The high school football season is approaching the midpoint with this weekend's games, and teams in the realigned Northern Lights Conference are seeing something they have not seen in recent years.
With three games in the books and four games left to go, not one squad in the five-team conference is out of the running for the conference's two playoff berths.
"That's just what we expected," said Skyview coach Wade Marcuson. "We knew it was going to be one of those down to the last game situations."
Three teams -- Homer, Kenai and Soldotna -- are tied for first in the NLC with 1-0 records with three more conference games to play. Skyview is 0-1 with three conference games left and Ketchikan is 0-2 with two conference matchups to go.
The Panthers (1-2) host the Mariners (1-1) today in a Northern Lights Conference game. Kickoff at Skyview High School is scheduled for 6 p.m.
Nikiski (3-0) will host Anchorage Christian Schools (2-1) Friday at 5 p.m. in a pivotal Great Land Conference.
Close competition is nothing new to the Bulldogs, and a win on Friday could put Nikiski in the driver's seat in the GLC.
In non-conference games, Soldotna (1-2) will host Houston (1-2) Saturday at 2 p.m. and Kenai (1-2) squares off with the Bartlett Golden Bears at Anchorage Football Stadium at 3 p.m.
"I was expecting a letdown after the SoHi game, but I thought Monday was an outstanding practice," Marcuson said of his squad's attitude as the Panther prepare to face the Mariners.
The Mariners lost by three last week to the Seward Seahawks, but Marcuson is expecting plenty of fight out of Homer with position in the NLC standings at stake.
Despite winning last week at Kenai, the Bulldogs were disappointed in the way they played, something coach Scott Anderson hoped would be reflected in Nikiski's attitude during practice this week.
"You can't just show up on game day wearing silver and black and expect the other team to lie down for you," Anderson said following Friday's game.
Still, Nikiski is off to a 3-0 start this year in stark contrast to last season's 0-3 start.
The ACS Lions are 2-1 in their inaugural campaign, with wins over the Service C team and the Kenai JV squad. The Lions dropped their first game against varsity competition, a GLC tilt, to Houston last weekend by a score of 46-13.
The Kardinals ran the ball well -- 224 yards on the ground -- and unveiled a passing game that accounted for 100 yards a week ago against Nikiski.
"It makes for exciting football -- we showed we weren't one-dimensional," said Kenai quarterback Wally Ward following Friday's game.
Bartlett is 1-2 overall and in the Cook Inlet Conference after dropping a 25-7 decision to Service last weekend.
"It's a good chance for us to show what we can do against a big school," Ward said.
The Stars notched their first NLC win of the season last week, edging Skyview 14-6.
Soldotna was able to catch the Skyview secondary off guard with three big pass plays, indicating that the Stars may be following the same trend that they did last season -- adding a few wrinkles to their basic running attack each week to give opposing defenses something new to ponder.
The Stars ground game picked up 85 yards, but it was the 86 yards on three completions that tipped the momentum in Soldotna's favor.
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