So, The Streak is over.
As the saying goes, all good things come to an end.
The West Anchorage Eagles snapped Soldotna’s state-record win streak at 59 games in a Friday night showdown for the ages at Justin Maile Field with an 18-13 victory.
In the end, it came down to one heartstopping play, a fourth-down attempt on the one-inch line with 2.8 seconds left, and West backup quarterback Bubba Mendoza provided the clincher with a QB sneak through the middle, waiting for refs to call touchdown before joining his teammates in a wild postgame celebratory riot at midfield.
“We preach family,” Mendoza stated. “We play for the ‘A’ on the front of our chests, and for us, we treated this like it was just another game.”
After falling to SoHi in each of the two previous years, the Eagles finally cashed in with an electrifying drive to end it.
But as head coach Galen Brantley Jr. explained, it was all the mistakes and turnovers (five of them) before that that snowballed into a heartbreaking finish.
“I wish we didn’t have the self-inflicted wounds that started it,” Brantley Jr. said. “We had five turnovers, and still had a chance to win a game, which I think is amazing.”
As for the state-record 59-game win streak? Who knows how long that will last.
For SoHi, it lasted almost six years exactly to the day. It was 2,190 days earlier that the Stars took a loss, a 27-7 defeat to Palmer on home turf, back when it was still natural grass, of course.
“I want to be crushed, but honestly I’m just so proud to hang onto it as long as we did,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’ve had some breaks along the way, some 50-50 calls that went our way.
“I guess the football gods flipped the script tonight.”
Before SoHi’s remarkable streak, the previous Alaska football win streak was 29 games, both by SoHi and East from over a decade ago.
An ecstatic Eagles head coach Tim Davis celebrated with his players at midfield following the final whistle, and said he respects SoHi’s program by mirroring his own program after the Stars.
“I am honored to be a part of this,” said Davis. “The dudes in white (West) are all a family, and tonight … you can’t script that.”
West’s lethal spread attack was able to put 238 passing yard on the Stars, but SoHi’s punishing ground game answered with 223 rushing yards, led by Aaron Faletoi’s 56 rush yards and Wyatt Medcoff’s 54.
For the first time in their last three meetings, West outgained SoHi in total yardage, 330 to 258.
Eagles starting quarterback Josh Stoltz hit 14 of 22 targets for 203 yards before leaving the game late in the fourth quarter with an injury.
The wild final sequence was preceded by a tense, sloppy game of football that had the Stars leading a game they probably should not have been.
SoHi was forced to an uncharacteristic five turnovers on the night, including four by starting quarterback Jersey Truesdell. Truesdell threw two picks and fumbled twice, including on each of the final two SoHi possessions.
“We beat ourselves,” said a dejected Truesdell. “We win and lose as a team, but that’s three different times I coughed the ball up when we were driving.”
The Stars were leading 13-12 and driving deep in Eagles territory to seemingly ice away another win. This one would have been a 60th in a row.
However, Truesdell fumbled a snap with 3:09 left and West defensive back Joshua Asi recovered it, giving the Eagles another chance.
Mendoza, filling in for injured starting QB Stoltz, suddenly became the flame that lit a fire under the Eagles, making up chunk yardage on the first four plays from West’s own seven-yard line.
Before they knew it, West was in SoHi territory when Mendoza found receiver Kolton Ortiz streaking downfield on a long slant, with Ortiz racing down the sideline before being tackled. The 53-yard play put the Eagles on the Stars 27 with 48 seconds left.
A 20-yard scramble by Mendoza put the ball at the SoHi 5 with under 30 seconds to play, but it took all four downs to make something happen.
After a potential touchdown by Malala was called just shy of the goal line, West was facing fourth down with 2.8 seconds left.
Mendoza began the final play from the shotgun position, then quickly moved up to the line and under center, keying the SoHi defense to move up as well, but Mendoza had enough help to push across the line and score as the buzzer sounded.
“The coaches do so much, they move the chess pieces around,” Mendoza said.
“He got us,” Truesdell added. “It happens, but we win with class, and we lose with class.”
Brantley Jr. added that it was a sight to see a school of almost 2,000 students celebrate a win over a school only a third the size of West.
“We just made a school of 1,900 kids celebrate by throwing their helmets up like it was the college national championship,” he said.
Prior to the finish, the two sides found difficulty scoring, with a 21-yard sideline pass to the endzone from Truesdell to Galen Brantley III being the only points of the first half, which SoHi led 6-0.
West had trouble moving the ball at all through most the game, but finally woke up in the second half, starting with its first possession of the third quarter, an 11-play, 75-yard drive that was capped with a four-yard run up the middle by Lewis Malala Jr. to tie it a 6 apiece.
SoHi later took advantage of a turnover-on-downs by West early in the fourth to score on a 36-yard touchdown sneak by Truesdell, putting the Stars up 13-6 with 11:08 to play.
The Eagles answered right back with an electric 80-yard catch and pass by David Cason down the sideline, but the Eagles failed to take the lead on their two-point attempt when Malala Jr. stumbled to the turf after catching the pass from Josh Stoltz with nothing but space in front of him.
The mistake left SoHi clinging to a 13-12 lead, a lead which held up to the final second of the game.
The Stars had two drives down the field that ended in turnovers. The first drive went 34 yards to the West 33-yard line, but a fourth-down incompletion gave the Eagles the ball back.
The second went down to West’s seven-yard line with just over three minutes on the clock, and any score would have provided some breathing room for SoHi, but Truesdell’s fumbled snap set up the Eagles for some lasting heroics.
Eagles 18, Stars 13
West 0 0 6 12 —18
Soldotna 0 6 0 7 —13
Sol — Brantley 21 pass from Truesdell (kick failed), 2:01
Wes — Malala 4 run (run failed), 5:23
Sol — Truesdell 36 run (Johnson kick), 11:08
Wes — Cason 80 pass from Stoltz (pass failed), 10:45
Wes — Mendoza 1 run, :00
1st downs 12 10
Rush yds 41-223 28-92
Pass yds 35 238
Comp-att-int 3-9-2 16-27-0
Return yds 2-29 4-37
Punts 5-35.4 4-31.8
Fumbles 5-5 2-3
Penalties 9-65 8-55
Rushing — Soldotna: Faletoi 15-56, Medcoff 11-54, Truesdell 8-43, Metcalf 3-34, Johnson 4-34. West: Malala Jr. 17-68, Mendoza 8-30, Stoltz 3-(-6).
Passing — Soldotna: Truesdell 3-9-1—35. West: Stoltz 14-22-1—203, Mendoza 2-4-0—18, Gladney 0-1-0—0.