There are some scenarios where Kenai Central or Skyview could still end up in the medium-schools playoffs, but Kardinals coach John Marquez and Skyview coach Eric Pomerleau have other things on their minds.
“We’re not even looking at that,” Marquez said as he got ready to host the Panthers in nonconference action at 2 p.m. Saturday. “We wanted to get a big win against Houston, and the only thing we are focused on now is Skyview on Saturday.”
Ditto for Pomerleau.
“One thing we’ve always done in our program is stick together no matter what,” he said. “We enjoy being with each other and we understand it’s a long journey.
“Our attitude is going to be to work really hard for the seniors and work really hard so the younger kids can get better for years to come.”
Three teams make the medium-schools playoffs out of the Northern Lights Conference. SoHi is in at 4-0 in the league, while Homer and Kodiak control their destinies at 2-1 in the league. Kenai is at 1-2, while Skyview is 0-3.
Both teams were not far from being in better playoff position. Skyview lost in the final minute to Houston, while the Kards lost on the final play of the game to Kodiak.
“If you watch the film, we seem pretty even,” Pomerleau said. “Some of the misfortune they’ve had, we’ve had similar big plays and turnovers go the wrong way.”
Pomerleau said turnovers and critical breakdowns on defense cost Skyview in a 28-14 loss to Homer last week.
“Especially in the first half, it just didn’t seem like we were ready to play,” he said. “It’s on the coaching staff to get the kids ready to play.”
The Panthers get Kyle Zimmerman back from injury, but tight end and safety Tim Duke has a broken hand and Tyler Howell, the Peninsula’s leading receiver, will probably be out with a concussion.
Kenai is riding high following a 33-25 victory over Houston — the Kards’ first win of the season.
The Kards continue to ground and pound, as Jason Daniels had 184 yards and one touchdown and Grayden Mendenhall had 150 yards and three scores.
“It’s tough on the O line,” Marquez said. “They know we’re running on every play, but they just hang in there game in and game out.”
Marquez would like to pass more, and T.J. Wagoner did catch an 11-yard touchdown from Jace Baker against Houston before the weather and field worsened.
“If we can get a dry day, we’ll try and get it in the air more,” Marquez said.
Nikiski at Monroe Catholic,
1 p.m. Saturday
This one will play a pivotal role in determining which team gets to host a first-round playoff game.
Four teams from the Greatland Conference make the small-schools playoffs. The top two finishers in the Greatland host first-round playoff games.
Eielson, at 4-0, is in front in the race to host one playoff game. Monroe, Barrow and Nikiski all sit at 2-1 in the league. The Rams are 3-2 overall, while the Bulldogs are 4-2 overall.
“We’ve told our kids every game at this point is like the state title game,” Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said. “We want to make sure to win out and have the opportunity to host a home playoff game.”
Riddall is not worried about the offense. Stephen Hartley leads the Peninsula with 1,306 rushing yards and 22 touchdowns on the ground. Christian Riddall is second with 486 yards.
“Our running backs have personal goals, and some of them are out there a little ways,” Ted Riddall said. “What we shared with them is the only way they get a chance at those goals is if the five or six guys up front, including the tight end, are doing a great job blocking.”
The big question that will be answered in this game regards Nikiski’s defense. The Bulldogs gave up 57 points in a Week 5 loss to Eielson, while last week Monroe lost to Eielson 65-21.
Ted Riddall said Eielson has some skill players that will test whether the Bulldogs have improved gap control.
“They were leading at one point against Eielson,” Riddall said. “Obviously, you are a high caliber of team if you can do that against Eielson.”
Nikiski will not have center Jesse Cobb in Saturday’s game due to a broken finger.
Soldotna at Wasilla, 7 p.m. tonight
The Stars take a break from a dominant run in the Northern Lights Conference for a nonconference game against the Warriors.
SoHi is 4-0 in the league and 5-1 overall, while Wasilla is 1-5 overall and on a five-game losing streak.
“I think they’ve got a lot of talent,” SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “They’ve lost a lot of close games. They’ve been in a lot of games.”
The Stars will still be missing running back and linebacker Jake Kooly, and lineman Jarrett Urban, due to injury.
Brantley Jr. said the goal in this game is to tune up for the playoffs.
“It’s a good test going into the playoffs, if you stay healthy,” Brantley Jr. said. “We want to go in there and execute against a really talented team and come away healthy.”
SoHi’s defense continues to dominate. In a 41-7 victory over Kodiak, Troy Streiff scored on a fumble recovery on Kodiak’s first play from scrimmage and the Bears turned the ball over on their first four possessions. Brantley Jr. said there hasn’t been a defense that scores with this regularity since he first returned to SoHi in 2002.
He credited the scores to aggressive linebackers and defensive coordinator Phil Leck, who has emphasized not just getting turnovers, but scoring on them.
The flip side of the dominant and scoring defense has meant the Stars don’t quite have their offensive execution up to par yet, due not getting to run a lot of plays because so many teams are getting blown out.
“From an offensive standpoint, we’re still just kind of plugging along,” Brantley Jr. said. “We want to make sure we’re able to block every front under the sun.”
Reid Schmelzenbach had three touchdowns and 140 yards against the Bears. He leads the Stars with 379 yards rushing.
Homer at Kodiak,
This NLC matchup could be described as the battle to avoid Soldotna in the first round of the medium-schools playoffs.
Both Homer and Kodiak come into the game with 2-1 records in the league. Homer is 3-2 overall, while Kodiak is 3-3 overall.
If either team wins out, that team is assured of the second seed in the NLC, meaning that team will face the top seed from the Southeast Conference in the opening round of the playoffs.
The team that loses Saturday could still wrap up the third and final trip to the playoffs with a conference victory in Week 8. But that third seed would have to face the Stars in the opening round. SoHi has beaten Homer 38-8 and Kodiak 41-7.
“Nobody wants to deal with SoHi right now,” Homer coach Camron Wyatt said. “They’re too strong, too fast. They’ve got it rolling. You need time and distance to help you maybe catch up with them.”
The Mariners could be missing some pivotal pieces in the matchup with Kodiak due to injury. Wyatt said Skyview came to play physical football last weekend.
Konstantin Reutov, Quinn Daugharty and Mark McGregor may not play.
McGregor is fourth on the Peninsula in rushing with 393 yards, while Reutov has rushed for 323 yards in four games. Daugharty has scored 22 points this year.
“We’ll get on an airplane, hook up with the 14 or 15 kids we have, and do our darnedest,” Wyatt said.
After getting blown out by SoHi at home, Wyatt knows Kodiak will come back strong. But he said even if Homer has to use some younger players, the Mariners will be ready.
“I’ve coached for 22 years and I’ve never been involved in a program that has so much want and drive,” Wyatt said.
Seward at Valdez, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Seahawks travel to Valdez for a matchup between the last two teams in the Greatland Conference without a victory. The Seahawks are 0-3 in the league, while Valdez in 0-4.
Both teams have a nonconference victory this season. Seward defeated Thunder Mountain’s JV, while Valdez topped Ketchikan.