The Kenai Central football team has once again established itself as one of the teams to beat on the Kenai Peninsula, though the Kards are not in the Peninsula Conference, with a 28-14 win over host Homer on Saturday.
The Kardinals, in the Division II Northern Lights Conference, won a hard-earned victory against the Division III, Peninsula Conference Mariners.
Kenai head coach Dustin Akana cautioned other Div. III programs on the strength of Homer, touting the playcalling of Homer head coach Justin Zank, who made his debut as Mariners coach Saturday.
“Homer is a very good team,” Akana said. “They’re totally different from last year. The new head coach has done a really good job with the program. They came out and played a really good game.”
Kenai dominated the day on the ground, racking up 344 rushing yards to Homer’s 161. The Kards were led by the duo of senior Zach Burnett and junior Tucker Vann. Vann led the way with 162 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown, while Burnett had 140 rush yards on 11 carries and a score.
“That just shows the type of players they are,” Akana said. “They just trust in their teammates, trust in the play calls. They hit their holes today.
“This was a learning game. It wasn’t a perfect game, we made a lot of mistakes but we finished on top.”
Kenai was the first to put points on the board with a minute left in the first quarter when Joey Sylvester caught a pass from quarterback Kayden Daniels and ran it 32 yards for score. Kicker Braedon Pitsch’s extra point brought the Kards to an early 7-0 lead.
Pitsch then notched the team’s second touchdown about five minutes into the second quarter by taking a pass from Daniels for a 23-yard run before kicking a second successful extra point.
His next kick was less successful when, less than a minute later, Homer quarterback Anthony Kalugin caught and ran Pitsch’s kickoff straight back down the field for a 77-yard return and a touchdown of his own, putting the Mariners on the board. Homer trailed 14-6 at halftime.
A scoreless third quarter gave way to a fourth filled with action.
Vann made a touchdown on a 65-yard run about four minutes into the quarter, only to be answered by Homer running back Antonin Maruchev, who caught the next kickoff and ran it all the way to Kenai’s 10-yard line. Kalugin then pushed through the Kardinals defense for a 1-yard gain and touchdown. Maruchev made a two-point conversion to bring the score to 21-14.
Sealing the game was Burnett’s touchdown made on a 62-yard breakaway and another extra point from Pitsch, bringing the final score to 28-14.
Kalugin led for the Mariners with 104 rush yards. Daniels and Kalugin had six completed passes each for totals of 100 yards and 86 yards, respectively.
Zank said that while he would have preferred a win, he was proud of the way the Mariners played, especially given the fact that he’s rolled out a completely new offense this year. With only three seniors, it’s a young team.
“I thought we played well,” Zank said.
He said there’s plenty for the team to work on, but that a few penalties and missed opportunities were to be expected at this stage while the players get used to the team’s layout.
“I think the boys see that once we do get going, and we start figuring this thing out, that there’s a lot of room for growth,” he said.
One highlight from Saturday’s game was the effort put in by Zank’s defensive line, he said.
“I thought the defense played extremely well, especially there in that first half,” Zank said. “They played really well in some difficult situations, you know, with the turnovers and things like that.”
The Mariners next face off against fellow Division III team Redington Jr./Sr. High School in an away game on Friday, Aug. 23. The Kardinals will next host Ben Eielson High School, another Division III team, on Saturday, Aug. 24.
Reach Megan Pacer at email@example.com. Joey Klecka of the Peninsula Clarion contributed to this article.
Saturday at Homer
Kardinals 28, Mariners 14
Kenai 7 7 0 14 —28
Homer 0 6 0 8 —14
Ken — Sylvester 32 pass from Daniels (Pitsch kick), 1:03
Ken — Pitsch 23 pass fro Daniels (Pitsch kick), 7:35
Hom — Kalugin 77 kick return (kick failed), 7:22
Ken — Vann 65 run (Pitch kick), 8:25
Hom — Kalugin 1 run (Murachev run), 7:44
Ken — Burnett 62 run (Pitsch kick), 5:49
First downs 19 15
Rush yds 43-344 28-161
Pass yds 100 86
Comp-att-int 6-19-2 6-24-0
Return yds 2-0 4-161
Punts 1-11.0 3-26.0
Penalties 5-45 6-40
Rushing — Kenai: Vann 16-162, Burnett 11-140, Daniels 4-2, Baker 9-25, Sylvester 3-15. Homer: Kalugin 16-104, Murachev 5-42, Hrenchir 2-0, Doughty 5-15.
Passing — Kenai: Daniels 6-18-2—100. Homer: Kalugin 6-24-0—86.