As the rain fell harder and harder, Soldotna seemed to get better and better.
A convincing 53-16 victory over visiting Homer in a torrential downpour last weekend has prompted Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. to hope for more of the same on Saturday.
"This is one of our rare situations where wind and rain benefits us. So, bring it on," he said as his top-ranked and undefeated team prepares to host No. 2 Kodiak at 5:30 p.m. "I don't think it affects us. It's not really factor for us. Our offense is suited for nasty weather."
Racking up 420 yards on the ground, the Stars (5-0 overall, 2-0 in the Northern Lights Conference) owned a 33-0 lead by the end of the first quarter and tacked on another 14 points before halftime.
With a possible playoff berth and conference title on the line Saturday, Brantley is hoping his three headed rushing attack of Bryce Gardner (624 yards, 11 TDs), Marvin Tate (406 yards, 9 TDs) and QB Anthony Griglione (564 yards, 9 TDs) can continue to stomp over the competition.
"This is a huge game. You can lose once and legitimately be out in our conference," he said. "We certainly don't want to end up in that situation. To have one loss in our conference and to go home, it doesn't leave a whole lot of room for error.
"It's a must-win game."
One week after contending with a deceptive offense in Homer's single-wing, SoHi must now contend with a ferocious, hard-hitting Kodiak (4-1, 4-0) defense.
Brantley said it's the best they'll have faced all season.
"They've got enough returners. They're putting a very solid ballclub on the field," he said. "I think, defensively, they're better than they were last year. They're playing good team defense. There's not as much gambling going on. We definitely have our work cut out for us."
The Bears' offense isn't too shabby, either.
Featuring one of the state's best running backs in Michael O'Dell and a quarterback who can throw the ball in Jimmy Eggemeyer, Soldotna's defense, too, must be up to the task.
"We really haven't been challenged the past few weeks. Our defense hasn't played deep into a ballgame since Week 1 versus North Pole," Brantley said. "They haven't had more than three quarters and the last three games, less than a half. So, we're actually excited to see what they can do."
Having already seen Kodiak at camp this summer and with a scrimmage against the Bears at Colony already under their belts, Brantley is expecting a dogfight.
Rain or shine.
"The tempo and enthusiasm will be at level we haven't seen yet this year," he said.
Homer at Kenai, Saturday, 11:30 a.m
Homer coach Camron Wyatt said his players asked him if Kenai running back Bill Chimphalee was as good as advertised.
He didn't sugarcoat his answer.
"I tell them the truth," he said. "I say, 'Yes, he is that good boys.'"
If they didn't believe Wyatt then, they'll get a first-hand look at the state's best running back when the Mariners (3-2 overall, 1-2 conference) travel to Kenai (4-1 overall, 2-1 conference) for an NLC showdown.
"He reminds me of a Marcus Allen or of a Dave Craig," Wyatt explained. "He just has the high knee, the great upper body position and you watch him when he runs, seldom does anybody get a good shot on him."
One week removed from carrying the ball a season-high 47 times for 304 yards and five touchdowns in a 40-6 win at Skyview, Chimphalee is feeling fine, according to Kenai coach Jim Beeson.
"He'll be ready to go this weekend," he said. "I'm sure he'll carry ball this weekend, too."
So is Wyatt.
But he thinks his team is prepared.
"If you can get to him before he can gets to the line of scrimmage, then you have a fighting chance with that man. If you're considering just stopping him at the line or in the secondary, with the gang-tackling and stuff, I think you're going to be depressed a little bit," he said. "We've told our boys, 'If you play sound, true defense and tackle the way we know you can, you'll have a fighting chance.' It will be a game."
While Chimphalee has trampled opponents for a state-best 1,319 yards and 23 touchdowns, much of the credit goes to his offensive line, a statement Beeson said Chimphalee would be the first to acknowledge.
"Those kids have kind of come together and gelled together and are figuring it out," he said. "They're not the most athletic group we've had. ... They just work hard and do what we ask them to do. A lot of times that will overcome a lack of talent. That's for sure."
Homer is still fighting to match a school best 6-2 mark, needing victories in their final three contests to do so.
