Soldotna and Homer will take their momentum and collide at Skyview High School on Saturday in a pivotal Northern Lights Conference game.
The Stars (1-0, 2-1) are coming off of a 73-7 victory over Skyview, while Homer just avenged a loss to Kenai in the medium-schools state title game by topping the Kards 20-0.
The reason the teams are meeting at Skyview is because there is a new track being built around Homer’s field. The junior varsity game starts at noon, while the varsity contest is at 3 p.m.
“We know we have a really physical opponent coming off of a very important win,” Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “It’s difficult having these important matchups early in the season.
“This has a lot of importance from a playoff standpoint. Only three teams get in, and four have a real legitimate chance of getting into the playoffs.”
Last week, Soldotna’s offense was an unstoppable force, with the Stars notching 48 points in the first quarter. Homer’s defense? An immovable object, as not even three lost fumbles in the first half let the Kards get a point on the board.
“Homer graduated their entire backfield, but they’ve got four of their five starting linemen back,” Brantley Jr. said. “They’re good, very good.
“It’s difficult running the ball on them, as Kenai found.”
SoHi’s fake-heavy offense causes confusion for defenses, but the Mariners probably know the Stars as well as anybody. They have played at offseason camps as well as the preseason jamboree.
“When Galen gets his kids clicking like that, it’s very difficult,” Homer coach Camron Wyatt said. “We have to school our kids up to get them to find the ball and do it right.”
Kenai Central coach John Marquez said the Kards ran into trouble against the Mariners because once Homer stacked the box to stop the run, the Kards were not able to pass.
Homer will have no such luxury against Soldotna. Noah Fowler is 11 of 16 with three touchdown passes and 221 yards. But Brantley Jr. said that doesn’t mean SoHi will be able to get away with not rushing the ball.
“We don’t have to sit there and bang with them,” he said. “We can spread out and throw if we have to, but we’re at our best when we’re a little more balanced.”
Wyatt said inexperience led to the lost fumbles last week. He knows the offense will have to be more fine-tuned this week.
“SoHi is going to score,” Wyatt said. “It’s a matter of what you do after they score, and how they score.”
Wyatt said his team must answer SoHi scores with sustained drives. He also said Homer must make the Stars earn every yard they get, and not allow them to rip off huge plays as they did against Skyview.
“I know how Galen prepares his kids and he knows how I prepare my kids,” Wyatt said. “This week is going to be really exciting for everybody. It will be a great test to see where we are at.”
Nikiski at Seward, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Bulldogs finally get into Greatland Conference play after three nonconference games.
Small-schools Nikiski played up at least a division in all three of its nonconference games, and the Bulldogs acquitted themselves well, going 2-1.
“We try to pick some teams that will challenge us, and make us play at their level,” Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said.
Led by running back Stephen Hartley, nobody has been able to slow down Nikiski on offense. Hartley leads the Peninsula with 681 yards rushing on 88 attempts. He also leads the area in scoring with 84 points.
Riddall said the Bulldogs also have been getting great leadership from senior lineman Lincoln Johnson.
On defense, Riddall said the squad can make some improvements.
“On defense, we have to work on controlling the gaps, being a little more physical and the defensive backs need to work on playing the ball in the air,” Riddall said.
Seward, which is 0-1 in the league, got its first victory of the season last week against Thunder Mountain’s junior varsity.
“Seward is always a scrappy team,” Riddall said. “It seems like they play their best when they play against us.
“We’re definitely not going to look past anybody. We’re treating this like it’s the conference championship.”
Skyview at Houston,
6:30 p.m. Friday
It may only be Week 4, but for these two 0-1 Northern Lights Conference squads, this is already a very important game.
“We’ve got to go up there and perform,” Skyview coach Eric Pomerleau said. “Our season is not yet determined by any means. A loss up there this week would definitely cause some issues down the road with playing in the playoffs.”
Skyview is 0-3 overall, while Houston is 1-2. The Panthers lost to Nikiski 34-7 in Week 2, while Houston lost to the Bulldogs 49-25 in Week 3.
“I think they’re much-improved from last year,” Pomerleau said of the Hawks. “We’ll have to play well to be successful. Any conference game is tough.”
In a 73-7 loss to Soldotna on Friday, Skyview’s offense continued to have trouble creating consistent, sustained drives.
“We made a few changes to help address that,” Pomerleau said. “Hopefully, they’ll work out very well this week.”
The Panthers remain a little banged up. Marcus Thornburgh will return from injury at guard and offensive lineman. Also, running back DJ Tourtelot will return after leaving the Soldotna game with an elbow injury. Bailey Jones also will be available for more than just kicking duty.
The bad news is sophomore Justin West is 50-50 with a knee problem.
“I think we had a good week of practice,” Pomerleau said. “The kids will be ready to go. We’ll be a little healthier now in the places we have to be.”
Kenai Central at North Pole, 1 p.m. Saturday
The 0-3 Kardinals travel to North Pole for a nonconference tilt against the 3-0 Patriots.
Kardinals coach John Marquez said it wasn’t easy getting over a 20-0 loss to Homer on Saturday as the Mariners gained revenge in a rematch of the medium-schools state title game.
“We had a great week of practice,” Marquez said. “I thought we had a great game plan. Homer played a great game.
“We have to fix ourselves and get a game plan for what we are going to be doing the rest of the year.”
The Kardinals have experience doing just that. Kenai finished 6-4 in winning the state title last year, and some senior Kardinals got a reminder of that this week from graduate AJ Hull, who led that title run.
“He talked to some of the kids and said, ‘Look, guys. Remember where we were last year. We were a 6-4 state championship team,’” Marquez said.
Marquez said his team’s biggest weakness right now is the Kards are not sustaining drives. He said changes have been made on the offensive line. Also, Grayden Mendenhall will be a true lead back, while Kenai will look to use the speed of Jason Daniels more.
The Kards will have to hold the ball if they want to have a shot against the Patriots. Marquez said North Pole returns a quarterback and two receivers that starred in a 52-29 victory over Kenai last season.