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Lathrop football stuns Soldotna 27-21, just the third team to defeat Stars in last decade

Published: Aug. 23, 2021 at 7:44 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - In what is being described as the biggest win in school history, the Lathrop football program took down #1 Soldotna 27-21 under the Friday night lights, becoming just the third team to defeat the mighty Stars in the last 10 seasons.

“History. I am speechless to be honest,” Lathrop quarterback Jarren Littell said after the incredible win.

Littell took a knee to run the clock out on the final play, sending the players, coaches and fans into an excitable, emotional frenzy.

“It is like investing four years into something, getting it all ready and then it all just comes out and that’s why you cry,” said senior linebacker James Opp. “It’s crazy, it’s a lot.”

Soldotna, a program that has won the last eight Alaska State Football Championships at the medium-school level, was riding a 22-game win streak heading into Friday with their most recent losses coming against West Anchorage in 2018 and Palmer in 2012.

“It is something special, to see teenage boys crying with emotion,” said head coach Luke Balash. “They were a part of something special, bigger than themselves and that is a big deal. I am just glad they got to be a part of it.”

The matchup between the two programs was the first since the 2019 Division II State Championship game, when the Stars clobbered the Malemutes 69-23 for their eighth straight title.

Friday, it was Lathrop overpowering the powerhouse that is Soldotna Football.

The ball bounced in Lathrop’s favor early, as the very first play from scrimmage was a Soldotna fumble that was pounced on by Payton George. The Malemutes took advantage of the excellent field position, as senior running back Tyler Clooten punched it in from the goal line to put the Purple and Gold on the board in under three minutes of gameplay.

On the Stars’ next possession, Gehret Medcoff flipped the field with a 50+ yard gain that was capitalized by Zac Buckbee’s plunge from the 1-yard line to tie the game 7-7.

After Opp came up with a huge fourth down sack to give the ball back to Lathrop, Clooten bullied is way 10 yards to paydirt to give the ‘Mutes a one score lead.

But, Soldotna continued to do Soldotna things, using only one play to go 80-yards for a Medcoff touchdown. A missed extra point made it a 14-13 contest and everyone at Lathrop High knew they were going to be in for a good one between the number one and number two teams in DII.

Looking for some breathing room on the scoreboard before the half, Littell called his own number for a rushing score before the XP was blocked to make it 20-13 heading into the locker rooms.

The Malamutes carried that momentum into their first possession of the second half, when Littell found Elijah Deans in the flat, taking it 30 yards the rest of the way down the sideline to give Lathrop its largest lead at 27-13 following the Littell XP. The defense on both sides begin to anchor down, a fourth down stops and a couple fumbles made an appearance during the moderate rain in the second half.

With the precipitation persisting, Soldotna’s Wayne Mellon slipped his way in for six with 4:13 remaining in the game and after a successful two-point conversion, the Stars were right back in it trailing just one score.

Things nearly took a fatal turn for the Malemutes when a mishandled snap was jumped on by the Stars, giving them the possession with enough time remaining to tie or take the late lead. On fourth and long, Soldotna was able to connect on a pass, but a diving catch stopped any forward progress, coming up just short of the first down marker to hand the ball back to Lathrop.

But, the Malemtues still needed a first down to ensure victory. Littell weaved his way for an eight yard gain on third down to allow Lathrop to run the clock out and begin the celebration.

Naturally, Lathrop jumped to the number one spot in the latest Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network DII/DIII Poll, while Soldotna was bumped out of the top five all together for the first time in the poll’s 21-year history.

After taking down a number one program, Lathrop will look to pull off some magic two weeks in a row, visiting the East Anchorage Thunderbirds, who are ranked number one in the Division I landscape. It will be the first time since 2016 that two No. 1 teams will meet when they square off at 7 p.m. Friday in Anchorage.

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