Homecoming festivities, playoff hopes and rivalries will add plenty of spice to this weekend’s offering of football games on the Kenai Peninsula.
All three of the above ingredients will be simmering when Soldotna travels to Skyview for a 2 p.m. game on Saturday.
The Panthers (1-2 in the Northern Lights Conference, 3-3 overall) have little chance of making the playoffs, but a victory over crosstown rival Soldotna would go a long way toward redeeming the season.
The Stars (3-0 NLC, 5-1 overall) have not clinched a playoff spot and need a win to stay in control of the conference.
Tonight, Nikiski hosts Valdez for homecoming at 5:30 p.m. The Bulldogs (2-1 in the Great Land Conference, 3-3 overall) need a win over the Buccaneers (0-3 GLC, 2-4 overall) to stay alive for a playoff spot.
Saturday at 2 p.m., Kenai Central (2-1 NLC, 4-2 overall) will look to keep its playoff hopes alive when it travels to play Homer (1-2 NLC, 4-2 overall).
Finally, Seward (1-2 GLC, 1-5 overall) will travel to face Delta (0-3 GLC, 1-5 overall) on Saturday at 11:30 a.m.
Soldotna at Skyview
The Stars have a 15-1 record in the rivalry.
“Skyview is just a couple miles down the road from us,” Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell said. “I know they will be up for this football game.
“I know they have a good scouting report, and I expect them to be prepared.”
The Panthers are coming off a 28-0 loss to Kenai Central that eliminated all but the most unlikely of chances to earn a playoff berth.
Skyview coach Phil Sheridan said the practices this week indicate that his team has not mailed in the rest of the season.
“They would like to perform well,” Sheridan said. “They are playing for pride.”
Soldotna controls its own destiny when it comes to a conference title and a playoff berth. If the Stars lose their next two games, though, playoff hopes could quickly vanish.
“We’ve spent zero time talking about the playoffs,” Truesdell said. “It’s like the playoffs now. We’ve got to win this football game.
“One conference loss puts you in the fighting-for-air mode.”
Soldotna has the top-ranked offense on the peninsula, and 1,703 of the 1,885 yards the Stars have gained have come on the ground.
The rushing attack really hit its stride the last two weeks, when Homer and Nikiski were powerless against the ground attack.
“It’s definitely one of the hardest rushing offenses to try and stop,” Sheridan said. “It’s so simple, but they do it so well.”
The Panthers, led by running back Greg Bosick, have the second-ranked offense on the peninsula. Last weekend, though, Skyview gained just 122 yards against Kenai.
Sheridan said his team did not play well against the Kardinals, with a different player producing a different error in every critical situation.
Some players missed practice leading up to the Kenai game due to illness. With the team healthy, Sheridan said he hopes they start executing on offense again.
Kenai at Homer
The Mariners have only a slim chance of making the playoffs, while the Kardinals could earn a share of the conference title by winning their final two games.
“We always struggled against Kenai, and this year we have the best chance to play with them,” Homer coach Kelly Blake told the Homer News. “Just to be able to beat them, and knock them out of the playoffs for once, that’s pretty good incentive.”
Beeson said the shutout victory over Skyview was a big step after the Kardinals had their 28-game winning streak against small-schools opponents snapped against Kodiak.
“Last week was a big test,” Beeson said. “The Skyview game wasn’t a thing of beauty, but we won.”
The Kardinals will get quarterback Dusty Ward back this week for the game against the Mariners and their big line.
Homer will have to find a way to make ground against Kenai’s defense, which is the top-ranked on the peninsula. Homer’s defense is second.
“When you play as many kids as we do both ways, one side of the ball usually excels,” Beeson said. “Our kids just get more jacked up to play defense than offense.”
Beeson said his defense will have to shut down Homer’s running game and make the Mariners pass in what will probably be rainy, windy and muddy conditions.
Valdez at Nikiski
Nikiski’s 793 passing yards lead the peninsula by 499 yards, but Bulldogs head coach Ned Clooten said the Buccaneers probably like to throw more than the Bulldogs.
Games that feature throwing attacks take longer to complete, and with a 5:30 start time and cloudy and rainy weather expected, the skies could get very dark by the fourth quarter.
Clooten said a big concern heading into the game is how his pass defense will perform. Since so few teams feature a passing attack in small-schools football, the Bulldogs don’t have a lot of experience defending the pass.
Another concern for Clooten is Valdez running back and linebacker Andrew Buckau, who Clooten called one of the best players in the conference.
The Bulldogs have used the size advantage of their line over other GLC teams this year, and tonight won’t be any different.
“I look for our line to be able to do some good things against their line,” Clooten said.
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