense from the 1940s, and they see the same exact thing every weekend, and we roll into town with a physical running game.”
After eight days on the road, the Stars are back to playing Alaska competition, where they will open their home season that should’ve began two weeks ago with South Anchorage before wildfires forced a change in plans.
Lathrop (2-2) at Soldotna (3-0), 6 p.m. Friday
Friday night is not only Soldotna’s 2019 home opener but also homecoming weekend.
It’s also a matchup between the top-two ranked Division II teams in the weekly Alaska Football Coaches poll, and Brantley Jr. again warned of a dangerous team.
“We’re coming off a game where we exceeded expectations, and we’re running into the No. 2 team in the (Division II) state,” he said. “It’s a trap game.”
The Stars picked off the Malamutes 50-21 last year en route to a 9-1 season and a seventh straight championship. Lathrop challenged Soldotna early in that game with a second-quarter lead, but it didn’t last long as SoHi pulled away for the win.
Still, tallying 21 points against a staunch SoHi defense? The Malemutes can carry their weight.
“There’s probably 600 pounds on the right side of their (offensive) line, their quarterback is 6-foot-4, (240) pounds, he’s a running QB, so we kind of feel like we’re running into a team that plays like we do,” Brantley Jr. said.
Senior QB Jace Henry has shown ability to tear up defenses this year, leading Lathrop to wins over Eagle River and North Pole, and Brantley Jr. has been one of the many to take notice.
“Jace Henry’s one of the best athletes in the state on any level,” he said. “You get anyone that gets a head of speed running downhill, and he’s running guys over on the way to the end zone.”
SoHi QB Jersey Truesdell also ran rampant in the win over Lathrop last year, racking up a team-high 134 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
West Valley (0-3) at Kenai (1-2), 2 p.m. Saturday
The winless Wolfpack will attempt to get off the schneid Saturday afternoon at Kenai’s Ed Hollier Field, but the Kardinals will have their starting QB back after two weeks away.
Kenai senior Kayden Daniels returns under center for the Kards after missing two games due to disciplinary reasons stemming from the team’s trip to Juneau on Aug. 31. The Kards went 0-2 with backup QB’s Isaiah Daniels and Bridger Beck taking the starts.
With Daniels back in the fold, Kenai head coach Dustin Akana is optimistic of getting back to the win column.
“For one, he’s a leader on offense,” Akana said. “He’s been playing quarterback since he was a freshman and the boys respond to having their leader back on offense. The boys are positive.”
Akana also said the experience that Beck, a freshman, and Daniels, a sophomore, got at the varsity level the last two weeks has been invaluable.
“It helps us work on some things, and (Beck) is our future,” Akana said. “I think him learning from Kayden, playing in varsity games his freshman year, is all positive.”
Without the senior Daniels, Akana said Kenai struggled to develop a rhythm last week in a loss to 31-6 North Pole, a game that saw the Patriots snap a 12-game losing streak dating to Sept. 2017.
Akana said the team rebounded this week in practice.
“It’s just repetition,” he said. “I told the boys, learn from our mistakes, get back to practice, and the more reps, the better.”
Last year, Kenai dropped a 44-6 dud to West Valley on the road. Saturday will be Kenai’s home opener, which was scheduled to be Aug. 24 against Lathrop but was canceled due to the Swan Lake Fire.
Akana said the Kards will need to keep up with West Valley’s fast pace if they wish to get back to winning.
“They’re a very fast team, they’ll try to spread you out and then give it to a fast running back,” he said. “This week, we’ve been working on discipline, trying to stay in our area, trust our read, stay in the zone and be disciplined. If they catch us off guard they’ll take advantage of that.”
Nikiski (0-3) at Ketchikan (1-2), 6 p.m. Friday
The winless Bulldogs suffered a tough loss in the rain last Saturday to Barrow, losing out on a game that was scoreless in the fourth quarter.
Falling into an 0-4 hole would leave Nikiski in a precarious position, but losing its Peninsula Conference opener would be a bigger blow. Nikiski hasn’t any conference games under its belt yet, but the Bulldogs have had three games to prepare for it. The Bulldogs pull into Ketchikan for a Friday night clash with the Kings, a team that went to the Division III playoffs last year in their first attempt.
Nikiski lost 54-24 to Ketchikan in 2018, but the Kings have faltered in 2019, losing to fellow nonconference Division III opposition Barrow and Eielson.
Valdez (1-3) at Homer (1-2), 6 p.m. Friday
Homer held its own last Friday night against the No. 1 ranked team in the Division III coaches poll Houston, falling 20-8 after taking an 8-6 lead into halftime. That kind of performance can be enough to buoy a team’s spirits.
The Bucs, meanwhile, are coming off two losses to Aurora Conference foes Monroe and Eielson, but have pocketed a win this year against Peninsula Conference opponent Seward.
The Mariners didn’t see the Bucs last year, but in 2017 they crushed Valdez 66-0 on way to winning the conference with a 7-1 regular season.
Seward (0-3) at Houston (4-0), 7 p.m. Friday
The winless Seahawks take to the road Friday night for a Peninsula Conference clash with the Hawks, the top-ranked team in the Division III coaches poll.
On its way to the conference crown last year, Houston blanked Seward 38-0.