The West Valley High School football team’s season came to an end Friday after the seven-time defending state champion and undefeated Soldotna Stars eliminated the Wolfpack in a Division II state football semifinal game in Soldotna with a 54-22 victory.
The win for Soldotna gives the Stars another chance to compete for a state title Oct. 19 in Anchorage Football Stadium.
Most of West Valley’s first-half yards came on a 10-play drive in the second quarter. Six-foot-three senior receiver Tyriq Nance hauled in two circus catches from Wolfpack quarterback Shaun Conwell, including a one-handed grab in the end zone to close SoHi’s lead to 28-8 after a two-point pass from Conwell to Avery Weston.
However, that momentum didn’t last long. It took SoHi two plays to go 70 yards for the answer, first on a 42-yard gashing run by Medcoff, then on a 28-yard touchdown catch by Galen Brantley III, who was wide open for the score.
“They jumped up on us early and we started to get the ball rolling a couple of times, but then we killed ourselves with some penalties and some miscues,” Wolfpack head coach Norm Davis said over the phone after the game.
SoHi scored on its first five possessions and led 21-0 in the first quarter and 35-8 at halftime, outgaining the Wolfpack 265 to 56 yards in the first half. The Stars tacked on another 19 points in the third quarter.
West Valley senior Keegan Doust found the end zone on a 67-yard run in the third and completed an 87-yard touchdown pass from Conwell in the fourth.
Soldotna was led by senior Aaron Faletoi, who scored three touchdowns in the first half for the Stars.
“It feels pretty good,” Faletoi said. “Just help the guys out, and help coach (Galen Brantley Jr.) out. He always wants more. All the excitement is about working hard for this.”
Brantley Jr. said getting the senior class to the championship game for all four years of their tenure is what he wanted to see most.
“It’s awesome,” he said. “I’m excited for these guys, they’ve worked hard over four years, and are right exactly where they want to be.”
Davis wishes his seniors had the same send-off as Brantly Jr.’s, but was proud of the effort.
“Justin Cummings had an outstanding season, one of the best running backs in the state. Same thing with Avery Weston, one of the better receivers in the state and I’d put Tyriq up there too. … It’s always hard when you have a whole group of seniors like that. ... It would have been nice if we could have done a little bit more for them, but I’m proud of all of them.”
Davis was also thankful for the volunteer coaches who made this season possible for the team after a preseason accident mandated a last minute overhaul of the Wolfpack’s coaching staff.
The Stars face the winner of today’s semifinal game between Lathrop and Eagle River, which kicks off at 1 p.m. at Lathrop Stadium, in the state championship game.
Houston 64, Eielson 21
Houston will join the Stars in Anchorage on Oct. 18, but will be playing for the Division III state title after hosting and defeating defending state champion Eielson in a state football semifinal game Friday.
A 29-point third quarter lifted the Hawks to their first victory over the Ravens.
The Houston defense and special teams combined to force five turnovers, three of which came in the third quarter and all resulted in Houston touchdowns.
Houston moves into the state title game for the second time in school history. In 2016, the team finished runner-up to the Ravens.
Eielson led early with a Will McManus 2-yard touchdown run, but Houston answered with 21 straight points.
Eielson cut the lead to 21-16 in the second with a 17-yard Brandon Polesky touchdown. But Houston’s Kennedy Fono broke free for a long touchdown run with only 30 seconds left in the first half.
McManus added his second rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The Hawks will face the winner of today’s Division III semifinal contest in Utqiagvik between Barrow and Nikiski in the state championship game.
The Peninsula Clarion in Kenai and the Frontiersman in Wasilla contributed to this report.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.