The 2000 high school football playoffs have come to the Northern Lights Conference a week early.
The Skyview High School Panthers and the Kenai Central High School Kardinals, both sporting 2-1 conference marks, are set to tangle Saturday at 3 p.m. at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai's homecoming game.
The winner will clinch the second of two NLC berths in the first Alaska Schools Activities Association-sanctioned small schools playoffs. The loser can start planning its breakup banquet.
In other peninsula football action, the Nikiski Bulldogs take their perfect 6-0 record to Seward for a 2 p.m. Great Land Conference tilt, and Soldotna, the owner of the top NLC playoff spot, visits Homer at 2 p.m.
Kenai (2-1 NLC, 2-4 overall) and Skyview (2-1, 2-4) have had similar problems against peninsula opponents this season -- both defenses have been stingy, but the offenses haven't been able to punch the ball into the end zone with any consistency.
"The defense has put us in situations where we had chances to score," Kenai coach Jim Beeson said. "On offense, we'll have nine or 10 people doing what they're supposed to be doing, and one or two who aren't. Last week, we struggled with that."
"We've got to have all 11 offensive players on the same page, not just for one play, but for a whole drive," said Skyview coach Wade Marcuson. "I'll watch tape of a play I thought went well, and I'll see guys completely missing their blocks."
Boiled down, both teams will be looking to their defenses to create some momentum that the offenses can capitalize on.
"We've got to find ways to score," Marcuson said. "I don't think (Kenai)'s going to give anything to us. I'm expecting one of those Northern Lights Conference battles."
NIKISKI (3-0 GLC, 6-0 overall) at SEWARD (1-2, 2-3)
While the Seahawks have been eliminated from playoff contention, they would like nothing more than to spoil Nikiski's bid for a GLC clean sweep.
With the advent of the Great Land Conference, Seward-Nikiski has developed into quite a rivalry. The Seahawks beat the Bulldogs for the first time during the regular season last year, but Nikiski came back to win the GLC title game.
Nikiski has the top seed in the small schools playoffs all sewn up, but the Bulldogs would certainly like to finish up the regular season on a high note.
SOLDOTNA (3-0 NLC, 4-2 overall) at HOMER (1-2, 2-4 overall)
With the top spot in the conference clinched, one of the Stars main goals this game should be to get through it without injuries. Probably the last team they want to learn how to stay injury-free from is Homer.
Injuries have been such a problem for the Mariners this year that they will start their second-string, junior varsity quarterback against the Stars.
Homer coach Todd Phillips will be without four injured starters in the game, including speedy running back Michael Abbott. As for the jv quarterback, Phillips said things could get interesting because the varsity's offense is more complicated than the jv's.
"Hopefully, he can just hand off," Phillips said. "It's pretty scary."
Soldotna is about the last team an offensively depleted unit should face. The Stars defense has carried them to the conference championship. Last week, in the game against Kenai that wrapped up the title, the Soldotna defense yielded just 27 passing yards and held Kenai to minus 2 rushing yards.
-- Clarion sports reporter Jeff Helminiak contributed to this story.
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