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Week 3 football preview: SoHi ready to open new turf field

Posted: August 28, 2014 - 11:03pm  |  Updated: August 29, 2014 - 1:46am

The current prep football standings may look a bit jumbled with the assortment of conference and nonconference matchups scattered across the first two weeks. But soon, the cream will rise to the top.

The Kodiak Bears lead the Northern Lights Conference after fending off Homer to win their home opener last Saturday, and Soldotna and Kenai Central sit in the middle of the standings with zeros still on their conference record.

This weekend, Kenai will begin its Northern Lights Conference schedule with a Saturday game against Kodiak, while Soldotna will play its third-straight nonconference contest to start the year (although Thunder Mountain is at least sorted into the medium-schools division). Homer will see its second small-schools opponent in three weeks with a long road trip up to Barrow.

In small-schools play, Barrow leads the Greatland Conference standings with two wins, both conference matchups. Eielson is right behind Barrow with one Greatland win, while Valdez has split its season schedule thus far to sit third in the standings. Nikiski is 2-0 overall, but has not yet played a conference game, and behind the Bulldogs are Seward, Voznesenka and Monroe, all teams that have one Greatland loss on their record.

After this weekend, all the Greatland teams will have played at least one conference game, so the standings are sure to receive a shakeup.

Thunder Mountain at Soldotna, 2 p.m. Saturday

After two weeks on the road, the Stars return to play their first home game of the season, and will do so on the new turf at Justin Maile Field. A rededication ceremony will be held prior to kickoff against the Thunder Mountain Falcons, a medium-schools opponent from the Southeast Conference.

“We’re excited to finally get the community in on it,” said SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr.

The Soldotna football team is familiar with the new field with all the practices they’ve had on it, but now it will see real competition for the first time.

The Stars will continue the trend of playing nonconference opponents, and Thunder Mountain continues its trend of facing Peninsula opponents. The Falcons were beaten 42-19 in week 1 by Nikiski, but rebounded with a 54-7 pummeling of Sitka last Saturday.

“Even though they’ve stumbled out of the box, they’re not without talent,” Brantley Jr. said. “They’re capable of moving the ball, and the challenge will be on our defense.”

No doubt, the SoHi defense will need to brace itself for the hulking frame of Thunder Mountain junior Tevita Maka, who managed to put 137 rushing yards on Nikiski two weeks ago.

“We’re gonna have to gang tackle and tackle well,” Brantley Jr. said. “We do what we kind of always do, we spent the week focusing on corrections, tightening things up, dialing it in.”

Even after SoHi took large-schools opponent Palmer to school last Saturday in a 33-0 win, coach Brantley Jr. still believes there are things to fix and tweak on the Stars defense, which should have other schools shaking in their cleats.

“We are not anywhere we wanna be on an execution standpoint,” he said. “But to the kids’ credit, they’re not complacent. They can make the changes.”

Brantley Jr. commended the efforts of inside linebackers Austin Crowder and Drew Fowler in the win against Palmer, two players that will be crucial in stopping the ground game that Thunder Mountain uses.

The SoHi offense looks to be running smoothly early in the season, with a total of 725 rushing yards split between two games.

“We want to perform well in front of our home crowd,” Brantley Jr. said. “We haven’t been home yet and the folks haven’t seen us yet. We can’t wait.”

Kodiak at Kenai, 3 p.m. Saturday

An 0-2 start to the season is not what Kenai Central coach John Marquez envisioned. Perhaps a fresh start will help the Kards.

Kenai begins its Northern Lights Conference schedule in Week 3 with a matchup against Kodiak. The Bears come in with a 1-1 record, after a blowout loss to Chugiak and a close win against Homer thus far.

“Breaking it down, I think it’ll be like it has been the last three years or so,” Marquez said. “When we play each other, they come swinging for the fences, and so do we.”

The Kardinals and Bears met twice last year; Kenai edged Kodiak 22-21 in Week 4 (a game decided by a failed extra-point attempt), then routed them 47-6 in the medium-schools state quarterfinals.

Kenai’s trip up to Fairbanks last weekend proved that the Kards can compete with the big boys if things go right. The only problem was things went almost right.

The Kards ended the first half with a fourth-down stop against Lathrop on what Marquez called the “inches line,” and the game stayed scoreless up until the first play of the fourth quarter, when Chase Logan scored on a long touchdown run.

“I could not be any prouder of our team,” Marquez said. “The way they played against Lathrop. That’s a very good team, very physical, and you talk about adversity on the defense side of the ball. My boys deserved to win that game.”

Unfortunately for Kenai, 66 seconds after the Logan touchdown, the Malamutes responded with a touchdown of their own that put them ahead 7-6, and that decided the game. Marquez also added that a missed PAT attempt by Kenai was his to blame, saying kicker Josh Jackman was out with a concussion, and therefore a two-point conversion would have been a more ideal option.

“We were dashing them on that drive,” Marquez said. “We know 100 percent that we lost a game that we should’ve won, but it was a large school we were playing, and we know we can play with anybody.”

Kenai’s offense has had success. Logan leads Peninsula athletes with 252 rushing yards after two games, and teammate Kyle Foree has backed that up with 131 rushing yards of his own.

