It's only Week 2 of the high school football season, one-quarter of the way toward being complete.
But as always, some games still hold more meaning than others.
One, in particular, could decide whether either team is playing come October.
"That's the nice thing about our conference, is even though it's only the second week of season, you only get eight. So, every game is almost like a playoff situation," said Homer coach Camron Wyatt as his team prepares to host state runner-up Kodiak at 2 p.m. on Saturday. "This game is going to be real pivotal because it's a conference game early in the season. You've got to beat one of top-dog teams in our bracket in order to have any kind of chance to get into the postseason."
The Mariners view Saturday's showdown as a must-win situation.
Coming off an impressive 36-0 season-opening victory at Seward last week, Homer is looking to avenge an equally-emphatic 26-0 pounding courtesy of the Bears last year.
The key difference this time around, though, is Kodiak is coming to them.
"They had us scouted really well," said Wyatt, in his first year at the helm of the Mariners. "They had a distinct advantage with the game field, even worse than ours. That's home-field advantage."
One of the top teams in the Northern Lights Conference, losing 29-20 to Soldotna in last year's small-schools state title game, the Bears also are looking to make a statement after falling 41-0 to Juneau in their first game.
"They just came back from Juneau. They got a taste of the big boys and they're going to go back and fine-tune the offense, which has at least five different sets," Wyatt said. "I think they're pretty hungry. They went to the big show last year in Anchorage on the turf and battled it out and to come back, and Juneau-Douglas suggested them to come down ... they didn't uphold their end of the deal so to speak. Now they've got to something to prove."
But so do the Mariners.
Quarterback Corey Sutherland played one of the best games of his high school career against the Seahawks, according to his coach, rushing for 64 yards and two TDs, and throwing for another.
Wyatt is hoping that continues.
"The simple fact is we're spreading the ball out to all the people in our backfield," he said. "It's really huge because Kodiak will not have an opportunity to say they're going to maintain Corey and forget about everybody else. If they focus on Corey, they're going to make a mistake."
But Wyatt believes the game will rest on the shoulders of his younger, smaller and less-experienced defenders.
"It's going to be a very large Kodiak team coming against a fairly small Mariner team. ... We're going to have to execute at a higher efficiency than Kodiak because Kodiak is bigger and they are stronger," he explained. "Our defense is going to be really aggressive. They're going to have to tackle low and they're going to have to be good about what they're doing.
"I think we're going to see a bunch of little Mariners who are going to chase some of the big boys, but I think we're going to catch them."
Needing to win two of three against Kodiak, SoHi and Kenai, as Wyatt put it, to advance to the postseason, Saturday will be a good sign of how far the Mariners have actually come.
"We are in a win-win situation," Wyatt said. "We have nothing to lose and everything to prove."
Never too early for playoff implicationsRevenge is certainly on the mind of the Moose.
Not only are they attempting to avenge last season's 10-7 setback at Soldotna, but they're also vying for their first win of the season after being upset, 19-14, by Dimond last week.
"They're coming off a very, very tough loss," said Stars' coach Galen Brantley Jr. "That, accompanied with the fact we upset them last year, I think they'll be an extremely motivated football team."
Soldotna has some issues to shore up as well, like a defense that allowed 42 points, 403 yards and 25 first downs in a 62-42 win over North Pole last week.
Brantley believes they've addressed that, though.
"We had some breakdowns defensively that we've addressed this week and we expect to put a much better defense on the field this week," he said. "We're going to have to play tough. We're going to have to play a better game than last week, especially on the defensive side of the football."
The Stars' offense, however, appears to be in midseason form.
Senior Bryce Gardner rushed for 159 yards and two touchdowns, senior Marvin Tate added 14 carries for 152 yards and four TDs and junior quarterback Anthony Griglione added 87 yards on the ground in leading a 402-yard rushing attack in Week 1.
"We're really excited about where our offense was. We could not ask for anything more out of our offense. They played extremely well," Brantley said. "Tate and Gardner both had great games. They're kind of our version of fire and ice. Marvin will pound it up the middle and get the tough yards and Bryce will break the big runs.
"(Griglione's) not a slouch running the football either."
But the key still lies on the defensive side of the football and Soldotna's ability to slow down Palmer's intricate shotgun, triple-option offense.
"We've got to figure out a way to stop the option," he said.
Week 2 sees Kodiak travel to Homer for NLC opener for both squads
Kardinals' coach Jim Beeson acknowledged his team should easily handle Ketchikan on Saturday.
But there's too many variables such as the officials, traveling, field conditions and the quality of the Kings, who Beeson said they don't know anything about to call it a sure thing.
"I don't anticipate them being very good," he said. "We're traveling down there which we've never done. Their field, from what I understand, is like playing out in the Spur Highway.
