When Soldotna takes to the field at rival Skyview at 2 p.m. Saturday, Panthers coach Phil Sheridan will be entering unchartered waters.
"To be honest, I talked to all the ex-coaches," Sheridan said. "They all told me different things they tried to get past the SoHi jinx.
"I don't know whether to really hype them up or down. God knows every coach here has tried both."
The Stars are 13-1 against Skyview, with Skyview's lone victory coming in 1998 under coach Wade Marcuson. Marcuson didn't discover any secret to success, though, as Soldotna defeated his squads the next four years.
Then in 2003, Ty Salness lost to the Stars 50-0 in his lone venture into the rivalry.
While Sheridan would love a win Saturday, he definitely wants to at least restore the rivalry. The Stars have won by a combined score of 99-12 the last two years.
"Win or lose, as long as it's a dang tough, hard-nosed football game, I'll be very pleased," Sheridan said.
Soldotna comes into the game at 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the Northern Lights Conference, while an 0-4 Skyview team will be making its conference debut.
Sheridan said the Panthers have gained more yards than their opponent in three of their four games this year, but have struggled with the little things that win football games.
Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell, a teacher at Soldotna Middle School and a Skyview graduate, said Skyview is better than its record.
"If I hadn't taught half those kids in junior high, I wouldn't believe it was the same team," he said. "They've come so far since six weeks ago in camp. It's really impressive to watch what that coaching staff has done."
Although the rivalry is fueled by the fact that the schools are three miles apart and that most kids at both schools attended Soldotna Middle School, it is definitely not a rivalry fueled by hatred. Sheridan and Truesdell are friends. Instead of sneaking around looking for game tapes, each provided the other with game tapes.
"I think there will be a few wrinkles, but I don't think either one of us will out-coach each other," Truesdell said. "The kids are going to have to make plays."
Sheridan also is not looking for surprises.
"Soldotna's very disciplined and hard-nosed," Sheridan said. "They ram their game plan right down your throat. The only way to beat them is to smash-mouth with them right back."
Kenai at Nikiski, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Kardinals have not lost to the Bulldogs since the small-schools semifinals in 2001. Kenai defeated Eielson this year, while Nikiski just lost to the Ravens last week.
Despite those facts, Kenai coach Jim Beeson is worried heading out to play Nikiski for a nonconference game on its homecoming.
"It's scary as all get-out," said Beeson, whose team is 3-1 overall. "Everybody says it's just Nikiski and we should be able to beat them.
"They're as well-coached as any team we'll play all year. They prepare, they have a game plan and they play hard the whole stinking game. Teams that do that are scary, especially if they have athletes. And they obviously do, because they have the same record as us."
Even though it is a nonconference contest, Nikiski coach Ned Clooten does not deny the importance of the game.
"It's homecoming, it's the seniors last game on their home field, and it's Kenai," Clooten said. "I think whenever Nikiski and Kenai play, it's a big game."
The Bulldogs have placed an emphasis on special teams all year, returning a kickoff for a score last week, and hope to have a good game against the Kardinals on special teams.
The battle on the offensive and defensive lines also should be interesting. Nikiski's line has been a strength this year, but Kenai has the bulk advantage.
"As good of a running back as Dakota Craig is, I think he's a better linebacker," Clooten said. "It should be a good battle."
In addition to Nikiski, Beeson has other things to worry about. Kenai, which is exceptionally deep this year, might not have three starters due to injury.
The Kardinals also have played inconsistent this year, hitting on all cylinders one week and running on empty the next.
"According to our cycle, this is our down week," Beeson said. "There have been moments where it looked like that in practice.
"We have to quit reading about everyone that thinks we're so good. You don't win on paper, you win on the football field."
Homer at Kodiak, Noon Saturday
Both teams come into this Northern Lights Conference game at 0-1 in the league. With each team only playing four conference games, the loser of this one will have a long and nearly impossible road back to make the playoffs.
Homer (2-2 overall) is coming off a loss to Soldotna, while Kodiak (2-2 overall) is coming off a loss to Kenai.
Homer coach Kelly Blake said he hopes the loss to Soldotna opened his team's eyes.
"I hate to lose one, but I actually think that really helped our guys settle in and focus in," Blake said. "I actually think we could end up better for it."
The Bears defeated the Mariners last season. Blake would like to pay back Kodiak for that defeat, while getting his team's confidence squared away for a game the following week against Kenai.
Anchorage Christian Schools at Seward, 6:15 p.m. Friday
The Seahawks come into this game in the thick of the playoff hunt with a 2-1 record in the Great Land Conference. Anchorage Christian Schools is 0-2 in the conference.
Seward (3-1 overall) is riding high after notching a victory over Skyview last week. ACS is 0-4 overall, but the Lions topped the Seahawks last year.
"They really poured it to us," Seward co-coach Roger Steinbrecher said. "I don't know what happened. It just fell apart for us.
"We don't want to have that happen again."
Steinbrecher said lineman Ray Ledet, receiver Charlie Rininger, quarterback Coty Beck and running backs Jason Weber and Jake Wilder all had top-notch games against the Panthers. The coach said those players will have to continue to perform for Seward to stay in the playoff hunt.
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