Due to scheduling quirks and COVID-19 cancellations, the central Kenai Peninsula will see just its second home prep football game of the season tonight when Service plays at Soldotna at 6 p.m. in Week 4 nonconference action.
The Stars were supposed to host West Valley on Week 1, but the Wolfpack canceled that game due to COVID-19 issues in the program. Soldotna then was defeated in a Week 2 game at Lathrop and won a Week 3 game at Chugiak.
Kenai Central, which plays at Houston tonight at 7 p.m., doesn’t have a home game scheduled until Week 5.
Nikiski played the only other home game on the central peninsula, losing to Houston in Week 3. The Bulldogs were supposed to have another home game Saturday against Barrow, but that game will not happen because the Whalers program is having COVID-19 issues.
Seward also had to cancel its game tonight with Homer due to COVID-19 issues in the Seahawks program, leaving Soldotna and Kenai as the only two peninsula teams in action this weekend.
When Soldotna’s decorated program takes on one of the big Anchorage schools at Justin Maile Field, the peninsula typically sees some of its biggest football crowds.
The last time a big Anchorage school came calling is Sept. 22, 2018, when the Stars toppled Service 57-13.
“It’s been awhile, and it’s nice to be home,” Stars coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “It’s Week 4, we’re halfway through the season, and we haven’t been at home. We’re excited to be at home the next couple of weeks.”
Service is 1-2 this season, but Brantley Jr. said that is deceiving.
“Their record isn’t indicative of the way they’ve played,” he said. “They’ve lost to the No. 1 and 2 teams in large schools, West and East are the clear 1 and 2.
“They have some talent and they have a very good quarterback. We got a chance to see him at camp, and he kind of picked us apart.”
The Stars have to play the Cougars while dealing with injuries and players missing due to COVID-19 issues.
“As a football coach, when you’re dealing with injuries, you have a good idea early in the week and you can make the adjustments you need to,” Brantley Jr. said. “With COVID, you don’t know until the night before or the day before. You have to be ready to make changes at all times.”
The coach is looking forward to testing his team against Service. On defense, Brantley said the secondary played much better in Week 3. The coach will look to see if that improvement holds against Service’s high-powered spread attack.
SoHi’s rushing-oriented offense can also play a role in slowing down the spread by possessing the ball.
“We’re moving along a little slower offensively,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’re still making some early season mistakes midway through the season.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do. I don’t think we’ve been close to playing our best game offensively.”
Brantley Jr. said junior safety Brayden Taylor and senior safety Cody Uribe-Koivisto have played a big role in the improving secondary.
Sophomore Gehret Medcoff led the offense against Chugiak with 184 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Brantley Jr. added that Wayne Mellon has been important in the backfield due not only to his running, but due to his blocking and faking as well.
Kenai at Houston
Due to a Week 1 cancellation and a Week 3 bye, the Kardinals go into the Mid Alaska Conference opener against the Hawks with just a 36-0 loss to North Pole under their belts.
Houston is 1-2 coming off an impressive nonconference, Division III victory of 58-0 over Nikiski last weekend.
“It is what it is,” Kenai coach Dustin Akana said. “We don’t have a lot of experience coming into this game. I tell the boys all the time, we have nothing to show, but we have a lot to prove.”
Houston won an undefeated Division III title in 2019 and both of the Hawks’ losses this season are to schools from larger divisions.
Some Kenai coaches and players went out to watch Houston in Nikiski last week. Akana said he is impressed by the size on Houston’s line, and also by the way the Hawks passed against the Bulldogs.
“Watching game film on them, they ran a lot,” Akana said. “Last week watching the Nikiski game, passing was the strong point of their game.
“That gives us a tougher job, not only to stop the run, but also the pass.”
Nikiski also had a really hard time moving the ball on the Hawks.
“They had a hard time running up the middle,” Akana said. “We have to prepare and plan plays that are not catered to those three big boys in the middle.”
Akana said the Week 3 bye was good for healing injuries, but that his team will be missing some players due to COVID-19 issues.