High school football fans will get a special “Thursday Night Football” show today at 4 p.m. when the Voznesenka Cougars travel to Nikiski in a Greatland Conference matchup.
Voznesenka will be celebrating a religious holiday starting Friday, which pushed what would normally be a weekend game to its current slot today.
Nikiski (3-0 Greatland Conference) is coming off their third straight win — a 57-6 victory over Valdez — and today’s game provides one last opportunity to score a win before they face defending small-schools champions Eielson and Monroe in the final two weeks of the regular season.
“Obviously we only have three games left and if you look at the reverse part of it, if you lose games, it puts you in a predicament,” said Nikiski coach Ted Riddall. “We’ll be taking care of (today’s) game so we’ll be 4-0 and be in a good spot. We don’t want to be seeded fourth in the playoffs.”
If Nikiski beats Voznesenka, that will leave them with a 4-0 Greatland Conference record and one step away from clinching a playoff spot. If the Bulldogs were to go on and win one more conference game after today, they would play in the postseason.
Voznesenka, the small community near Homer, sports a winning record of 2-1 this season, and last week shut out Seward 28-0 in their first homecoming game.
Voznesenka quarterback Avraam Kalugin had a big game, returning two interceptions for scores, throwing for a touchdown and running for a touchdown. Wide receiver and defensive back Kosta Reutov caught that touchdown, and also had two interceptions.
“Avraam is definitely capable of big plays,” said Voz coach Justin Zank. “He had those two interceptions against Seward that were at least 50 yards out, and on offense, we’ll run a read-option. He can definitely break open some plays, and we’ll probably be looking to get on the outside.”
Zank said the short week doesn’t leave a lot of time for the Cougars to get ready.
“It’s an awful lot to prepare for Nikiski, they’re pretty darn good,” Zank said. “We’re preparing for their offense, I know they run the wing-T, so we’re trying to just be ready on defense. They’re much bigger than us.”
Zank noted that since Nikiski features a size advantage on Voznesenka, the Cougars will be relying on their speed.
Although a short turn-around time for Nikiski may present problems in the short term, it will work to the Bulldogs’ advantage as they prepare for the final two weeks of the regular season.
“It kind of feels like one long road trip, you don’t get that whole day on Friday,” Riddall said. “Since it’s on Thursday, we get one more day to recover.
“It also gives you time to break down more film, one more day of practice, and the recovery time you get to give your kids.”
All the better for guys in the backfield such as Michael Stangel, Jesse Eide and Christian Riddall. All three are versatile backs that perfectly fit the description of a hard-nosed football player. Stangel and Eide both combined for 273 rushing yards and five touchdowns against Valdez.
“We’re not looking at it differently than anyone else, we know they’re a young team, not an established program, but Justin does a good job with those kids,” Riddall said. “They’re hard-hitting kids, and we expect it’ll be a physical game.”