Kardinals face problem Bears

Posted: Friday, August 29, 2008

He did it once last year and he'll do it again.

Heck, Kenai coach Jim Beeson even attempted it last week.

That time it worked, though, as Beeson's decision to go for two points while trailing by one with the game on the line proved to be the difference in the Kardinals 27-26 nonconference win over visiting Nikiski, Beeson's 100th career triumph at the helm of Kenai.

With undefeated Kodiak in town for a Northern Lights Conference showdown at 3 p.m. Saturday, Kenai's first conference tilt of the year, Beeson has a chance to redeem himself from last season's 28-27 loss to the Bears when he attempted a two-point conversion with 6:10 remaining in the game.

That pass, however, fell incomplete.

"I hope it doesn't come down to it," Beeson said. "But if I was put in that situation I would do the exact same thing again. Last year ... they were running up and down the field on us and we had a hard time moving the football.

"I would do the same thing again if the same situation occurred," he added. "Obviously it did. Last weekend I did the same thing."

And he didn't hesitate, as quarterback Zach Rabung, after connecting with tight end Ty Fuller on a 40-scoring strike with 7:22 to play, again found Fuller in the back of the end zone in staking the Kardinals to a narrow one-point lead, which they eventually held onto in moving to 2-1 on the season.

"I thought Zach did a much better job," he said of Rabung, who was 4-of-6 for 69 yards and two TDs. "He made a couple really good throws."

But if the Kardinals hope to overcome the Bears for the first time in three seasons, a strong passing game will be vital and running back Billy Kiefer will need to continue carrying the load, having amassed 185 yards against the Bulldogs and 299 a week earlier versus Valdez.

"We're starting to get a little bit more confidence in it. We know we're going to have to throw the football because Billy is not a Bill Chimphalee-type running back," Beeson said of the passing game, while referencing last year's 2,000-yard rusher. "He's just not physically as big and strong as Bill was. He just can't take the pounding that Bill did. Bill may run it 40 times a game and you may stop him four times but it's the fifth time you have to worry about.

"We're going to give him the football and try to find different ways to get him the football," he added of Kiefer, "because he's our best threat on the offensive side of the ball."

Kodiak, which manhandled Homer 47-14 before shutting out Skyview 19-0 last week, is seeking its third consecutive trip to the small-schools state championship game, coming up short to Soldotna in the last two.

But while it's been the Bears' offense that struck fear in opponents those past two seasons, it's their defense, Beeson said, that's overtaken that role this year, evidenced on Saturday when they limited the Panthers to a total of four yards of offense.

"This year you better be ready for their defense because they're going to play hard and get after it," he said.

And while it's only the fourth week of the season, playoff implications are still lingering as the Bears edged out the Kardinals the past two years for the second NLC berth.

This season, with four slots available, the fourth-place team may end up traveling to Barrow, which is currently undefeated after knocking off Great Land Conference favorite Eielson last week.

Not exactly an ideal situation.

"It's certainly not a pleasant thought of going to Barrow in early October," Beeson said.

Having his 100th victory in the back pocket, though, is as good as it gets.

"It's very nice to have that out of the way and not everyone talking about, 'When are you going to get No. 100?'" Beeson said. "Now we just focus on the team itself and not worrying about winning the 100th game ... and just focus on trying to get the playoffs."

The Mariners know exactly what's coming at them. A 21-game winning streak and a virtually unstoppable offense.

The question is, can they contain it?

"We have to come up with a good defensive scheme and if we don't, they're going to just pummel the heck out of us like they've done to everyone so far," said Homer coach Camron Wyatt. "It's not a secret, it's whether or not you can handle what they give."

Two-time defending small-schools state champion SoHi, fresh off a bye week after defending large-schools champion Juneau-Douglas backed out of what certainly would have been the game of the year, never looks past an opponent, no matter how big, small, fast or slow.

And don't think for a second Stars coach Galen Brantley Jr. is about to start now in his team's first NLC game of the season.

"They're one of those teams that's only going to get better as the year goes on," he said. "They're going to surprise somebody and upset somebody before the season is over.

"If Appalachian State can beat Michigan," Brantley added of last year's monster college football upset, "anything's possible."

Just as they did last year in Week 2 to Palmer, the Stars (2-0) demolished another large-schools opponent two weeks ago, this time a 40-16 thrashing at home against Colony.

And the bye last week may have been just what the doctor ordered, as the banged up Stars participated in an intrasquad scrimmage on Friday, a day usually reserved for games or rest.

