Homer and Soldotna meet 2 p.m. Saturday in a rematch of last season’s medium-schools state championship game, but much has changed since the Stars thumped the Mariners 62-20 for the crown.
Homer lost a bunch of key players on the line and head coach Camron Wyatt. New coach Josh Fraley adjusted to the change in personnel by installing a new offense that ditched Homer’s heavy rushing attack.
So fans won’t see the Mariners vs. Stars rushing slugfest to which they have become accustomed in the past few years.
“They are certainly not the same team as last year, and neither are we,” said Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr., whose team is 5-0 overall and 2-0 in the Northern Lights Conference. “They went through a coaching change, they’re running the spread offense and they are throwing the ball all over the field.
“They present different challenges.”
Brantley Jr. said the Mariners (1-2, 2-3) showed signs of getting the new attack down last week by hanging with Palmer in the first half of a loss. The Moose led 13-0 at half before winning 48-0.
Fraley said the problem is Homer came out of the game with the deeper Moose with injuries. Palmer had 63 players, while Homer suited 21.
“We’re trying to figure things out,” Fraley said. “We had to do a lot of shuffling due to injuries.”
Fraley said none of his starting wide receivers will be available. He said three linemen also will be out.
While Homer’s offensive philosophy has changed from last year, Soldotna’s has not.
“We’re going to be running the football, chewing up the clock, and they’re going to try and score quickly,” Brantley Jr. said.
The coach said his squad played its best game of the year Saturday in a 63-0 win against Kodiak, and he would like to see the arrow continue to point up with the playoffs approaching. With an average margin of victory at 45.6 points, that’s a scary prospect for foes.
The offensive stars for Soldotna this year have been Colton Young and Drew Gibbs. Gibbs is second on the Peninsula in rushing with 618 yards and 10 touchdowns on 39 attempts. Young has rushed 30 times for 311 yards and 11 touchdowns, while also hitting 20 of his 40 passes for 547 yards, nine touchdowns and an interception. But Brantley Jr. was quick to pay tribute to the linemen.
“Up front, those guys have done an awesome job all year, on both sides of the ball,” Brantley Jr. said. “They’ve been the strength of the team.”
The coach particularly pointed to Daniel Rosin, Bryan Dombov and Dylan Smith. All play on offense and defense, all saw playing time on the 2012 title team, and all are seniors that will be honored as a part of senior night Saturday.
Fraley said the last time his team topped the Stars was in 2002. He is hoping the Mariners’ defense is able to slow Soldotna down enough for the upset. He said the defense is led by sophomores Hunter Harris and Zach McKenna, who are in the top 10 in the state in tackles.
“They got that running game down to a science,” Fraley said. “They have four guys that could touch the ball on any play. Those four guys all have to hit the ground on every play.”
at Skyview, 2 p.m. Saturday
Running back Jace Daniels returns for a Kardinals team that, according to assistant coach Jim Beeson, is looking to break from a midseason lull.
That midseason lull happens to coincide with the departure of Daniels, who still leads the Peninsula with 919 yards and 15 touchdowns on 72 carries, from the Kodiak game with an injury. The Kards (3-0, 5-0) led the Bears 22-7 at halftime, but with Daniels out Kodiak came back and lost 22-21.
Kenai then topped Houston 44-0 last week.
“Last week, the score looked like we played a lot better, but when you look at the film, that wasn’t the case,” Beeson said. “We want to get back on a positive track and grade on film a lot better.”
Beeson said, to his knowledge, the Kards have only lost one game to Skyview (0-2, 1-3). Todd Syverson, the former Skyview football coach and current principal at Soldotna, said that was also his recollection.
The end of the rivalry did provide a quick trip down memory lane. Syverson wrote in an email that Sarge Truesdell, the current principal at Soldotna Middle School, was the starting quarterback for Skyview for the first four years after the school opened in 1990.
In 1992, Truesdell led the Panthers down the field for a potential winning touchdown in the final seconds, but the score was called back due to a chin-strap violation on Truesdell, giving Kenai the win.
In 1993, Syverson wrote Skyview scored late on a hook-and-ladder play to top the Kardinals. Jason Daniels, the father of Kenai star Jace Daniels, caught the pass and relayed it to Phil Hart for the winning touchdown.
That put Kenai, Soldotna and Skyview into a three-way tie for the conference championship. According to Syverson, Matt Streiff and Jeff Baker, who have kids playing for Kenai, also were on that Skyview team.
But Kenai’s successful history doesn’t mean the Kards are looking past the Panthers.
“Their kids show up and play hard all the time,” Beeson said. “When that happens, anything can happen.”
Although the Kards continue to practice throwing the football every day, Beeson said they will run unless they absolutely have to pass. Kenai quarterback TJ Wagoner has attempted just seven passes this season.
He said it speaks volumes for offensive linemen like Chris Lawson, John Engen, Nathan Narlock and Zack Koziczkowski that the Kards are able to do that.
While Engen returns from a hunting trip, lineman Kyle Hunter will be out with a bad knee. Beeson said backup tight end and defensive lineman Nathan Zorbas will be a game-time decision.
Seward at Valdez, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Seahawks travel to Valdez for a matchup of two squads that have not recorded a victory.
Both teams are 0-4 in the conference and 0-5 overall.