The state small-schools football playoffs are still two weeks away, but the Kenai Central High School football team is looking at its second playoff-type game in as many weeks.
The Kardinals eliminated Homer from the Northern Lights Conference playoff race last week, and this week's opponent, Skyview, also is fighting for its postseason life.
"Everybody is going to be ready to play for us," said Kenai coach Jim Beeson. "We've got a big bull's-eye on our back, but like last week, it's the playoffs for them. They have to beat us to make the playoffs."
Kenai kicks off with Skyview at 2 p.m. at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai Saturday. Also Saturday, Soldotna travels to Kodiak for a 3 p.m. NLC matchup and Nikiski hits the road to Houston for a crucial Great Land Conference game. Seward visits Homer for a 2 p.m. nonconference game.
The Panthers are 1-5 overall and 1-1 in the NLC after notching their first win of the season last week against Kodiak. Kenai is 5-1 overall and 2-0 in conference play.
"We just have to be ready to play football," Beeson said. "They're a pretty good one-win football team."
Beeson expects Skyview to focus on stopping Kenai's running attack, just as the Panthers did two weeks ago in a loss to Soldotna.
"That's pretty much what everybody's going to do try to make us do something other than hand off to No. 25 (Dakota Craig). If I we're coaching against us, that's what I'd do," Beeson said.
Beeson said the Kardinals would still be giving the ball to Craig and letting him run Craig has 997 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns in six games this season but added that his offense also has been working on its passing game.
Skyview coach Phil Sheridan said his defense has been solid against the run this season the Panthers' 403 rushing yards allowed is best in the conference and he said his team's play in the secondary has improved.
"We played tough against Soldotna and we shut out Kodiak," Sheridan said. "We've fixed a lot of the secondary problems. We've been a run-stopping defense. If you look at our run defense numbers, they're pretty good you just have to close your eyes when you look at our pass defense numbers."
Sheridan said Kenai will be tough to stop, though.
"We know if we prepare well and play well, we can play with anybody, but it's going to take a perfect game to beat Kenai," Sheridan said. "We can't make any mistakes. (If we don't make any mistakes) we can keep it real close, but Kenai punishes opponents for their mistakes, so you just can't make any. But that's always the case when you're the underdog."
Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell said his team is looking forward to its trip to Kodiak, but he's not sure what to expect from the Bears.
"Watching them play Kenai, for two or three plays at a time they'd really look good, then they'd fall apart," Truesdell said. "They look like a team that has lots of talent. If they put it together, they could be dangerous."
The Stars are 4-2 overall and 2-0 in conference play while Kodiak is 2-4 overall and 0-3 in the NLC.
Truesdell said a nasty cold has been making the rounds at SoHi, but his players are excited as the playoff drive heats up.
"The kids seem like their spirits are up," Truesdell said. "It's an exciting time of year. When we started the season, this was the point we'd like to be at. We've got an opportunity ahead of us."
The Bulldogs also have a make-or-break road trip this week as they visit Houston. The Bulldogs sit in third place in the Great Land Conference standings at 3-1 (3-3 overall) behind 4-1 Seward and 4-0 Eielson, while Houston is fourth at 2-2. The Bulldogs need a win against Houston to set up a playoff berth showdown at Seward in the final week of the regular season.
"It's very big. It's important that we bounce back from the last three weeks that we've had," said Nikiski coach Ned Clooten, referring to lopsided losses to Eielson, Kenai and Soldotna.
Clooten said Houston features hard-running backs and "a whole lot of beef on the line."
"From what we've seen, they like to play smash-mouth football. We're going to have to beat them with our quickness and our hustle," Clooten said.
Clooten said that while this time of the season generates plenty of excitement, his squad isn't looking any further forward than Saturday's game.
"They're the type of kids that I wouldn't know if they looked at (the standings)," Clooten said. "Their focus is on Houston. They need to beat Houston to keep our playoff hopes alive. They know what business they need to take care of this weekend."
In Saturday's other game, Seward takes on Homer in a nonconference game. Though the Mariners have been bumped from the playoff hunt, coach Kelly Blake would like to see his team post a couple wins in the final two weeks of the season.
"We can still go 5-3, which is respectable," Blake told the Homer News following last week's game. "We're still building, growing the program."
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