"Scrimmaging yourself's like kissing your sister. We're really excited to see somebody in a different colored uniform," Brantley explained, adding that Justice Elson will be replacing Chris Nolden, SoHi's leading rusher, at fullback this week as Nolden is out with a shoulder injury. "It did give us a chance to step back and really focus on us and the mistakes that we're making and the things that we can do better."

It's tough to pick those out, as Soldotna ran over Nikiski in the season opener and the Knights two weeks back.

For the Mariners (1-2), it's a tad easier.

A 40-8 home loss to Houston came on the heels of a 47-14 setback at Kodiak the week before, shortcomings that have left Homer at 0-2 in the NLC, tied with Skyview for last place.

"We need a win in the conference. We need to show that we can be a competitive football team." Wyatt said. "The kids are very excited. They are not hanging their heads low."

Win or lose, the Mariners will take away plenty from this showdown.

"There's no losing in this one. It's win-win any way it goes," Wyatt explained. "We've got a lot of room for improvement, so why not try to set our bench mark pretty high and play the best and see where we stack up?

"I've looked at almost every bit of the game film for Kodiak and SoHi and SoHi, they're about three or four steps ahead of Kodiak in my coaching opinion," he added. "Now we're going to go against what I think is a better team and I'd like to see how we've progressed in the past two weeks.

The Panthers may be looking for their first win this season, but the Wolves, a member of the Cook Inlet Conference, are still seeking their first win in the program's three-year varsity history.

At 0-19 overall, the closest Eagle River has come to a victory was a 19-point loss to Dimond in the season opener this year.

"We don't plan on being their first win," said Skyview coach Jerry Byrne.

NLC setbacks to Houston and Kodiak, the latter a 19-0 defeat at home last week, have left the Panthers in the basement of the conference. Mix in a disappointing loss at Barrow to open the season and Skyview is in desperate need of any victory to jump-start its season.

And with Kenai and Soldotna looming the next two weeks, a win over the Wolves is imperative.

"We've been so close and stupid mistakes have really hurt us," Byrne said. "We have really been working hard on those areas that we need to work on and hopefully that will get us on the winning track.

"We've got to get our act together."

The defense certainly had its together on Saturday, holding perennial small-schools contender and preseason favorite Kodiak to just 19 points, 12 coming in the second half on a fumble recovery for a touchdown, a safety and a field goal.

"We've put them in some bad circumstances, but if you look at it statistically, our defense has been really solid," he said. "Our offense has been struggling. ... If we can get our offensive line to get solid then I think our offense will come along."

A few changes have been installed, Byrne said, in hopes of ensuring just that.

"We did some shifting around with our offensive blocking and hopefully that will put us straight."

Quarterback Matt Meade, who injured his neck against the Bears and was carted off the field, is questionable for this week's contest after practicing for the first time on Wednesday.

"He's not 100 percent, but he's moving around," Byrne said. "He can turn his neck. So, we'll see. We want him to be healthy."

The Panthers, however, will welcome the return of center Kenny Mahan, a key piece of Skyview's offense who missed last week's game.

"Not having him really hurt us against Kodiak," he said. "We needed to be full strength against them and we weren't."

Kardinals face problem Bears

The Bulldogs face the Rams without Evan Holloway, who re-aggravated a knee injury last week in a nonconference loss to Kenai.

Holloway has seven catches for 109 yards this season.

"We've got a couple of other kids that can catch the ball," Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said, whose team is 1-0 in the GLC and 1-2 overall.

Riddall said the passing game will be needed to keep the Rams from stacking the line of scrimmage to stop Beau Calderwood, who leads the Kenai Peninsula with 605 yards on 66 carries.

The Rams (1-1, 1-2) have a good running back of their own in Isaiah Weeks. Weeks had 257 yards in a Week 1 loss to Homer.

"It's going to be a long road trip," Riddall said. "We need to make sure we travel well, so we don't come out and play flat."

The Seahawks are still searching for their first win of the season.

In fact, they've totaled just eight points in three defeats -- a 53-0 loss to Kodiak in the opener, a 54-8 setback to Barrow in Week 2 and a 69-0 pummeling against Valdez last week.

But the Huskies, too, are struggling, having lost 48-8 to Houston, 55-0 to Nikiski and 46-6 to Monroe.

With four Great Land Conference playoff berths up for grabs this season, as opposed to the traditional two, this game could prove costly for the loser, as both currently sit at 0-2 in the league.

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