With the playoffs around the corner, the time for learning as games progress is over. That's the mentality Kenai Central has heading into Saturday's Northern Lights Conference matchup with Homer. A win clinches a first-round home playoff game for the Kardinals. The semifinals and championship will be played at Anchorage Football Stadium.
"This is the door to the postseason," Kards head coach Jeff Baker said. "It's no more, 'This one doesn't count.' This is the one that counts."
Kenai is 3-0 in the NLC while Homer is 1-2. The Mariners close out their season with a home game against Houston in Week 8.
Homer's plan is to keep the game simple with its "ground-and-pound offense," head coach Camron Wyatt said.
"We're going to basics, sticking with what we know we can do," he said. "The kids feel real confident that they can compete with Kenai."
Kenai, too, will rely heavily on the running game.
"Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball, run the ball -- break one," Baker said.
AJ Hull leads the Kards with 574 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns -- the most scores on the Kenai Peninsula. He's also thrown for 458 yards and seven touchdowns. Kai Risung has 531 yards on the ground.
Stopping Homer's wedge will be key on defense, Baker said. Kenai has the top-ranked defense on the Peninsula, allowing an average of 15 points per game and 187 yards of total offense against.
The Kards' strong defense continued last week with a 29-0 shut out of Kodiak, including a safety and forcing four turnovers.
"Defensively, we were really happy," Baker said.
Wyatt knows his team is in for a tough challenge.
"I know they're gonna bring the hogs after us," he said. "Hopefully the Mariners can keep it together to get a postseason berth. We're feeling good and confident."
For Kenai, Saturday's game will be the biggest one of the season thus far, Baker said.
"Our goals always included postseason play," he said. "This is the game that matters to help us accomplish our goals."
Eielson at SoHi, Saturday 2 p.m.
Soldotna carries its 6-0 record into a nonconference game against the Ravens. SoHi will use the game to prepare for its Week 8 matchup with crosstown rival Kenai Central and the postseason.
"We're just trying to get our execution to a level that is as high as we can get it before we make our playoff run," Stars head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said.
SoHi is coming off of a 29-18 win over large-school opponent North Pole. With senior running back Phil Bennett sidelined with a separated shoulder, Auston Tennis led the Stars running attack. He gained 101 yards on 14 carries and two touchdowns.
"We had a lot of contributions from a lot of different people," Brantley Jr. said. "It was a good effort. It was a good team win."
Special teams was a highlight of SoHi's game, Brantley Jr. said. It was the Stars best special teams performance of the season, he said.
SoHi's offense is the best on the Peninsula. It has gained 2,182 total yards -- 1,965 of which are rushing -- and 14 points in six games.
Eielson's athletic quarterback will test SoHi's defense, Brantley Jr. said.
"They run the option all over the place," he said. "They bring a lot of heat at you. We're looking forward to the challenge."
To make a deep run in the playoffs, SoHi will need a solid performance in all three phases of the game -- offense, defense and special teams, Brantley Jr. said.
"We're far from flawless in any one area," he said. "We need to try and make improvements in all areas because one mistake in any area can cost you big."
Monroe at Skyview, Saturday noon
Though the game is out of conference, Skyview is in a playoff mind-set.
"Everything comes down to the next 10 days," Panthers head coach Eric Pomerleau said. "We're really focusing on that. Get ready to finish the season and hope to be playing in October."
The latter is a real possibility, and would be Skyview's first postseason appearance since the large-schools, small-schools split.
"Our school and our community is excited," Pomerleau said. "We just really got to put some good work in the next 10 days and two games."
SkyHi will use the Rams game to clean up its defense. The team had some breakdowns in its 60-38 win over Houston in Week 6, Pomerleau said.
Offensively, Pomerleau was pleased with last week's big point total.
"We've been pretty steady on that side of the ball," he said. "All 11 guys executed really well."
Quarterback Jordan Jones leads all Peninsula passers with 1,169 yards and 18 touchdowns. Sixty-three percent of the Panthers' total yards have come via Jones' right arm.
Skyview owns the top three receiving spots on the Peninsula. Albert White leads with 466 yards and eight touchdowns. Richard Reynolds has 326 yards and four scores, and Nick Symonds has 213 yards and three touchdowns.
The offensive line's standout play is a major reason for the team's success, Pomerleau said.
"It allows us to stay consistent when you can get it done up front," he said.
As the season winds down, Skyview will work on execution and trying to stay as close to perfect as possible, Pomerleau said. The team needs to bring 100 percent effort and a positive attitude in practice and in their remaining games, he said.
Barrow at Nikiski, Saturday 11 a.m.
The Bulldogs look to remain unbeaten in the Greatland Conference. Nikiski boasts a 4-0 league record while Barrow is 3-1. Both are 4-2 overall.
Nikiski's offense is second on the Peninsula with 2,037 total yards. More than 1,500 of those have come on the ground. Kaden Spurgeon leads the Bulldogs and the Peninsula with 709 yards. Spurgeon's 11 touchdowns puts him third out of Peninsula players. White is second with 12.
Quarterback Colton Anderson is second behind Jones with 525 passing yards and six touchdowns.
The Bulldogs flexed their offensive muscles last week in a 56-8 win over Valdez, scoring 42 points in the opening quarter. Stefan Krogseng led with 154 all-purpose yards and three scores. Spurgeon racked up 103 rushing yards and had one trip to the end zone.
Nikiski's defense is also ranked second on the Peninsula. The Bulldogs have given up fewer than 16 points per game.
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