The Kenai Central boys are back in a state championship final, and they intend to finish what they started two years ago.
The Kardinals punched their ticket to the Division II title game Friday morning with a 2-0 victory over their region rivals Homer at Service High School.
In 2016, Kenai upended Service in penalty kicks on the same field to advance to the school’s first soccer final, which the Kards lost 3-1 to South Anchorage. This time, Kenai faced Juneau for the crown.
“We’re thrilled,” said head coach Joel Reemtsma. “The state championship has been on our board for years.”
The two title contenders had already met this year. The Kardinals prevailed 1-0 over the Crimson Bears in an April 19 meeting on Juneau’s home field, which injected Kenai with more confidence.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” said senior midfielder Luke Beiser. “We’re feeling confident, and while it is (Division II), the ultimate goal is to win state.
“A state championship game is still a state championship game.”
Beiser snapped a scoreless contest 21 minutes into the first half with a powerful boot off a corner kick by Damien Redder. The ball initially deflected off the head of senior Zack Tuttle, then found its way to Beiser’s shoe. Beiser knocked a one-timer by Homer goalie Tucker Weston.
Tuttle then scored one himself just minutes later, collecting a cross from Kevin Ramos and sneaking through a crowd of dazed Homer defenders to bury a shot for a 2-0 lead at the 23rd minute.
The semifinal showdown was a rematch of the Peninsula Conference title game held just six days earlier, which Kenai won 3-0 against a tired Homer squad.
Friday, Homer was feeling a little fresher following a comfortable 5-1 win Thursday over Grace Christian, but still struggled to score against Kenai. The end of the game marked a full 195 minutes since the Mariners last scored against Kenai, in the second half of a 1-all draw in early May. That is three hours, 15 minutes, of shutout soccer by the Kenai defense.
“We’re disappointed, but we gave it our best shot,” said Homer head coach Warren Waldorf. “Last week, we played a 100-minute game the day before. We had no chance of winning that. It was probably less than 50-50.