Anchorage — The second-highest scoring game in state football playoff history, which doubled as a track meet, featured 15 touchdowns, nearly 1,000 yards of total offense and 44 first downs.
There were 29 plays from scrimmage that went for double-digit yardage, two rushers who gained more than 200 yards and three others who gained more than 100.
Even the kickers killed it -- 13 of 13 on extra points.
Yet, for all of those gaudy offensive numbers Saturday afternoon at Anchorage Football Stadium, where the turf might as well have been an oval and the football a relay baton, Soldotna's dynamite 56-49 victory over Juneau-Douglas hinged -- seriously -- on a few exceptional defensive plays.
Chief among those rarities that delivered the Stars' second straight medium-school championship in the First National Bowl -- and the school's sixth state title in the last eight seasons -- was the fourth-quarter interception by Soldotna linebacker Drew Fowler.
Tied 49-49 with more than eight minutes to go, Juneau faced third-and-8 on its 30-yard line. Quarterback Dorian Isaak looked to his left, where Fowler tracked Isaak's eyes. Fowler picked off a pass intended for dangerous Demetrius Campos and returned it 20 yards to the Juneau 14.
Five plays later, Soldotna quarterback Colton Young bootlegged to his right, untouched, for a 4-yard touchdown run that stood up as the game-winning score.
"I figured they would try to go to Campos, so I just read the quarterback's eyes and jumped the route,'' Fowler said.
When Juneau faced fourth-and-11 at its 46 on the next possession, Isaak hit Campos on a wide-receiver screen to the right, but Soldotna's Max Conradi, who furnished a first-half interception, and Brooks Furlong helped take down Campos two yards shy of a first down.
Soldotna (11-0) ran out the remaining 4:42, courtesy of three rushing first downs, and proceeded with what it knows well -- how to celebrate.
As the players gathered for team pictures on the field, the Stars hugged, laughed and howled with delight.
"Perfect season!'' yelled one.
"Undefeated!'' chimed another.
"Yeah, that's what perfect means,'' came the deadpan retort.
The game's 105 combined points marked the second-most in Alaska state playoff history dating back to 1983. Only the 119 combined points in Soldotna's 77-42 win over Kenai in the 2010 small-school championship game surpassed Saturday's scoreboard explosion.
While the defenses were far from ferocious against offenses that flourished -- Soldotna scored eight touchdowns on 12 possessions and Juneau scored seven on 12 possessions -- Soldotna held Juneau (8-2) in check on three of the Crimson Bears' last four possessions.
Soldotna linebacker Jake Kooly said keeping Campos relatively in check was instrumental. Campos, who last week torched Kenai for 302 all-purpose yards and three touchdowns in the semifinals, is a 5-foot-8, 150-pound package of fast-twitch muscles.
He rushed 26 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns to spur an offense that gained 505 yards. His 52-yard touchdown run in the third quarter was breathtaking. He took a hand-off straight up the middle, where he ran into nothing but traffic. So he simply bounced outside to his right, gained the edge and blazed up the sideline untouched.
On three occasions, Campos was held to negative yardage. Kooly brought him down all three times.
"You saw him -- that kid's insane,'' Kooly said. "We knew we had to shut him down, and we did that just enough. That was the key.''
The critical times Soldotna forced Juneau into third-and-long scenarios also influenced the outcome.
"You get us in obvious passing situations and it's probably not our strength,'' said Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos. "They were able to drop more people into coverage and (Fowler) made a great play.''
Soldotna's offense, which averaged 60 points per game, took some time to become fluid Saturday. That stemmed in part because of lost fumbles by quarterback Young and running back Kooly, and a false-start penalty on third-and-6, early in the game. That penalty was Soldotna's lone infraction, but those mistakes collectively helped Juneau forge a 28-6 lead with 7:53 left in the first half.
"All those wounds early on were self-inflicted,'' said Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr.
Even so, down three scores, the Stars remained poised on their sideline. No coaches screamed at players or officials. No players pointed fingers. No one freaked. Young said that was a credit to Brantley and staff.
"How they act, we act,'' Young said. "If they're calm, we're calm. They set the tempo.''
Trailing 28-6, Soldotna reeled off a 10-play, 65-yard drive that culminated in Drew Gibbs' 1-yard touchdown run to trim the deficit to 28-14.
After Conradi's interception on Juneau's ensuing possession, Soldotna faced third-and-goal from the 6 with just seven seconds left before intermission. Young rolled to his right but could not find a receiver and somehow slipped from a potential sack by Juneau's Dartanan Campos, rolled back to the left and, with zeros on the clock, connected with a wide-open Furlong for a touchdown that slashed Juneau's lead to 28-21.
Juneau's George Sua, who later racked a 78-yard touchdown run, recovered the kick to open the second half, and Isaak's 5-yard run five plays later gave Juneau a 35-21 lead.
Soldotna answered just three players later on Gibbs' 37-yard run, which started a stretch in which the Stars scored on five straight possessions.
Young orchestrates a Soldotna offense that relies on multiple fakes and deceptions -- Sjoroos called him a maestro -- and he carried 24 times for 202 yards and two touchdowns. Gibbs scored three times on 21 carries that covered 160 yards. And Kooly added 65 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. Soldotna's hole-opening offensive line committed just one penalty in 71 players from scrimmage and paved the way for 461 yards rushing.
All of that offense, and some timely defense, helped the Stars overcome that three-touchdown deficit in the first half and a tough start to the second half. They regrouped and were rewarded.
"Hats off to them,'' Sjoroos said. "They didn't seem to get flustered.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Soldotna -- Kooly 1 run (run failed), 7:12.
Juneau -- Campos 14 run (Maake run), 4:37.
Juneau -- Nordgren 41 pass from Isaak (Maake kick), :58.
Juneau -- Campos 8 run (Maake kick), 10:12.
Juneau -- Empson 47 pass from Isaak (Maake kick), 7:53.
Soldotna -- Gibbs 1 run (Gibbs run), 3:58.
Soldotna -- Furlong 6 pass from Young (Asimakopoulos kick), :00.
Juneau -- Isaak 5 run (Maake), 9:42.
Soldotna -- Gibbs 37 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 9:00.
Juneau -- Campos 52 run (Maake kick), 7:00.
Soldotna -- Young 26 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 3:43.
Soldotna -- Kooly 1 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 1:08.
Juneau -- Sua 78 run (Maake kick), :48.
Soldotna -- Gibbs 2 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 9:24.
Soldotna -- Young 4 run (Asimakopoulos kick), 7:18.
RUSHING -- Juneau: Campos 26-217, Sua 5-90, Isaak 4-6, Nordgren 1-(-2). Soldotna: Young 24-202, Gibbs 21-160, Kooly 19-65, Riley 2-18, Fenton 2-16.
PASSING -- Juneau: Issak 8-14-2--193. Soldotna: Young 3-3-0--25.
RECEIVING -- Juneau: Hill 3-80, Nordgren 3-51, Empson 1-47, Compos 1-9. Soldotna: Fowler 1-23, Furlong 1-6, Conradi 1-(-4).