Fifty-nine straight wins. Six consecutive state championships. And one heckuva sendoff from fans that helped propel the Soldotna Stars football team to a 21-0 victory over Palmer in Saturday's Division II state championship game.
Cody Quelland returned an interception for a touchdown with three minutes left to seal the victory for the Stars, who used a strong defensive effort to stop the Moose and claim their sixth straight state title.
The game was the second title game of the day at Palmer's Machetanz Field. In the first game, the Barrow Whalers knocked off Homer 20-14 to claim their first state championship in football.
Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. credited the defense for the latest triumph in a state-record winning streak that dates back to 2012.
"I thought our kids played absolutely terrific defense," he said. "My defensive coordinator Eric Pomerleau and assistant coaches Phil Leck and Sarge Truesdell put together a great defensive game plan and our kids executed it with precision and got the shutout."
Wendell Tuisaula came through with several big stops to earn player-of-the-game honors on defense, Brantley said, and Quelland administered the dagger with his pick-six late in the game.
First-half touchdowns from Brenner Furlong, who scored on a 57-yard run, and Aaron Faletoi-eli, who scored on a 12-yard run, lifted the Stars to a 14-0 halftime lead.
Soldotna finished the season with a 10-0 record that includes 21-0 shutout of the West Eagles, who will play Bartlett in the Division I state championship on Friday. Palmer finished with a 5-5 record.
Brantley said he has special memories of all of his state championship teams. What he may remember most about this one is the sendoff the team received when it left Soldotna on Friday.
First, high school students stood in two lines to create a corridor of fans for players to walk through as they left the school. Once in the team bus, firetrucks and police cars gave them an escort to the edge of town.
"There are people standing on the street and waving as we leave," Brantley said. And when the bus passed Soldotna Elementary School, "kids were holding up signs with the numbers of all the players, and that was just awesome."
The fanfare continued along the Sterling Highway.
"Here's how crazy it is in a small town: There's road construction all the way from Sterling to Cooper Landing, and the pilot car escorted us all the way through the construction," Brantley said. "The pilot car took our bus out of the end of the line and they stopped construction so we could get through. There were signs from the construction company that said 'Go Stars!' ''
In Saturday's other state championship game, Barrow avenged an early season loss to Homer to capture its first football championship.
Ben Heather rushed for touchdowns in the first and third quarters for the Whalers (7-2). Barrow's other touchdown came on Antony Fruean's touchdown pass to Calvin Miller in the second quarter.
The game featured a pair of first-year coaches — Barrow's Chris Battle and Homer's Walter Love — and a pair of teams that were shooting for their first state championship.
Barrow lost the 2011 small-school state title to Nikiski. Homer (8-2) lost consecutive medium-school titles in 2011 and 2012 to Kenai Central and Soldotna, respectively.