Wyatt said controlling the clock against the Kardinals is crucial in beginning that run.
"What has to happen on offense is we have to eat up that clock. ... and keep their offense off the field. That's half the battle," he said. "If we can keep that ball on our line of scrimmage and get our first downs and sort of grind it out on them, I think it's going to be a very good game."
Ketchikan at Skyview, 2 p.m.
The Panthers couldn't ask for a better opponent after getting battered and bruised in a home setback to Kenai last week.
The Kings come to town in search of their first victory of the season after opening with four straight losses.
"It's kind of a little bit of a break," said Skyview coach Jerry Byrne. "We got pretty beat up last game. Kids are healing and we've got a few kids sick. If there's a week we need it, it would be this week."
One key loss is running back Colten Bennett, who delivered a number of bone-crushing hits on the Kardinals' running back Chimphalee.
"We're going to spare him this week. He might play a little defense. No offense," he said. "We'll see how that goes. I felt this game it would be good for him to take a break."
Without Bennett lining up in the backfield, Brad Lapp will shift over into his position and Rem West will also take some carries, as well as throw some passes.
It's just part of the game for the Panthers, though, who have been retooling their backfield ever since running back Eddie Buffington was lost for the season following a victory at Valdez in Week 2.
"We're going to try a few things we haven't done before and see how it works," Byrne said.
The Panthers defense, however, has been solid all season, minus the pounding delivered by Kenai's offense last week.
"I think we're pretty solid there," he said. "We're pretty comfortable where we are for this game."
Houston at Nikiski, Saturday, 1 p.m.
If not for two crucial fumbles last week at Barrow, Nikiski could be in a better position for a playoff berth.
Fumbling once on the Whalers' 10-yard line and another time on their 20, both in the second half and both resulting in defensive scores for Barrow, blew a one-point Bulldogs' lead at halftime and dropped them to 1-4 overall and 1-2 in the Great Land Conference.
Still owning an outside shot at qualifying for the postseason, Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said they're not talking about that.
He's just hoping they don't make the same mistakes against visiting Houston (2-3 overall, 2-1 conference).
"We're definitely hoping to make some improvements from last week and at least try to take these last three weeks and end on a positive note for the kids," he said. "They're all conference opponents. So if we ended up winning against Houston and Eielson and Seward, we could be put in a tie for the second seed. "They're pretty important," Riddall added of the remaining games. "We're not giving up. That's for sure. We won't do that."
Houston can expect a heavy dose of running back Beau Calderwood, who has rushed for 669 yards, second best on the peninsula, and five TDs.
"Lots of him," he said, "and we're going to try to get the fullback (Walker Boyle) more involved. He's coming on, running hard and doing what we needed him to do."
Riddall expects a stiff challenge from the Hawks, who escaped Nikiski with a hard-fought 7-6 victory last season.
"Houston kids are well-coached. They've been real competitive these last three or four years. They'll be ready to play," he said. "It will be a tough one. We're looking forward to the challenge."
Valdez at Seward, today, 5 p.m.
Seahawks coach Kelly Cinereski is hoping today's homecoming affair isn't as rainy as last weekend's game against visiting Eielson.
"It's bad. It rains all the time over here," he said. "It made it hard for practice this week. Everything was just wet and slippery. But the guys came out and tried to keep good spirits."
The loss to the Great Land Conference-leading Ravens left Cinereski wishing his team played on turf, like their opening-week opponents up north in Barrow now do.
It also left Seward (1-3 overall, 1-1 conference) with a tough shot at making the postseason, needing to win its remaining four games to have any chance.
That road begins today against visiting Valdez, which sits in second place with a 2-2 overall mark and a 2-1 conference record.
"We're hoping to take the next four. That would be great," he said. "Be .500 for the year. We'd still have a chance at the playoffs. But we have to win out."
Despite the loss last week, Cinereski said he saw some positive things he's hoping to carry over into this game.
"We're coming together as a team. I think we'll do well for the rest of the year," he said. "We should have done better last week but for a few interceptions and fumbles.
"We were a little slow coming off the ball. Our linemen were fine, our backs were just a little slow," Cinereski added. "They're a lot quicker than what they showed last week."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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