Only an icy social-media challenge could cool down the Soldotna Stars on Saturday.
Following his team's 53-6 nonconference destruction of the Eagle River Wolves, Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley gamely allowed his players to douse him with ice water -- the latest episode in a social-media-driven fundraiser for Lou Gehrig's Disease that's currently sweeping the nation.
"And it was cold too," Brantley said while drying himself off on the turf field of Chugiak's Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium, where the game was played while Eagle River's stadium undergoes renovations. "It sat in there with that ice all game long."
Brantley and company had plenty to celebrate after the two-time defending champions in Alaska's medium-schools division ran roughshod over an inexperienced large-schools division team that suited up just 13 upperclassmen. Soldotna's throwback wing-T offense netted 451 yards of offense, including 413 yards rushing, in a game that featured a running clock for the entire second half.
"They're always awesome," said first-year Eagle River coach Matt Turner following the game, which took just 2:01 to complete thanks to the running clock.
Drew Gibbs led the Soldotna attack with 146 yards rushing on just seven carries -- three of which went for first-half touchdowns. Gibbs also scored on a 31-yard pass from quarterback Brooks Furlong that capped Soldotna's opening drive. Gibbs, a junior, also scored on runs of 45, 40 and 14 yards, all in the first half.
The game was never in doubt. Soldotna raced to a 27-6 lead after the first quarter on the strength of three Gibbs touchdowns and a 7-yard touchdown pass from Furlong to Trevor Walden. Furlong attempted just three passes, but two went for touchdowns as he finished an efficient 2-for-3 for 38 yards and no interceptions.
Bailey Blumentritt added a pair of second-quarter TD runs for Soldotna (1-0 overall, 0-0 Northern Lights Conference), which also got a 57-yard scoring run from Ty Fenton, who finished with 113 yards on eight carries. Gibbs capped the impressive scoring surge with his fourth touchdown of the evening with more than six minutes left in the second quarter.
"It feels great," said Gibbs. "I've just gotta thank my linemen. It's a hard offense to stop when we're all working together."
Leroy Banks scored on a 58-yard scamper for Eagle River, which fell to 0-1 overall. The Wolves open their Cook Inlet Conference season next Saturday at 4 p.m. against Service at Bartlett.
"It doesn't get any easier," Turner said.
With limited troops to rely on, Turner said his team needs to take solace in the fact they only committed four penalties in the game and shut out the Soldotna reserves in the second half.
"It's all about the small victories," Turner said.
Other bright spots for the Wolves (0-1 overall, 0-0 Cook Inlet Conference) included a combined 10-for-18 passing mark by junior quarterback Michael Thompson and freshman Thad Heagy, as well as a pair of blocked extra points by sophomore Hunter George.
Turner said he still has high hopes for turning around a program that won just once last season.
"That's why I took this job, to try and build something," he said.
Soldotna faces another large-schools foe Friday night when it travels to Palmer (0-1 overall, 0-0 Railbelt Conference). Brantley said he was proud of his team's effort, but expects a tough test from the Moose, who fell 28-6 to West on Friday night.
"We know Palmer is a perennial power and one of the best-coached teams in the state," he said. "We're expecting an absolute dogfight."
Soldotna 27 26 0 0 -- 53
Eagle River 6 0 0 0 -- 6
Sol -- Gibbs 31 pass from Furlong (Ackerman kick), 9:38
Sol -- Gibbs 45 run (Ackerman kick), 7:02
ER -- Banks 58 run (try failed), 5:31
Sol -- Gibbs 40 run (Ackerman kick), 4:26
Sol -- Walden 7 pass from Furlong (kick blocked), 2:48
Sol -- Blumentritt 3 run (kick blocked), 10:57
Sol -- Fenton 57 run (kick failed), 9:11
Sol -- Blumentritt 33 run (Ackerman kick), 8:05
Sol -- Gibbs 14 run (Ackerman kick), 6:21
Rushing -- Soldotna: Gibbs 7-146, Fenton 8-113, Blumentritt 6-73, Chavez 8-33, Winter 2-16, Prior 3-16, Jones 3-16, Furlong 6-(-9). Eagle River: Banks 9-67, Wilson 3-3, Osborne 1-3, Thompson 5-(-7), Heagy 4-(-13).
Passing -- Soldotna: Furlong 2-3-0--38. Eagle River: Thompson 6-12-0--58, Heagy 4-6-0--27, Clark 0-1-1--0.
Receiving -- Soldotna: Gibbs 1-31, Walden 1-7. Eagle River: Keith 4-44, Barnes 4-34, Banks 1-4, Wilson 1-3.