It’s time to get down to business in the Northern Lights Conference.
None of the four Kenai Peninsula teams in the NLC have played a conference game yet. That changes tonight, when Soldotna travels to Skyview to renew acquaintances with its rival at 6:30 p.m.
Saturday, Homer journeys to Kenai for a 2 p.m. tilt that reprises the medium-schools state championship from a year ago.
The Panthers (0-2 overall) will be looking for the program’s second victory against the Stars (1-1). To pull it off, Skyview will have to overcome injuries and a SoHi squad coming off a 70-0 rout of Ketchikan.
Panthers coach Eric Pomerleau said his squad will be without top running back Brandon Rice and could be forced to play another game with third-string quarterback DJ Collier. Starting middle linebacker and guard Marcus Thornburgh also will be out.
SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said he lost a two-way starter to injury before the season, but other than that the squad is healthy.
Brantley Jr. said his team must not overlook Skyview. Facing the same injury problems, Skyview trailed 14-7 at the half before losing 34-7 to Nikiski.
“Our expectation is it’s a rivalry game, and their kids are going to come in fired up,” Brantley Jr. said. “You can throw all the other things out of the window. We expect a competitive football game.”
Against Nikiski, Skyview’s offense had trouble holding the ball, but the defense made Nikiski work for points.
“I thought our defense played better, they were just on the field a long, long time,” Pomerleau said. “They’re making fewer and fewer mistakes. I’d like to see that growth going into this game, as well.”
In a season-opening loss to Palmer, SoHi had trouble finishing long drives. The Stars weren’t forced to execute long drives against the Kings, so the Panthers should be a test.
“If we get back into a rut where we’re making mistakes, that’s how it becomes a tight ballgame,” Brantley Jr. said.
The coach also said Skyview showed it can move the ball, even with a third-string quarterback. Receiver Tim Duke had three acrobatic catches for 96 yards.
“They have that dimension where they can go the length of the field on any play,” Brantley Jr. said. “It’s something we’ve been working on all week.”
Homer at Kenai,
2 p.m. Saturday
The Kards topped the Mariners 26-24 in the medium-schools title game last year, avenging a regular-season loss.
Both teams lost a lot of players from that game, but Homer coach Camron Wyatt said the players know what is at stake.
“As a coaching staff, we’re looking at it as an entirely different game,” Wyatt said. “The kids want to go out and beat them. They’re competitive. They see it as a grudge match.”
The squads have taken different paths to this game. Homer lost to Eielson in Week 1, then had a bye in Week 2. Kenai lost physical matches to East in Week 1 and Colony in Week 2.
“We’re definitely ready,” Kenai coach John Marquez said. “We won’t play anyone more physical than when we played East.
“We’re ready for Homer. It’s a conference game, a rival game. It’s going to be knockdown, drag-out.”
The Kards lost Ethan Oliver for the season against the Knights due to a broken leg. Other than that, Kenai is healthy, with running back and linebacker Grayden Mendenhall recovered from an ankle injury.
The Kenai defense has allowed more passing yards than rushing yards this year, but that figures to change against Homer.
“They have the ability to grind out 3 or 4 yards at a pop,” Marquez said. “They get behind that offensive line, and trying to stop them is tough.”
Marquez said his squad will try to do the same thing, using the running game to control the clock. He said getting up early on Homer is key.
Wyatt said Homer wants to be a program, like Kenai and Soldotna, that makes the playoffs every year. The Mariners have gone to the playoffs the last three years.
“This is our chance to see if we’re really just talking, or if we can walk the talk,” Wyatt said.
He said the team must play better defensively to stay with Kenai.
“In Eielson, we were bumping into people like we were in the NBA,” he said. “We had to do some soul searching. This is a contact sport, and we have to play it like it’s a contact sport.”
Marquez said Duncan Brewer still has not left the field even though he is a lineman. He added that he is happy with the potential sophomore Kyle Foree and freshman Michael Tilly showed at running back against Colony.
Nikiski at Houston,
7 p.m. today
The Bulldogs (1-1 overall) continue to prepare for Greatland Conference play when they travel to Houston for a nonconference affair.
“We’ll have play three good opponents before we start conference, so that works out nice,” Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said after a 34-7 Week 2 victory over Skyview.
The Bulldogs offense was humming against the Panthers. Nikiski put together long scoring drives of 80, 80 and 97 yards.
Nikiski had enough variety in the attack that Skyview could never focus on stopping a few players, or a few plays.
Stephen Hartley now leads all Peninsula rushers with 393 yards and seven touchdowns, while Christian Riddall is second with 189 yards. Tristin Apted is fourth with 137 yards, and also leads the Peninsula in receptions with eight for 67 yards.
Seward at Thunder
Mountain JV, 5 p.m. today
The Seahawks (0-1 GLC, 0-2 overall) look for their first win of the season in a nonconference contest in Southeast Alaska.