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Seward, Nikiski set to resume rivalry

For Kenai Peninsula football teams, the games played in the eighth and final week of the regular season have no playoff implications.

Soldotna and Kenai Central both have already qualified for the playoffs.

The Stars are in the Division II tournament as the No. 1 seed out of the Northern Lights Conference, while the Kards are in the Division III bracket as the No. 3 seed out of the Mid Alaska Conference. Soldotna plays at Division I South at 3 p.m. Saturday, while Kenai plays at Division II Kodiak at 5 p.m. today.

Seward and Nikiski may perhaps have the most on the line, although both can’t overtake Monroe Catholic for the only Division III playoff spot out of the Denali Conference. Seward will have senior night and homecoming as the Seahawks try and take the Fish Bowl from Nikiski for the first time. The Seahawks host the Bulldogs at 4:30 p.m. Friday.

Homer’s season is over because Barrow canceled its Week 8 game at Homer due to COVID issues.

Nikiski at Seward

The two teams met in Week 5 in Nikiski, with Seward holding on for a 28-26 victory. That was the first time Seward had defeated Nikiski since the 2016 season. Seward coach Tyler Mallory said the Fish Bowl trophy between the two teams wasn’t created yet in 2016, so his team has the chance to finally snare that prize.

Tonight’s game also will count as the conference game between Seward (1-1, 2-2) and Nikiski (2-1, 2-4).

Mallory, whose team rides a two-game winning streak into tonight, said the key to the victory earlier in the season was not turning the ball over and not allowing many big plays by Nikiski’s offense.

The Seward coach said turnovers could very well play a big role, with the forecast calling for precipitation and temperatures in the low 40s.

“We’re Seward so we’re used to that,” Mallory said. “The kids are excited for that chance to play in that bad weather. It’s always fun. They know they’ll have to secure the ball more and be a little sharper on defense so they don’t fall over.

“It’s Seward. That’s what gives us the home-field advantage.”

The Seahawks will honor six seniors. James Milburn, Kekoa Albino and Tommy Cronin have been with Mallory all four years. Daniel Correa, Fayzon Lawrence and Marcus Lastimosa also will be honored.

Soldotna at South

Soldotna comes into the game 5-1 overall and on a five-game winning streak, while South is 2-4 overall.

“Their record is not really indicative of the type of talent they have up there,” Soldotna coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “They beat West, and they’ve been one of the top two or three teams in the state. (South) has just been really inconsistent.”

Brantley Jr. said he wants his team to be as healthy as possible for a home, semifinal playoff game.

“Anybody banged up doesn’t play and anyone that gets banged up comes out,” the coach said.

At the same time, Brantley Jr. wants to keep progressing as the Stars chase a ninth straight Division II title.

A big part of that title string has been incredibly consistent execution on offense. In a 49-21 victory over Wasilla in Week 7, SoHi ran 31 plays before fumbling the ball away when already holding a 35-14 lead. The offense did not commit a penalty in that time. Of the plays that did not result in a touchdown in those opening 31 plays, just five went for 2 yards or less.

“South has some extremely dynamic players,” Brantley Jr. said. “For us to have a chance to be successful, we need to be able to control the clock and field position.”

Brantley Jr. said senior right guard Kaidan Spies has been a big part of the consistent offense, playing with great technique while also playing physically.

Finally, the coach said the team has fought injuries and missing players due to COVID close contacts all season. Brantley Jr. said that will remain the case against South.

Kenai at Kodiak

The Kardinals (1-4 overall) are in the same boat as the Stars, wanting to be as healthy as possible for the playoffs.

“That’s our main goal and, to be honest, it could be a little difficult to do that,” Akana said of playing it totally safe healthwise. “We only get to travel 20 players there, so it’s not like there’s a lot of players to sub in and out.”

Because the ferry isn’t currently going to Kodiak, Kenai had to fly there instead.

“We’re looking at this game as a confidence booster for the boys,” Akana said. “We’re preaching to the boys to end the season strong and we’re focusing on improving from last week.”

Kodiak is 0-5 overall. Due to positive COVID cases, a bye week and bad weather, the Bears have only played once game since losing to Homer in Week 3. Kodiak has scored just one touchdown so far this season.

Akana knows the game will still be tough. He said he is missing a significant number of starters due to injuries and COVID close contacts.

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