Sometimes slow and steady wins the race.
Up 12-0 just seven minutes into Saturday’s game at the Thunderdome, the surging Falcons looked poised to ride their aerial attack to a 3-0 record. On the second play of the game, senior quarterback Cale Jenkins hit sophomore receiver Hansel Hinckle for an 85-yard touchdown pass. On the ensuing drive, Falcons junior Jacob Tapia ran an interception back for a touchdown.
The Falcons, who have scored more than 100 points combined in their previous two outtings and reached No. 2 in Alaska’s small school rankings, looked poised for another blowout. But Tapia’s pick six would be the Falcons’ last points of the game, as the Kardinals controlled the clock with their relentless rush, combining for 224 yards on the ground and shutting Jenkins and company out for three quarters to steal the non-conference game 23-12.
Though Kenai wore the Falcons down with the run, Thunder Mountain’s red zone defense kept them in the game as the Falcons were able to hold the Kardinals to field goals on three trips to the red zone.
“Our defense held up pretty well, they basically kept us in the game,” Falcons coach Randy Quinto said. “For a long time our offense just sputtered. … Our offense couldn’t really execute and our defense played a heck of a game just to keep us in it.”
The Falcons kept the Kardinals out of the end zone the whole first half and headed to halftime up 12-6 after two second quarter Kenai field goals. With only three first downs to Kenai’s eight, however, the writing was on the wall: Kenai was going to run the ball until the Falcons wheels fell off.
The Kardinals’ winning strategy clicked in the third quarter. After a Thunder Mountain punt, the Kardinals linked runs and gassed the Falcons defense on a nine-minute touchdown drive, putting the visitors up 13-12 heading into the fourth.
“From a program standpoint we felt we had to establish the run. We also couldn’t allow Thunder Mountain to control the clock, because they would,” Kenai coach Davis Lowery said. “We knew we had to try and win the battle up front.”
Thunder Mountain’s defense wouldn’t get much of a break after the long drive as Jenkins threw a pick to Gilies on the ensuing drive. Gilies returned the ball 55 yards on his second interception on the night, setting up a goal line battle in Thunder Mountain’s red zone. A pair of red zone penalties kept the Kardinals from scoring, however, and they contented themselves with another Tuttle field goal and a 12-16 lead.
“The momentum shift there was the tough one. We saw that they were just hungrier and wanted it more than we did at that point,” Quinto said.
The Falcons gave up another turnover with 10:15 left in the fourth, putting their backs on the wall after a bobbled pass would up in the arms of Kenai’s defense. With a four point lead and the ball on their own 45, the Kardinals needed only to milk the clock and kick a field goal to give them a one touchdown lead and the Falcons a last chance at tying the game.
At third-and-long on the Falcons 38 with five minutes left, the Kardinals pulled the ace from their sleeve, finally passing the ball over the middle for a 22 yard gain to break into Thunder Mountain’s red zone. A pair of runs brought the ball to the goal line and Kardinals junior Siamani James punched the ball in for the decisive lead, putting the game out of reach for the Falcons.
Falcons 12, Kardinals 23
12 0 0 0 — 12
0 6 7 10 — 23
TM — Hickel 85 pass (2-pt failed), 10:03
TM — Tapia 54 INT return (2-pt failed), 5:03
KC — Tuttle 15 FG 4:40
KC — Tuttle 10 yard FG 2:11
KC — Gilies 3 run (Tuttle kick), 2:23
KC — Tuttle 5 FG, 10:21
KC — Siamani 1 run (Tuttle kick), 2:55
TM / KC
Rushes-yds 9-23 / 49-224
Pass yds 124 / 63
Comp-att-int 7-16-4 / 5-11-1
Return yds 72 / 61
Punts 3-48.3 / 2-32.0
Fumbles 1 / 0
Penalties 8-45 / 12-65
Rushing — TM: Olmstead 6-21, Frenette 4-2; KC: Riddall 18-93, Tuttle 12-81, Beeson 7-34, Gilies 11-15, James 1-1
Passing — TM: Jenkins 7-16-4 — 124; KC: Gilies 5-11-1 — 63