After teams from the medium-schools Northern Lights Conference went 4-0 against the small-schools Greatland Conference in Week 1, Kenai Peninsula football teams take on the big schools and enter conference play this week.
Soldotna, Kenai and Nikiski all have dates with big schools. The Stars host Colony at 6:30 p.m. today, the Kards travel to Wasilla at 7 p.m. today and the Bulldogs host Lathrop at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Skyview and Homer jump into NLC play. The Panthers host Houston at 6:30 p.m. today, while Homer welcomes Kodiak at 3 p.m. Saturday.
In the Greatland, Seward travels to Monroe Catholic at 6 p.m. Saturday, while Voznesenka makes its varsity debut in Barrow at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Colony vs. Soldotna
The Stars will have to figure out a way to slow down Colony’s dynamic receiving duo of seniors Antonio Bush and Daniel Bilafer.
Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said both are about 6-foot-4, 200 pounds. Bush set the school record for receiving yards last year with 851, while Bilafer had 61 catches to also set a school record.
No other duo in state history has had more catches in a season than the 117 Bush and Bilafer totaled in 2012. Bilafer led the state in catches, while Bush was second.
“They are a pretty formidable challenge,” Brantley Jr. said.
Bryce Niver, the team’s leading rusher last year, is the new quarterback this year.
Of course, the Knights have to find out a way to slow down the Stars, too. Colony lost its opener 52-21 to Service, while SoHi pounded Eielson 55-19.
Colton Young proved a quick study at quarterback, scoring four touchdowns and compiling 248 yards of total offense.
Drew Gibbs rushed for 148 yards and two scores, while Tyler Howell had five catches for 132 yards.
“Without question, our best defense is to make sure their offense is not on the field,” Brantley Jr. said. “If we can eat up the clock with 12- or 14-play drives, and keep those receivers on the sideline, it will help our cause.”
Kenai vs. Wasilla
The Kards also will seek to keep momentum going against a big school.
The Warriors defeated West 24-14 in Week 1, with Cash McGregor picking off five passes, including two in the end zone.
The odds are stacked against a repeat performance, because Kenai quarterback TJ Wagoner attempted just one pass in a 51-16 Week 1 win against Nikiski.
Jace Daniels rushed for a school-record 480 yards and seven touchdowns to negate the need for a passing game.
“Wasilla is a lot bigger and a lot more physical, not that Nikiski wasn’t that way,” Beeson said.
Beeson said that in the nonconference game, he’s not necessarily looking for a win, but looking for improvement.
“We had too many stupid penalties,” he said. “We had three personal fouls and countless offside penalties. The defense wasn’t lining up correctly to cover the formation.
“We have to quit having the excuse that it’s the beginning of the year and get it right.”
Nikiski vs. Lathrop
This is a rematch of last season’s 44-41 victory by Lathrop. That was one of just two victories the Malemutes would have all season, but by defeating Dimond 24-6 in Week 1, Lathrop showed it is an improved program.
“We know they are athletic and we know they have a lot of kids back from last year,” Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said. “I can’t remember the last time they beat Dimond. Hats off to them.”
The Bulldogs actually led Kenai at the half before getting blown out in the third quarter. Riddall said he has four or five upperclassmen that are ineligible that he’d love to have on the field, but he is looking at that as an opportunity rather than an excuse.
“We look at it as an opportunity to get in the arena and compete, and find out where we are at,” Riddall said. “It’s an opportunity to get some of our younger players game experience.”
The big area on which Riddall wants to improve is finishing — finishing a game and finishing drives. Riddall said stalled drives in the red zone against the Kardinals were costly.
Houston vs. Skyview
The Panthers open up conference play with the task of slowing down Houston running back Waylon Soptick.
Soptick rushed for 706 yards last year and had 264 yards rushing in a 47-0 victory over Seward.
“They have an exceptional tailback,” Skyview coach Chris Finley said. “I read he rushed for close to 300 yards last week.
“We want to key on him and take him out of the game defensively — the concept that somebody else on the field has to beat us.”
Stats were not yet available for Skyview’s 42-0 victory over Valdez, but Brandon Rice did get the season off to a solid start with two rushing touchdowns and a punt return for a score.
Finley also expects the arm of quarterback Bailey Jones to be more of a factor this week. Jones only got to attempt two passes in the Week 1 victory.
Kodiak vs. Homer
The two traditionally hard-hitting squads make their debut this week.
Voznesenka had to back out of a Week 1 game with Kodiak, but Voznesenka was able to scrimmage with Homer.
Homer coach Josh Fraley said his team won the scrimmage, which featured no special teams, 48-6.
Fraley has coached at Homer for 10 years and takes over for Camron Wyatt, who led the squad to medium-schools state title games the last two years.
Those Homer teams ran behind a big, powerful line, but Fraley said the Mariners lost eight seniors last year, all on the line.
“Otherwise, we were very young,” Fraley said. “We are fortunate most of our skill players are back. We’re built for speed.”
Because the personnel has changed, Fraley will no longer use the single-wing offense.
“He won a lot of games with that offense,” Fraley said of Wyatt. “He always had a large offensive line, and they could ground and pound.
“This year, we’re not built that way.”
Seward vs. Monroe
The Seahawks will be looking to recover from a 42-0 loss to Valdez in Week 1. This will be Monroe’s first game of the season.
Voznesenka vs. Barrow
Voznesenka travels north to make its debut. If the scrimmage against Homer is any indication, Fraley said Voznesenka should be competitive.