Brayden Taylor came up with two big plays in the final 30 seconds -- one on offense and one on defense -- to lift the Soldotna Stars to a thrilling 42-41 win over the South Wolverines in a nonconference football game Saturday at South High.
Taylor scored the go-ahead touchdown on a three-yard run with 30 seconds left and clinched the victory a couple of plays later by intercepting a pass by South quarterback Slade Schuster as the final second ticked off the clock.
“He threw it up and I just went up and got it and sealed the game,” Taylor said.
Taylor’s touchdown tied the game and Zac Buckbee’s extra-point kick provided the winning point for Soldotna, a Division II team that improved to 6-1 with the nonconference win. South, a Division I team, slipped to 2-5.
Buckbee had missed two PAT kicks earlier in the game, but he made the one that counted the most.
“It was the confidence my coaches and teammates put in me,” said the sophomore. “That’s why it went in.”
Buckbee and Taylor split the starting quarterback duties for the Stars, alternating on each or every other drive. Taylor led the Stars on four scoring drive, and Buckbee led them on two.
“They’re both awesome young men and we have a ton of faith in both of them,” said Soldotna coach Galen Brantley, Jr. “Either one of them at any time could get us up and down the field.”
Things went back and forth all night in a game where both teams struggled to block and to convert extra points. South led 7-6 after one quarter, and the game was tied 21-21 at the half and 27-27 after three quarters.
The Wolverines kept the drama going until nearly the very end. They picked up a first down on the first play of their final possession, but Taylor’s interception on the next play ended the threat.
“Hats off to Walt and his kids, they played their tails off,” Brantley said of South coach Walt Harmon and the Wolverines. “Our kids just made one more play at the end.”
The Wolverines moved the ball up and down the field for most of the game with big plays. They took a late six-point lead when Schuster threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to running back Kai Coleman to cap a quick, six-play drive. The two seniors connected again to convert a two-point attempt after the score to put South up 41-35 with just more than four minutes left.
As impressive as that scoring sequence was, it left the run-heavy Stars more than enough time to operate their offense without having to pass the ball once.
“We actually had a conversation on the sideline on whether we should let them score so that we had enough time to get ourselves down the field,” said Brantley. “It just so happened they made a play and left us enough time to get down there.”
Soldotna came into the final week of the regular season shorthanded because of a combination of injuries and COVID-19 close-contact designations as cases continue to surge throughout the state. Brantley said he was proud of the way his team overcame that adversity to head into the playoffs on a high note.
“It just seemed like a war of attrition, who was going to cash in first, and our kids fought until the end and as a result we came away with a win,” he said.
This week’s scores (end of the regular season)
Bartlett 26, Service 22
Eagle River 46, Chugiak 0
East 48, Dimond 7
Kenai 40, Kodiak 6
Monroe 34, Valdez 0
Nikiski 42, Seward 26
Palmer 29, Wasilla 12
Redington 40, Houston 6
Soldotna 42, South 41
West 42, Colony 14