The Skyview football team has a chance to put itself in prime position for a playoff berth when it travels to Houston for a 2 p.m. game on Saturday.
The Panthers are 1-2 in the league and 3-2 overall, while the Hawks are 0-2 and 3-2.
"We have two more league games, and we've already played the top two teams in the league," said Skyview coach Eric Pomerleau, referring to losses to Soldotna and Kenai. "If we can take care of business, we'll be in the playoffs. That's one of our major goals this year."
Although Houston has been blown out of NLC contests against Soldotna and Kenai, Pomerleau said the Hawks have been very good in flashes. The Skyview coach also points out Houston has been good enough to win three games this season.
"Every game is a battle," Pomerleau said. "If we don't play well, they're going to give us a lot of trouble."
The Panthers stayed with the Stars through the early part of the third quarter last week before Soldotna opened up a large cushion.
"The biggest thing I'm happy with is Soldotna played really well, probably their best game of the year," Pomerleau said. "They were super physical. We were able to stay with them physically, they just made more plays and less mistakes."
The Panthers lost Cody Williams for the rest of the season when he broke his foot in the Soldotna game. Pomerleau said Williams will be missed at linebacker and running back, and that others on the team will have to step up and replace him.
Williams is leading the team with 278 yards on 49 rushes. He rushed for four touchdowns.
The Panthers will continue to rely on the right arm of quarterback Jordan Jones, who leads the peninsula with 900 yards passing and 14 touchdowns.
Soldotna at North Pole, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Stars put their undefeated record on the line as they travel north to face the Patriots in nonconference action.
In their 46-27 defeat of Skyview, the Stars lost running back Phil Bennett to a separated shoulder. Bennett leads the peninsula with 660 rushing yards on 77 carries. He has scored nine rushing touchdowns.
Coach Galen Brantley Jr. said Bennett could be out anywhere from three games to the rest of the season.
Bennett will be replaced by Jared Duncan, who has rushed 28 times for 236 yards. He has four rushing touchdowns.
"Jared Duncan is a quality football player," Brantley Jr. said. "He's been a defensive starter all year long, and we expect him to pick up a substantial piece of the load."
Brantley Jr. said the Stars are fortunate to have a ton of talent in the backfield. Robbie Smithwick went over 200 yards against Skyview and now has 26 rushes for 529 yards and six touchdowns. Auston Tennis has 293 yards rushing and two touchdowns. Brantley Jr. also said quarterback Tanner Fowler will have to help make up for the loss.
North Pole, according to Brantley Jr., is a team loaded with talent that will present his team some matchup problems.
"We're focusing on us," Brantley Jr. said. "We're going to try and improve our level of focus on offense, defense and special teams. The biggest thing is we're trying to get through injury-free."
The coach said the biggest area in need of improvement is consistency.
"That's been our Achilles heel all year long," Brantley Jr. said. "We do some really good things, followed by some really boneheaded things."
Garrett Bosick, Soldotna's leading receiver with 5 catches for 114 yards, also will miss the game due to a family commitment.
Brantley Jr. said Dakota Elsey, at guard and defensive tackle, and Tate Syverson, at tight end and linebacker, have been solid all year, and the two key absences will make the players even more pivotal against the Patriots.
Valdez at Nikiski, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Bulldogs return home for the first time since they opened their season on Aug. 7 by losing to Homer.
"We're excited about getting on our own grass," Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said.
The Bulldogs come into the Greatland Conference game at 3-0 in the conference and 3-2 overall, while Valdez is at 1-3 and 1-4.
"They're always scrappy when we play against them, and I wouldn't anticipate anything different this time," Riddall said.
Riddall said a pivotal player in the game will be Nikiski quarterback Colton Anderson. Anderson is 32-of-66 for 442 yards this season. Riddall said when Anderson plays well at quarterback, the offense thrives because the defense has to respect the run and the pass.
Riddall said the front seven also will have to be stout, and the offensive line will have to continue to take strides forward.
Kodiak at Kenai, 3 p.m. Saturday
The Kardinals begin the heart of their schedule with a Northern Lights Conference matchup against the Bears.
All three of the Kardinals' nonconference games are in the book. All three came against big schools, with the only victory coming against West Valley last week. Kenai coach Jeff Baker said the most important thing is that Kenai got through all three games healthy.
"To get one over a big school is a confidence builder," said Baker, whose team is 2-0 and 3-2. "It legitimizes what they've been doing. The hard work has paid off."
Baker said now the real work begins against Kodiak, which is 0-2 and 2-3 after losing to Homer on Saturday.
"Those games against the big schools were important for pride, learning, fun and growing, but they weren't all that matters," Baker said. "We're getting into games that matter more. This is the heart of the season."
In dropping conference games to Soldotna and Homer, Kodiak struggled to run the ball. Baker said the Bears definitely have the athletes to rush well, so the Kardinals need to make sure Kodiak doesn't put it all together against Kenai.
On offense, Baker said the Kardinals will continue to be a power-running team, led by running back Kai Risung and quarterback AJ Hull.
"We're going to be an in-your-face, between-the-tackles team," Baker said.
Seward at Homer, 5 p.m. Saturday
The game times were pushed back to later in the day. The junior varsity contest will be at 2 p.m.
The Mariners are coming off a mammoth 28-6 victory in Kodiak that kept Homer in the playoff race. Homer would like to continue that momentum against Seward.
The game was a coming out party for Homer running back Taylor Downes, who moved from guard to running back for the game. Downes rushed 25 times for 175 yards and three touchdowns.
"They didn't have much of an answer for a 230-pound running back blazing right through there," Homer coach Camron Wyatt said.
A revamped backfield also included Joey Resetarits and Hoss Frank.
This week, Homer's backfield will continue to improve as Cody Shealy, Homer's leading rusher in the first two games, comes back from injury, and running back Jonathon Jester also returns from injury.
"With three speed backs and a power back, we might be able to add another dimension," Wyatt said. "That'd be nice. We haven't had that in years."
Homer's defense also stepped up against Kodiak, allowing just 1 yard rushing. Wyatt said the Mariners' offense kept the ball away from Kodiak, allowing the Bears to keep the ball for only about eight minutes.
Wyatt said another key factor for Homer this year is that the parents have worked extremely hard to make the home games a big event for the community.
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