SOLDOTNA — Storm warning for future Soldotna High football opponents: The Stars have supplemented the usual ground punishment they unleash with an aerial assault.
Advisory: Seek shelter.
Soldotna, the state's four-time defending medium-school state champion used Brandon Crowder's four touchdown passes to beat defending large-school champ West and run its state-record winning streak to 40 games with Friday's season-opening 49-30 victory at Justin Maile Field.
Every Crowder completion went for six, three of them deep balls to tight end Andy West and one on a swing pass to fullback Brenner Furlong. The junior completed 4 of 8 passes for 111 yards.
Not that the Stars, who have not lost since they dropped their 2012 season-opener to Palmer, eschewed their customary wing-T terror. Furlong, a junior, rushed 26 times for 215 yards and two touchdowns, and Soldotna racked up 423 rushing yards and 534 yards total offense.
Friday marked the second straight year the Stars have knocked off the defending state large-school champ to open the season. They beat South, 21-17, here last season.
"It's a good measuring stick,'' Crowder said of beating West. "They're a big-school powerhouse.''
The game matched defending state kings. Soldotna has won seven state titles in nine seasons under 41-year-old head coach Galen Brantley, Jr. The Eagles have won two of the last three state large-school titles, and three of the last six, under eighth-year head coach Tim Davis, who is just 33.
The nonconference game pitted programs that customarily succeed with diametrically opposed offenses.
Soldotna is ground-oriented — "Our coach preaches, 'Pound the rock,' '' said Stars center Alex Goodermote — and thrives on long possessions. The Stars checked in Friday with 33 minutes, 12 seconds of possession to West's 14:48, and ran 80 plays from scrimmage to West's 43.
West employs a quick-strike spread offense that tilts toward more passing than running, and it can score in a heartbeat. Witness three of the Eagles' touchdown "drives'' — two plays in 28 seconds, three plays in 46 seconds and two plays in 48 seconds.
"We executed our game plan a little better than they executed theirs,'' Brantley said.
Davis said his offense offered glimpses of greatness. Justin Tovio parlayed 12 carries into 123 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Qyntyn Pilcher completed 13 of 21 passes for 216 yards and three touchdowns. Turek Taylor turned seven catches into 96 yards and two touchdowns, and A.J. Su'esu'e caught four passes for 103 yards and a touchdown.
"We're going to get a little better because we faced a lot of adversity tonight,'' Davis said. "Guys didn't quit and I'm proud of them, and they worked their butts off.
"That's a well-deserved win by the Stars.''
Still, West's defense could not stop Soldotna — no shame there, the Eagles joined a big club. The Stars scored on basically their last five possessions, their last one of the first half and their first four of the second half. Crowder's three kneel-downs at game's end was sportsmanship.
Furlong and his offensive line formed a mutual admiration society afterward. He raved about Goodermote, tackles Aseli Finau and Kyle Marcuson, guards Wendall Tuisaula and Bryce Martin and tight ends West and Levi Hensley.
The line also paved the path for Austin Schrader's 109 yards and one touchdown on 19 carries and Jace Urban's 76 yards on nine carries.
"You can't do anything without that offensive line,'' Furlong said. "They're everything for us.''
Said Goodermote: "I have a lot of confidence in our backs. Furlong, he works his butt off all year.''
Soldotna's potent running game opened up the passing game for Crowder. Defensive backs sneaking up to protect against the run are more vulnerable to deep passes, as Crowder and West proved.
Even though the Stars' offense proved unstoppable in the second half, Brantley said he never felt secure against the Eagles.
"They're so dangerous offensively,'' he said. "We were never safe. They can score in one play.''
True enough. But the Stars are dangerous in their own way, and while the running game remains their staple, they proved Friday no opponent should sleep on their passing game.
West 3 14 6 7 — 30
Soldotna 7 14 14 14 — 49
West – Harjehausen FG 27, 9:14.
Soldotna – West 23 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), 5:13.
Soldotna – Furlong 28 run (Jones kick), 10:01.
West – Tovio 54 run (Harjehausen kick), 9:42.
West – Taylor 36 pass from Pilcher (Harjehausen kick), 5:42.
Soldotna – Schrader 6 run (Jones kick), 1:11.
Soldotna – Furlong 40 run (Jones kick), 8:28.
Soldotna – Furlong 26 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), 48.1.
West – Su'esu'e 74 pass from Pilcher (kick blocked), :00.
Soldotna – West 25 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), 8:26.
West – Taylor 50 pass from Pilcher (Harjehausen kick), 5:50.
Soldotna – West 37 pass from Crowder (Jones kick), 2:35.
RUSHING – West: Tovio 12-123, Pilcher 7-36, Hughes 1-5. Soldotna: Furlong 26-215, Schrader 19-109, Urban 11-76, Lefao 10-26, Crowder (6-(-3).
PASSING – West: Pilcher 13-21-1—210, Hughes 1-2-1–6. Soldotna: Crowder 4-8-0–111.
RECEIVING – West: Taylor 7-96, Su'esu'e 4-103, Bianchi 1-9, Bl. Despain 1-6, Tovio 1-4. Soldotna: West 3-85, Furlong 1-26.