Referring to Saturday's small-schools semifinal showdown with two-time defending champion and undefeated Soldotna, Eielson head coach David DeVaughn acknowledged his team is standing at the bottom of a hill looking up.
He then corrected himself.
"We're standing at the bottom of a mountain, I guess, more than a hill," he said. "It's one of those things where we have to believe in ourselves and play our best game."
Even then it still might not be enough to topple the top-ranked Stars, who are seeking their 28th straight win and second 10-0 season in as many years.
But SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. thinks the picture may be painted backwards.
"Eielson has this David and Goliath perception that they're trying to sell their kids and the reality is they may be Goliath. They've got a phenomenal set of athletes," he said. "I think if there's someone out there that can beat us, this is it. This is our state title game."
Brantley was in attendance earlier this season when the Ravens pummeled Nikiski, 62-22, in a game that helped set up a three-way first-place tie between the Bulldogs, Ravens and Barrow, all three of whom qualified for the post-season after sharing the Greatland Conference title.
Had Eielson (6-3) not lost by four to the Whalers in Fairbanks, though, Brantley believes this matchup could actually have come to fruition in the championship round.
"If they wouldn't have yipped during the season to Barrow, I really believe they'd have walked through the other side of the bracket and been in the state title game," he explained. "Now we have to fight it out to see who goes."
With a four-headed rushing attack spearheaded by senior running back Anthony Griglione, who has 20 rushing touchdowns, five receiving and one through the air, Soldotna should be favored with a deceptive offense that has been run to perfection ever since its last loss on Aug. 12, 2006, to Colony.
It's no secret why the Stars (8-0) have been so successful.
"They definitely have a lot of respect for that offense," DeVaughn said of his players' thoughts following a film session. "Every back carries out their fakes. The guys really respect the discipline they have to do that.
"I think it's kind of opened up our guys' eyes a little bit to how focused we have to be."
Watching film of SoHi's 40-16 thumping of large-schools opponent Colony in Week 2, the Ravens coaching staff came a realization themselves.
"We're going to have to tackle everything," DeVaughn laughed.
And he wasn't joking.
With a patented and successful fake headed one way and the ball carrier, whether it be Griglione, Kyle Wood (six rushing touchdowns), Chris Nolden (six) or Braden Price (five), darting the other, all eyes will need to remain on the ball if the Ravens hope to salvage any defensive momentum.
Brantley wouldn't divulge how to slow down his offense other than saying limiting turnovers and strong defense by his team would be vital.
And considering senior quarterback Zayan Aberkane has thrown 13 touchdowns to no interceptions and the Stars starting defense hasn't allowed a single point since that Aug. 15 game against the Knights, that shouldn't be a problem.
What could pose a threat to Soldotna's chances for a third consecutive state crown is Eielson quarterback Colten Growden, who this week could become the first QB in Alaska history to pass and rush for 1,000 yards in one season, having surpassed the rushing mark in a dominating 40-14 quarterfinal win over Kenai on Saturday.
Growden -- who has 21 touchdowns on the ground and another eight through the air -- has amassed 1,140 rushing yards, yet stands 127 passing yards short of the 1,000-yard mark.
"He's definitely the keys to the kingdom but they have other skilled players," Brantley said, referencing running back Ricky Nelson, who rumbled for 200 yards and three scores against Nikiski and another 131 yards and one touchdown against the Kardinals. "They've got some kids that will make you pay if you totally sell out to Colten."
That may be the case, but don't think for a second that the Stars won't be focusing on the man who scored five touchdowns against Kenai, four coming on the ground and the fifth on an interception return.
"There's no way we're going to keep them off the scoreboard. They're too explosive offensively," Brantley conceded. "We're just hoping our running game is good enough to keep their offense on the sideline."
After another season of consistent blowouts, as SoHi's average margin of victory ballooned to 49.5 points a game after a 75-14 quarterfinal win over visiting Valdez last week, the Stars are welcoming the challenge.
"We've been waiting for this," Brantley said. "It's really nice to know we're going into a football game with a team that their kids legitimately deep down inside, they expect to win.
"It's been a while since we've been pushed."
It's also been a while since they've lost.
And DeVaughn and Co. are obviously well aware of that.
"You're just going out and chopping wood with the kind of mentality that if we can keep working hard and keep chipping away we can maybe accomplish something at the end," DeVaughn said. "I think we've kind of got that attitude, if not us, then who? Definitely, the guys are kind of priming that pump. They know that they have to believe in order for anything to work. I think that they're starting to buy into that."
Matthew Carroll can be reached at email@example.com.
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