Marquez also stayed jubilant after the “high-tempo” practice the team had on Wednesday, and said the rough start to the season has only motivated his squad further.

“Yes there is added pressure, but we’re going into it like we did with an 0-1 record, or 0-0,” Marquez said. “We go into every game knowing that we can win if we can execute.”

Against Kodiak, the Kards will be facing a much bigger ground threat, a contrast to the passing attack that Lathrop features. Kenai’s defense has allowed a mere 215 rushing yard in two games this year, which is ranked the best among Peninsula teams.

“That’s our forte (on defense),” Marquez said. “Come at us, we’ll hit you in the teeth.”

Nikiski at Monroe, 1 p.m. Saturday

A state championship rematch with the Monroe Catholic Rams is on the line Saturday in Fairbanks, and if things go right for Nikiski coach Ted Riddall’s squad, the chance of retaining their heavyweight title belt is good.

The last time these two teams met was Oct. 19, 2013, when Nikiski rallied back from a first-half deficit to claim the state small-schools title in a thrilling 36-28 battle.

“It’s kind of easy to say last year was last year, but they got us early in the year and basically cost us a conference championship,” Riddall said. “We definitely can’t be looking past those kids, they know how to win.”

When Nikiski and Monroe met in the state title game, the Rams only suited up around 15 players, impressive for a team in the hunt for a state crown.

The Rams are tending to wounds suffered (figuratively) in last weekend’s 56-6 loss to Barrow. But Riddall knows better than to only look at the numbers.

“If you’ve been up in Barrow, you know things can go south on you pretty quickly,” Riddall said. “That doesn’t tell the story. With turnovers and such, that’s a problem for anyone.”

Riddall said the key factor against this year’s Monroe team will be containing the outside threats, and with a hefty running back, it may not come easy.

“I’ve been preaching to our kids to be ready,” he said. “We’ve been working on sustaining blocks, the linemen getting initial contact and actually holding the blocks.”

Christian Riddall did not play last week in a 16-6 win over Houston due to a minor leg injury suffered against Thunder Mountain in week 1, and coach Riddall said he hopes to get him time this week with a crucial conference match on the line. Riddall compiled 141 rushing yards in Week 1.

Homer at Barrow, 2 p.m. Saturday

After weathering a daunting ferry ride to Kodiak last weekend, the Mariners nearly pulled off a first in school history — winning a “ferry ride” game, according to Homer coach Josh Fraley.

“We almost did it last week,” Fraley said. “We were a few fumbles away from it.”

Homer lost to Kodiak 22-20 in rainy and windy conditions Saturday, a game which Homer turned the ball over three times within 10 yards of the Kodiak end zone. Afterward, the Mariners caught a 20-hour ferry ride back to Whittier, before carpooling back to Homer.

“It was kind of rough,” Fraley said. “But I was pleased with what I saw on the field, I thought we were vastly improved compared to Eielson.”

Homer lost to Eielson 41-16 in Week 1, but Fraley said the loss to Kodiak had him feeling optimistic, even if the score wasn’t the desired result.

“The tackling was really good, (quarterback) Sheldon (Hutt) did really well with the ball, he had no interceptions,” Fraley said. “Our backs and our line started gaining that cohesiveness that you look for.

“The weather was horrendous, we couldn’t kick, the wind was blowing, rain was coming down and it was really tough on special teams. We only threw the ball like six times, instead of the usual twenty or so.”

Hutt leads all Peninsula teams with 148 passing yards, and with the 134 rushing yards that Josh Fisk has, a multiheaded threat has emerged for Homer.

Fortunately for Homer, which is trying to avoid the kind of loss it received from small-schools opponent Eielson in Week 1, Barrow features a road trip similar in length to Kodiak, meaning the home team may not have the advantage they think. The Whalers did beat Monroe last week 56-6, but Fraley has a long history of coaching, and has seen the kind of teams Barrow has put together over the years.

“I’ve been in Homer twelve years coaching, and I kinda have the luxury of knowing their team,” he said. “Getting their game film is hard, they don’t always come to the annual coaches meeting, so it may be a big question mark for other teams.”

Seward at Ketchikan, noon Friday

The Seahawks are venturing outside of the Greatland Conference for a date with the Kings, a medium-schools opponent.

Ketchikan is tied for second in the Southeast Conference, which is led by North Pole. The Kings topped Monroe 51-12 in Week 1 and lost to North Pole 45-26 last weekend, effectively marking them as a tough team.

Seward is also 1-1 overall this year, beating Houston 14-7 in Week 1 but getting shut out by Eielson last week 51-0 in a Greatland Conference contest.

Voznesenka at Eielson, 10 a.m. Saturday

The Cougars are coming off their first game of the season after coach Justin Zank decided to skip the first week in order to be better prepared for the year. Voznesenka opened with a 44-8 loss to Valdez, leaving the Cougars near the bottom of the Greatland Conference standings.

Voznesenka was playing with six freshman on defense and seven on offense, leaving Zank to rely heavily on running back Kiril Sanarov and quarterback Gavril Kalugin.

“It definitely showed,” Zank said on Saturday. “That and the travel wore on us, I think.”

Eielson is soaring high after a 51-0 win over Seward left them near the top of the Greatland standings with a 1-0 record (2-0 overall). Barrow leads with a 2-0 conference mark.

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