"We can't leave anything to chance. We just have to show up and take care of business," Beeson added. "We're certainly not in any position to look past anybody at this point in time. ... There's a lot of unknown things about going down there that we can't control. We've been trying to keep focused."
The Kings, however, can expect a heavy dose of senior running back Bill Chimphalee, who racked up 312 yards on 26 attempts while finding the end zone four times, three on runs, last week.
"We're going to go out and it's going to be Bill, Bill, Bill for a while and see if they can stop him and then mix in the pass," Beeson said, adding quarterback Daniel Gustkey, who was 4-of-6 for 65 yards in 46-0 victory over Houston last week, will get his chances to air it out. "I think we have the ability to throw the football. I think Daniel's doing a great job throwing the ball.
"That's nice when we can do that because we haven't been able to do that in the past," he added. "And we can move Bill out there and throw him the football."
Bulldogs' coach Ted Riddall is hoping to accomplish two things this week against the Huskies cut down on turnovers after coughing the ball up five times last week, and establish a prominent passing game, following a lackluster 7-yard performance in a 54-6 loss at Skyview.
"Definitely when we played Skyview, we shot ourselves in the foot quite a few times. We've been working on that," Riddall said. "You can't sustain drives with turnovers. You can do all the things you want between the two 20s, but to not get in, you're not going to win too many ballgames."
As for the aerial assault, Riddall said the Bulldogs will start Wiley Bennett (0-for-8, 2 INTs) with Brando Wik (2-for-7, 2 INTs) backing him up, both possessing the same goal of incorporating top receiver Evan Holloway into the offense.
"We're hoping to get him a breakout game this week," Riddall said. "We worked on a lot of passes the first couple days in practice. Their timing is starting to come."
That's not to say, though, they won't be running the ball often.
Beau Calderwood (20 carries, 113 yards) broke loose for a 65-yard TD jaunt against the Panthers and leads an attack that Riddall hopes continues to improve up front.
"If we can balance it up this week we will be happy with that," he said. "It's a big game for us, more to establish a higher bar than we set last week for ourselves. We're capable of doing better."
But he doesn't know much about Delta, other than they're a hard-working team coming off a 56-13 thrashing at the hands of Valdez.
"Knowing Delta kids, they have tremendous work ethic. They're not going to just come in and roll over for anybody," Riddall said. "They have a lot pride up there.
Skyview senior Eddie Buffington broke Gregor Bosick's school record for the most rushing yards in a game when he exploded for 294 in Week 1 against Nikiski.
Now, according Panthers' coach Jerry Byrne, Buffington has his sights set on Bosick's single-season mark.
"He's got a good start," he said.
And while Buffington is sure to get his fair share of carries Saturday at Valdez, he won't be the only one.
Conrad Cobb ran for 91 yards on nine carries against the Bulldogs while Brad Lapp added 34, Colton Bennett had 22 and quarterback Michael Thornton rushed for 27.
"We've got both Colton and Conrad and also have Brad Lapp. We're pretty lucky in that we have four people that are pretty capable," Byrne said. "The thing is to spread it around and keep them healthy and keep the defense guessing."
That's where Buffington comes in.
"We figure they're going to be keying on him quite a bit. I would be," he said. "That's when we'll be able to use him as a decoy and maybe try some other stuff. (But) he'll get the ball."
Byrne also hopes to get Thornton more involved in the passing game after completing only 2-for-4 attempts for 45 yards with a TD and interception last week.
"We'll try to throw it a little bit more. We knew that Nikiski had a pretty good pass defense so we kind of wanted to feel them out. We were so successful on the ground, so went with what worked," he said. "I think Michael will feel a little bit more comfortable with one game under his belt."
He also plans on using placekicker Rem West, who didn't take a snap in the season opener.
"He's got a nice arm on him," Byrne said. "We'll see what he does when he gets in the game."
Coming off a 36-0 home loss to Homer in Week 1, Seward has another major test ahead on Saturday.
Following a trip to Anchorage and a long flight to Barrow, the Seahawks will be the Whalers first opponent of the season, but more importantly, they'll be making history as the first team to play on Barrow's new artificial turf field.
Making it more difficult will be the presence of ESPN and NBC's the "Today" show, as well as live telecasts on the radio and television. "We're looking forward to that. That'll be good," second-year Seward coach Kelly Cinereski said prior to the Homer contest. "(Barrow's) been out practicing all summer, so who knows what to expect.
"It's hard to get film from Barrow," he added with a laugh. "I don't know much about their kids at all."
While the Whalers may have only one official season of football under their belt, the Seahawks will certainly have to play better than they did against the Mariners to emerge victorious.
Seward mustered only 161 yards of total offense to Homer's 247 and turned the ball over five times, four on fumbles.
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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