The last time Kodiak beat Kenai on the gridiron was in 2012 on a last-second play.
So, it was only fitting that the Bears erased a five-game losing streak to the Kardinals with a goal-line stand on the last play of Friday’s Northern Lights Conference battle at Joe Floyd Track and Field.
With time running out, the Bears’ defense corralled elusive Kenai running back Zach Tuttle at the 5-yard line — three yards behind the line of scrimmage — to preserve an entertaining and important 27-22 victory.
“This was a good one. It was a dandy,” said Kodiak coach Bill McGuire, who picked up his biggest victory since taking over the program in 2015.
The final play of the game didn’t come without controversy. After the third-down play, Kenai’s coaches signaled for a timeout as three seconds remained on the game clock, but the officials did not hear the request. The clock ticked down. Game over. Drought over.
Kodiak players celebrated — many went to the turf in exhaustion after nearly three hours of physical play — their first victory over Kenai since 2012 when Fred Sorto hauled in a touchdown grab with 3.4 seconds left to stun the Kardinals 20-19 on the Peninsula.
“You can’t take a quarter off and try to show up the last half. That is on us. I’m not going to take anything away from Kodiak. They did great. They were prepared and ready to do what they needed to do,” first-year Kenai coach Ted Riddall said.
The victory — Kodiak’s first conference win over another school other than Eagle River since 2014 — keeps the Bears in the thick of the Division II playoff chase. Kodiak, Kenai and Palmer are all tied with 1-1 NLC records. Soldotna, which upped its state-best winning streak to 54 games with a 28-10 win over Palmer, is 1-0, while Eagle River is 0-1. The top two teams in the standings earn a trip to the postseason, a place Kodiak has not been since 2013.
“This means a lot to us,” said Joel Francisco, who hauled in two catches for 92 yards and a touchdown. “It is our senior year. We got to keep fighting and fighting until we make it to the playoffs.”
Senior Shaun Walton had his best game at quarterback, completing 10 of 22 passes for 169 yards and two touchdowns — the last coming
on a perfectly executed 50-yard slant to Francisco that put Kodiak up 27-14 in the fourth quarter.
Kaleb Finley, a week after galloping for 107 yards, led Kodiak’s ground attack with 96 yards on 13 carries, while Derek Rastopsoff bruised his way to 72 yards on 15 carries.
Kodiak put up 27 points — 13 more than than the last three games combined — but still needed a defensive stop to snap a three-game losing skid.
Down 27-22, Kenai (3-2) started its final drive at the Bears’ 20-yard line with 3:59 left in the contest. The Kardinals traversed 78 yards — 58 on the ground and 20 via penalties — to the Bears’ 2-yard-line, but were kept out of the end zone on the 10th and final play of the drive.
Tuttle, who accounted for 204 of Kenai’s 338 total yards of offense, took the handoff from quarterback Connor Felchle and dashed to his left. He was greeted by a wall of Bears who knocked him back to the 5-yard line.
“That validates everything the kids have worked for,” McGuire said. “Those kids, I don’t think they could have played another play … they just pounded against the wall the entire time. I couldn’t be prouder of them.”
A game after allowing Palmer to rush for 558 yards, the goal-line stand was about getting the confidence back.
“It was really tough. You don’t want to mess up. You are trying to hit hard and play smart,” senior Jovani Recinos-Pineda said. “You have to believe in your team.”
Recinos-Pineda was all over the field on Friday. He booted a pair of 31-yard field goals, was perfect on three extra-point kicks and intercepted Felchle twice.
His first field goal with 5:29 left in the opening quarter started the scoring. It was the first time Kodiak (2-3) had scored first this season.
The Bears made it 10-0 when Brandon Jimenez polished off a four-play, 76-yard drive with a 2-yard dive into the end zone. Another Recinos-Pineda field goal put Kodiak up 13-0 midway through the second quarter.
Less than two minutes later, Kenai got on the board with a Titus Riddall 1-yard run. The two-point conversion attempt failed, making the score 13-6.
The Bears punched one in before halftime when Walton fed Kaleb Finely for an 11-yard scoring strike. That drive was extended when a roughing the punter penalty was called on Kenai.
Kenai cut the lead to 20-14 on a Tuttle 6-yard scoring run and a successful two-point conversion midway through the third quarter.
Kodiak pushed the lead to 27-14 when Walton hooked up with Francisco for the 50-yard touchdown with 2:31 left in the third.
“I took a jab step on the corner and the ball was right there. There was no safety or no linebacker,” Francisco said.
Kenai pulled to within five points when Tuttle hauled in an 82-yard touchdown pass from Felchle with 10:01 left in the game. The two hooked up for the 2-point conversion to cut the score to 27-22.
The game was marred with penalties as there were a combined 19 flags for 165 yards. A player from each team was also ejected.
However, the game will go down as a classic.
“This is a huge win for us. It shows us where we are at. I knew we were there; it is just what Kodiak Bears team is going to show up, and the good one showed up today,” McGuire said.
BEARS 27, KARDINALS 22
Kenai 0 6 8 8 — 22
Kodiak 10 10 7 0 — 27
Kod — Recinos-Pineda 31 field goal, 5:29
Kod — Jimenez 2 run (Recinos-Pineda kick), 2:26
Kod — Recinos-Pineda 31 field goal, 6:43
Ken — T. Riddall 1 run (run failed), 5:11
Kod — Finley 11 pass from Walton (Recinos-Pineda kick), :30
Ken — Tuttle 6 run (Baker pass from Felchle), 6:49
Kod — Francisco 50 pass from Walton (Recinos-Pineda kick), 2:31
Ken — Tuttle 82 pass from Felchle (Tuttle pass from Felchle), 10:01
Rushing — Kenai: T. Riddall 15-65, McEnerney 5-22, Felchle 3-3, Tuttle 6-31, Burnett 3-0, McKibben 1-(-9), O’Brien 2-19. Kodiak: Finley 13-96, Walton 7-(-1), Galindez 4-6, Rastopsoff 15-72, Jimenez 1-2.
Passing — Kenai: Felchle 8-19-2 — 207, #40 0-1-0 — 0. Kodiak: Walton 10-22-3 — 169.
Receiving — Kenai: McEnerney 1-11, Tuttle 4-173, Baker 2-21, O’Brien 1-6. Kodiak: Galindez 4-40, Francisco 2-91, Jimenez 1-10, Finley 2-18, Ladera 1-10.
Week 5 scores
Kodiak 27, Kenai 22
Soldotna 28, Palmer 10
Lathrop 47, North Pole 22
Colony 18, Wasilla 0
East Anchorage 21, Service 0
Bartlett 53, South Anchorage 7
Thunder Mountain 42, Ketchikan 9
West Valley 30, Eagle River 14
West Anchorage 42, Dimond 7
Barrow 38, Monroe 0
Eielson 28, Houston 7
Nikiski 39, Redington 0
Voznesenka 6, Valdez 0
Homer 45, Seward 0
Chugiak 40, Green Canyon, Utah 27