Central peninsula schools Kenai, Skyview and Soldotna all sit atop the Northern Lights Conference with 1-0 records. Beginning this week, hotly contested rivalries will break the logjam at the top of the standings.
Skyview and Soldotna start things off with a 2 p.m. game Saturday at Soldotna.
"Any time Soldotna and Skyview play, it's just like Kenai and Soldotna," Kenai coach Jim Beeson said. "It's a tossup any time any of us play. If you drew a name out of a hat, you'd have just as good of luck picking the winner."
The Panthers come into the game with a 3-1 overall record and fresh off a big NLC victory over Homer last week. Meanwhile, Soldotna (1-3) picked up its first victory of the year last week against NLC foe Ketchikan.
"It's a crucial game for a number of reasons," Soldotna coach Rob Dimick said. "We need, both of us, to be 2-0. We need to try and get in the driver's seat, and there's always bragging rights.
"It'll just come down to who works harder."
With both schools just 4 miles apart and drawing from the same middle school, Skyview vs. Soldotna has emerged as a fierce rivalry. Adding spice to the rivalry in football is Soldotna's 10-1 mark against Skyview.
"I don't think the kids are thinking about games that happened in past years," Skyview coach Wade Marcuson said. "It's their time now. It's now they're concerned about."
Both teams have seen plenty of the other, both live and on tape.
"They're just a physical, big, talented, well-coached team," Dimick said. "We're going to have to suck it up and go after it."
Marcuson also has a lot of respect for Soldotna's athletes.
"We have to look at stopping Cason Simpson," Marcuson said. "He's one of the best athletes they have.
"Kyle Foster throws the ball well on the move. We have to come out playing the ground game, but at the same time, we're going to see Soldotna throw the ball on us."
Anchorage Christian Schools at Nikiski, 5:30 p.m. Friday
After knocking off Service 40-20 last week, the Bulldogs play another Anchorage school this week. The Lions are somewhat of a different animal than the Cougars, however, with 170 students to Service's 2,340.
However, Nikiski coach Scott Anderson is as concerned, if not more concerned, than he was heading into the game against Service.
Anderson said he sensed a little throttling back this week by his team in practice after the big victory.
"For us, we're ultrasensitive to those things," Anderson said. "We let them know if we see less than their best effort.
"We got after them a few times this week."
Nikiski comes into the game 3-1, while ACS is at 0-4. However, Anderson said ACS grabbed a 13-0 lead against Skyview and an 18-0 lead against Sitka.
Another thing giving Anderson cause for concern is the physical toll of playing a team like Service.
"We got kind of beat up last week," Anderson said. "It was a high level of hitting. Don't get me wrong. We were doing our own share and giving it back to them, but we're still trying to recover."
Houston at Homer, 7 p.m. Friday
The Mariners (3-1) get a nonconference matchup against the Hawks (1-3) before jumping back into NLC play.
Homer coach Todd Phillips has seen the Hawks play on tape a couple of times, but he doesn't have any tape of their games from the past two weeks. In this time, Houston has gotten a few of its key players back.
"They've got some good, strong athletes," Phillips said. "We're going to have to bring our 'A' game."
Eielson at Kenai, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Kardinals enter the game as the only undefeated team on the Kenai Peninsula, but Beeson said his players are aware in two or three weeks time that could mean absolutely nothing.
"If we'd played the four games we have left and went undefeated, that would be something to be excited about," Beeson said. "We're happy we've won four football games, but the kids know we're coming into the hardest part of our schedule."
Beeson expects a big test from Eielson, which defeated Kenai 20-14 in overtime last season. The Ravens, which play mostly big-school competition, have a 2-2 record coming into the contest.
"They're as good as anybody we've played so far," Beeson said.
Seward at Sitka, TBA on Saturday
While everybody in the Great Land Conference is pretty sure Nikiski will get one of the two playoff spots the league has up for grabs, the second spot is up in the air.
Seward, 1-3 overall but 0-0 in the league, starts conference play Saturday by traveling to Sitka. Sitka comes into the game with a 1-1 record in conference, and a 1-3 record overall.
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