Soldotna survived a late-game push from Northern Lights Conference foe Homer to remain undefeated and stay atop the small-schools Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network football poll heading into Week 4. While the Stars hung on for a 26-20 victory over the Mariners (1-2), No. 2 Kenai Central (2-1) rolled to a 44-14 NLC win at Houston (2-1). The Hawks also received votes in the poll.
Thunder Mountain improved to 3-0 and held its No. 3 ranking with a 47-22 win over Nikiski (1-2). Eielson (2-1) blanked Seward (1-2) 47-0 and is ranked fourth. Skyview (2-1) crept into the fifth spot in the poll after two decisive wins at home in consecutive weeks. The most recent was a 35-12 victory over Sitka.
Here's a look at this week's matchups.
Houston at SoHi, Friday 6:30 p.m.
The Stars have their third straight conference game tonight against visiting Houston.
SoHi led by 20 points going into the fourth quarter against Homer last week. The Mariners scored twice in the final 91 seconds to make it a six-point game. The Stars will look to play all four quarters against the Hawks, head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said.
"After the way we finished last week, our battle cry this week is, '48 minutes,'" he said. Maintaining a high intensity level will also be stressed, Brantley Jr. said.
Though the Stars have won on the scoreboard three weeks in a row, they've lost the turnover margin in each game. Brantley Jr. said the team won't be able to continue winning that way.
"It's the No. 1 cancer," he said of turnovers. "At any moment it can change the outcome of the game."
SoHi, which fumbled 14 times through the first two weeks, had just one turnover against Homer. Along with better ball security, the team's execution was more polished last week, Brantley Jr. said.
"Our level of execution on the offensive side was much improved," he said.
SoHi's focus remains on itself and trying to correct mistakes from previous weeks, Brantley Jr. said.
"Our goal from the beginning of the season is to be playing our best football in October," he said.
Palmer at Kenai, Friday 6:30 p.m.
Like the Service game in Week 2, Kenai Central head coach Jeff Baker wants to keep his team's offense on the field and Palmer's on the sideline.
"They have a couple of really quick kids," Baker said. "As long as we can contain their speed and hopefully keep their offense off the field, I think we have a pretty good shot."
The Moose may have a size advantage, but the Kards are just as talented, Baker said.
"It should be a pretty good game," he said.
Last week, Kenai racked up 42 points in the first half en route to a conference win over Houston. Quarterback AJ Hull factored in on each of Kenai's six touchdowns, throwing for three and running for three. Hull rushed for 112 yards and threw for 91.
Kenai's defense scored four points via two safeties.
"Our defense is looking pretty good," Baker said. A continuance of sharp defensive play will be crucial against the Moose, he said.
"Palmer is a well-coached, disciplined program," Baker said. "They have some pretty explosive talent."
Baker said it's important for his squad to learn from nonconference games. Remaining healthy, which the Kards have been able to do, is paramount, he said.
Another week of practice for the addition of previously ineligible players has also benefited Kenai, Baker said. The extra bodies gives the team more athleticism, adds running and receiving threats and gives players a chance for a rest, he said.
"It's definitely been nice," Baker said.
This week at practice Baker said he's stressed individuals doing their own jobs. Along with heeding his message, Baker said he wants his team to learn from what will be a challenging game against Palmer.
Skyview at Homer, Saturday 3 p.m.
The Panthers' air attack led by quarterback Jordan Jones heads south to take on Homer's slow and steady running game that features just four plays on offense.
"It will be a pretty good test," Panthers head coach Eric Pomerleau said. "Definitely two contrasting styles."
Through three games, Jones has 473 passing yards and eight touchdowns. Jones' favorite target has been Richard Reynolds. He's collected more than 200 yards receiving and four touchdowns.
"I think they're gonna spread us out," Mariners head coach Camron Wyatt said. "They will stretch us north, south, east and west."
Running back Cody Williams has proven SkyHi can complement its passing game, Wyatt said. He said Williams, who's averaging more than 81 yards a game, hits the B gap hard.
"We're gonna have to protect our B gap and protect the center," Wyatt said. "We're gonna have to match up athleticism. It's gonna be exciting."
The key to success for Skyview is completing passes.
"In our offense, when you're throwing the ball, you got to make plays when they're there," Pomerleau said. "We're starting to get the spread offense that I like to see. It's taken a year to manufacture what I hoped it would, so I'm real happy with that."
The Panthers passing success begins with their offensive line. Pass protection, in particular, is essential, Pomerleau said.
"They're doing a real good job with that," he said. "They're doing a fantastic job with run blocking as well."
Wyatt is hoping Homer won't need last-minute heroics this week.
"We're looking for a very focused Mariner team, one that won't use the last 90 seconds to get back into the game," he said. "If we do this right, it should be a close game."
Both coaches stressed the importance of wanting to win more than the opposition.
"They put a lot of kids at the point of attack," Pomerleau said. "It's all gonna come down to who wants to be more physical."
"We can't afford to take a day off," Wyatt said. "What we have now is what we're riding to the show."
Nikiski at Seward, Saturday 3 p.m.
The Bulldogs and Seahawks will look to rebound this week as they square off in Greatland Conference action.
After Nikiski's Julien Harris gave his team an early 6-0 lead with a pick six, Thunder Mountain scored 47 unanswered points last week. Kaden Spurgeon scored the Bulldogs' other two touchdowns.
In other Saturday Greatland Conference action, Eielson takes on Monroe Catholic and Valdez plays Delta Junction. Eielson currently sits atop the league with a 2-0 record. Nikiski is in second at 1-0. Barrow, Seward and Valdez are each 1-1. Monroe is 1-2 while Delta is 0-2.
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