Galen Brantley was excited after his Soldotna Stars' 63-33 state semifinal football win over the North Pole Patriots on Saturday, and it wasn't just because his team is headed to the First National Bowl medium-school championship game.
Brantley was excited for his seniors, a group he has coached for five years, beginning with Pop Warner football.
"I couldn't be happier for these kids," Brantley said. "To have them finish their football careers with me at the title game is really special."
Making special memories Saturday was senior running back Jake Kooly, who had 26 carries for 345 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's not a fancy back," Brantley said. "He's a semi-truck. He's our John Riggins."
Kooly led a commanding rushing game that piled up 581 yards for the undefeated Stars. Kooly and sophomore back Drew Gibbs (16 carries for 177 yards; two receptions for 23 yards and a touchdown) accounted for all but one of Soldotna's touchdowns.
"We came out hot offensively and in control," Brantley said. "They (North Pole) have some phenomenal athletes, and they were making plays. Our offense really stepped up to put separation between us in the end."
The Stars (10-0) scored with just more than 30 seconds left in the first half on an 8-yard run by Kooly for a 42-27 lead at the break. Then they scored the first touchdown of the second half on Kooly's 81-yard run for a 49-27 lead.
"It hurt us to give them that advantage," North Pole coach Richard Henert said. "You've got to give credit to our kids in the first half and the way they came out the game in the second half there, too."
North Pole (7-2) answered Kooly's long touchdown with Garrett Sommer's 73-yard pass to Lance Wright to make it 49-33, but the Patriots didn't score again.
Sommer finished with a game-high 198 passing yards, going 10 for 20. He threw for two touchdowns and rushed for an additional 101 yards on 18 carries.
Running back Deaundre Campbell led the Patriots on the ground with 144 yards on nine carries, chipping in two touchdowns. Wright led the team in the air, catching four passes for 131 yards.
"Things didn't end up the way we'd like, but you've got to have respect for Soldotna," Henert said. "They really stepped up offensively," Henert said.
Soldotna, the state's only undefeated team in any division, plays Juneau at noon Saturday in Anchorage for the medium-school championship. Juneau is in its first season in the division, having dropped down from the large-school division this season.
"We'll have our work cut out for us, that's for sure," Brantley said. "Juneau's a good football team. We just have to go out and play our kind of football."
Soldotna - Gibbs 35 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 10:34.
Soldotna - Kooly 28 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 9:36.
North Pole - Wright 52 pass from Sommer (Wollman kick), 7:06.
Soldotna - Kooly 3 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 2:59.
Soldotna - Gibbs 4 pass from Young (Asimakopoulos kick), 11:14.
North Pole - Campbell 65 run (kick fail), 10:55.
North Pole - Crane 3 run (Wollman kick), 7:02.
Soldotna -- Gibbs 60 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 5:52.
North Pole - Campbell 6 run (Wollman kick), 2:27.
Soldotna - Kooly 8 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 33.3.
Soldotna - Kooly 81 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 5:55.
North Pole - Wright 73 pass from Sommer (run fail), 5:30.
Soldotna - Kooly 41 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 4:04.
Soldotna - Walden 28 pass from Young (Asimakopoulos kick), 7:20.
RUSHING - North Pole: Sommer 18-101, Campbell 9-144, Crane 3-8, Wrigth 2-(-8), Davis 3-14, Best 1-4. Soldotna: Kooly 26-345, Gibbs 16-177, Young 8-31, Riley 4-13, Chavez 2-4, Griglione 3-2, Furlong 1-8, Lott 1-(-1).
PASSING - North Pole: Sommer 10-20-1 - 198, Martinez 0-1-0 -0. Soldotna: Young 4-6-0 - 65.
RECEIVING - North Pole: Wright 4-131, McCoy 3-29, Hursh 3-38. Soldotna: Walden 2-42, Gibbs 2-23.