Nikiski, Seward open up conference play

Posted: Friday, August 15, 2003

The Great Land Conference wastes no time getting into important games, with Nikiski traveling to Eielson and Seward playing host to Houston in just the second week of the season.

In years past, Great Land squads had to fit five conference games into an eight-game schedule. This meant they could schedule nonconference games early in the season to iron out kinks before conference play started.

But this year, with the addition of Eielson and Valdez, teams are now stuffing seven conference games into an eight-game schedule.

The Bulldogs, who defeated nonconference foe Homer last week, open their conference schedule Saturday at noon at Eielson.

Coach Ned Clooten, whose team is looking to get back in the playoffs this season, knows the importance of the Eielson game even though it's early in the season.

"I think we're ready, but there's no underestimating the power of Eielson," Clooten said. "We're definitely starting our conference schedule against one of the best teams in the conference.

"It'll be an important game, but it won't be a do-or-die game."

Clooten said the team had a good week of practice offensively. He said quarterback Travis McGahan, running back Billy Anderson and receiver Jeremiah Taylor all must have big games against the Ravens.

Clooten said another factor will be the long bus ride up to Fairbanks.

"I think that's something that will be underestimated by teams," Clooten said. "It's hard traveling all the way up to Eielson, staying overnight in a wrestling room, then waking up and playing football the next day."

Seward will have the home-field advantage against Houston, facing off at 4:30 p.m. today. Both the Seahawks and the Hawks represented the Great Land in the playoffs last year.

But while Houston returns some experience from that team, the Seahawks don't return much experience from their playoff team.

"They weren't too kind to us schedulewise," Seward coach Cliff Draper said. "In the first two weeks of the season, we've usually got ineligible players because they are just getting back from their summer jobs.

"It's difficult for us to put together any kind of a nucleus at this time. The last seven years, we've usually played Houston near the end of the season."

Draper did emphasize the Seahawks would give it a battle.

"We have a lot of pride," Draper said. "Our motto is we may get outplayed, but we're never going to get out-hit."

Soldotna at Colony, 7 p.m. today

Both the Stars and the Knights will be looking for their first wins of the year. Colony absorbed a 28-17 loss last week to East, while the Stars lost 52-0 at North Pole.

Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell said things were going OK against the Patriots until his team was hit by injuries. By the end of the game, starting backfield players Dan Ghormley, Neil Gardner and Garrett Gardner were all on the sidelines nursing injuries.

"They're three of our best athletes on special teams," Truesdell said. "I had to use three timeouts in the second half because three times in a row we only had 10 people out for a special teams play."

Like most small-schools teams, the Stars don't have a ton of depth. Truesdell said losing three key players, especially in the first game of the season, made things fall apart defensively, as well.

The Gardners are expected back this week, while Ghormley will not play due to a knee injury.

Although the game is nonconference, Truesdell said the Stars still think a victory is important.

"We're too competitive as coaches and kids to think that games don't matter," Truesdell said. "Every time you step on the field, it matters.

"But, we also realize the first game that counts in the conference standings is at the end of the month against Skyview."

Kenai at Lathrop, 5 p.m. Saturday

The Kardinals lost to West the first week of the season, while Lathrop scored an impressive 31-12 victory over Chugiak.

"It doesn't get much easier for us," Kenai coach Jim Beeson said. "Athletically, if there is a better team in the state (than Lathrop), I hope we don't have them on our schedule."

The Kards will get a boost this week from junior Dakota Craig, who missed the first game of the season. Craig will be the Kards' main running back this year, and he also is a three-year starter at linebacker.

Beeson said Lathrop can throw out a number of different looks offensively, spreading the field or playing power football should rain start to fall from the sky.

On offense, the Kardinals will do all they can to keep the ball out of Lathrop's hands.

"We're going to take 25 seconds before every play and try to shorten the game," Beeson said. "Hopefully, we'll get a break or two."

The Kardinals go into the game without injuries.

"Our goal is to improve on the things we've been doing, not get anyone hurt and play a competitive football game," Beeson said.

North Pole at Skyview, 2 p.m.

With the Patriots smacking Soldotna last week 51-0, the Panthers have a huge task ahead of them.

"We saw parts of that film," said Skyview coach Ty Salness, whose team is coming off a victory over Seward. "North Pole's huge. They have a 320- and a 285-pound guy up front.

"Their linebackers are big, too."

Running back Perry Monzulla had a big game against Soldotna, getting 188 yards on 10 carries, including touchdown runs of 30, 42 and 66 yards.

"We're going to try and get the ball in the air, and see if we can get the passing game going," Salness said. "We'll see if we can set up the run game after that.

"SoHi wasn't able to run the ball that well. They have some monsters. We don't have anybody that big."

Kaleb Shields and Tyler Wehrli will platoon at quarterback.

ACS at Homer, 6 p.m. today

Both teams will be looking for their first wins of the season. The Mariners are coming off a loss to Nikiski, while the Lions are coming off of an overtime loss to Kodiak.

Homer will be looking to make fewer mistakes than it did in the 33-0 loss to the Bulldogs. The Mariners fumbled eight times, threw three interceptions and amassed nine penalties for 75 yards in the loss.

Homer coach Kelly Blake said the loss did not sink his team. After the game, he asked his team if they were willing to continue to do whatever it takes to make things work.

"I got a positive response from every single one of them," Blake said. "I like that these guys are willing to step up and get the job done."

Sean Pearson, a special contributor to the Homer News, contributed to this story.

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