The two remaining undefeated teams in the Northern Lights Conference clash Saturday when Kenai Central welcomes Homer to its homecoming festivities at 2 p.m.
A win for the Kardinals (2-0 in the NLC, 4-2 overall) does not even clinch a spot in the playoffs, because the Kardinals could lose to Soldotna next week and the Stars, Kardinals and Mariners could all finish at 3-1.
“Even if we win it, it doesn’t secure anything,” said Kenai Central coach Jim Beeson, whose team has won the last three small-schools state championships. “A win would keep us in control of our own destiny.
“That’s what we’ve talked to the kids about controlling our own destiny. We don’t want it to come down to a coin toss.”
The Mariners (2-0, 4-2 overall) could wrap up the top seed from the NLC in the small-schools playoffs with a victory. Even if the Mariners were to lose the following week to Skyview, Homer would have just one loss in the conference and the head-to-head tiebreaker over Kenai and Soldotna.
“It’s our biggest game of the year,” Homer coach Kelly Blake said.
Homer quarterback Canyon McKinstry injured his ankle last Saturday in a loss to South. Blake said McKinstry was back at practice on Thursday.
“He is the offensive team leader,” Blake said. “He is a very huge part of our operation.”
McKinstry has completed 29 of 56 passes for 510 yards this season for eight touchdowns and just two interceptions. His most dangerous target is Justin Smith, who has averaged a gaudy 42.4 yards per catch on his seven receptions, which include six touchdowns.
Cameron Hagen has rushed 91 times for 522 yards and also has caught seven balls for 71 yards.
“They came up here and beat Soldotna, so they know they can do it,” Beeson said. “They have some very good skill position players.”
The Kardinals are confident and on a four-game winning streak after disposing of Anchorage’s Service on Saturday.
Kenai’s Bill Chimphalee scored four rushing touchdowns and intercepted three passes.
The emergence of Chimphalee as a receiver (11 catches, 126 yards) and backup running back has made Kenai quarterback Tyler Chappell (23 of 53 for 366 yards) and running back Brandon Miles (855 yards and 10 touchdowns on 157 carries) all the more dangerous.
Beeson also said the line has become more of a force in the recent weeks.
“We started the year playing more as individuals,” Beeson said. “We’re playing better now and playing as more of a team.”
Eagle River at Soldotna, 2 p.m. Saturday
The game against the new Eagle River school comes sandwiched in between a pair of big games for the Stars last week’s victory over Skyview and next week’s showdown against Kenai.
Even though the game is a homecoming contest, Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell said it is nice to have a nonpressure situation this week.
“We, for the first time in a long time, got really banged up against Skyview,” Truesdell said. “We have a couple of kids who haven’t practiced a day this week and won’t suit up against Eagle River.”
Eagle River has played a full junior varsity schedule so far, so Truesdell is not sure what to expect.
“The last thing we want is a bye week where our No. 1s come out and don’t play much,” Truesdell said. “You can’t get better if you’re not playing hard.”
Nikiski at Valdez, 1 p.m. Saturday
Coming off a loss at Eielson, the Bulldogs need to beat Valdez to stay ahead of Houston in the chase for the No. 2 seed from the Great Land Conference in the small-schools playoffs.
Eielson, which sits at 5-0 in the league, has clinched the No. 1 seed. Nikiski is at 3-1 in the league and Houston is at 4-1 in the league, but the Bulldogs defeated the Hawks and Houston still has a game against Eielson.
Valdez is 1-3 in the league and 1-5 overall.
“They have definitely shown some capability as a team,” Nikiski coach Ned Clooten said. “We’re not taking them lightly at all.
“Valdez always has a ton of athletes, and they are getting more and more experience in football.”
Clooten said that Nikiski not only is healthy, but that its roster has been bolstered by two new additions.
Senior Caleb Thurman is a transfer student who became eligible against Eielson and will start both ways on the line. Sophomore Jaramiah Hundley also rejoined the team against Eielson and will start both ways on the line this week.
“We had a fantastic week of practice,” Clooten said. “If the old adage that you play like you practice holds up, we’ll be just fine.”
Eielson at Skyview, 2 p.m. Saturday
The Panthers (0-3 in the NLC, 1-5 overall) were eliminated from playoff contention last week after a loss to Skyview.
The game will be Skyview’s homecoming. It will also be a chance to give the Ravens (5-0 in the GLC, 6-0 overall) their first loss of the season.
“We’re going to play hard,” Skyview coach Phil Sheridan said. “We still have a lot of pride.”
The game should be of great interest to NLC coaches who could make the playoffs and meet the Ravens in the first round.
“It seems kind of evident that the Northern Lights is stronger than the Great Land,” Sheridan said. “People are looking at this as a litmus test as to how good Eielson is, at least compared to Skyview.”
Sheridan said his defense is looking forward to facing Eielson’s more traditional offense after struggling against SoHi’s deception attack last week.
On offense, Skyview must hang onto the ball. The Panthers fumbled seven times against Soldotna. Just one of those fumbles was lost, but the others cost the Panthers a down and distance.
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