SoHi, Homer, Nikiski play for spots in title game

Three of the Kenai Peninsula’s football teams made the high school playoffs, and central peninsula football fans have a chance to see all of them this weekend.

At 4 p.m. Friday, Soldotna hosts North Pole in the Division II semifinals. Then at 2 p.m. Saturday, Nikiski hosts Homer in the Division III semifinals.

North Pole at Soldotna, 4 p.m. Friday

The Stars earned the right to host a first-round playoff game by winning the Northern Lights Conference at 4-0 and finishing with an 8-0 record.

North Pole finished second in the Railbelt with a 2-1 record and 5-3 overall mark.

The two teams matched up at North Pole in Week 1, with the Stars recording a 60-6 victory.

“Just from what we’ve seen, they’ve improved quite a bit,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “We went up there in Week 1 and played a quarterback (Marcus Lipari) getting his first start.

“We’ve watched him progress to a dual-threat player who can run and pass. We feel they’re quite a different team.”

Brantley Jr., whose 28-3 record in the playoffs includes a 73-20 victory over the Patriots in last season’s Division II semifinals, also feels his defense has improved a lot.

“It’ll definitely be a good test,” Brantley Jr. said. “It was a weird game up there. The momentum got away early and they were never able to get it back.

“They have the talent to hang around and make a game of it.”

A big reason the momentum got away is because North Pole could not stop Soldotna’s offense. It started a trend, because no team has come close to stopping the Stars this season.

In a 49-13 victory over Eagle River on Saturday to wrap up the regular season, Gehret Medcoff ran 14 times for 217 yards and three touchdowns. Brantley Jr. also said Joe Whittom had a great game on both sides of the ball, and Ala Tuisaula played well at center.

Brantley Jr. said Taylor Lewis is now coaching the North Pole defense. Lewis is a former assistant for Soldotna, so Brantley Jr. said that should help the Patriots.

The Soldotna coach said his biggest concern right now is injuries and illness running through the team. He said he’s not sure how the losses will shake out, but the Stars could be down three or four starters.

Homer at Nikiski, 2 p.m. Saturday

In a bit of trivia that may be best forgotten, the last time each of these teams qualified for the playoffs was 2020. Nikiski lost in the first round to Houston, while Homer never even got to play a game because the bulk of the playoffs was canceled due to the pandemic.

Nikiski qualified this year by winning the Denali Conference with a 2-0 record and 3-2 overall record. Homer finished second in the Mid Alaska Conference with a 3-1 record and 5-3 overall record.

The two squads played an entertaining game in Week 7 in Nikiski, with Homer pulling out a 46-36 victory.

In the game, defenses had no answer for the offenses. The team that made fewer crucial mistakes won the game.

“In the first game, they were faster off the offensive line and had more drive off the offensive line,” Homer head coach Justin Zank said. “They were the more physical team, for sure.”

Trammell is a 2015 graduate of Soldotna High School. He has installed the SoHi offense at Nikiski. All players coming from the backfield act as if they are carrying the ball, and all blockers drive to the whistle.

The Nikiski coach said he appreciates Zank’s kind words about the offense.

“A lot of time and effort goes into a thing like that, so I appreciate the compliment,” he said. “That’s weeks and weeks of hard work and staying disciplined.”

While Dwyght Mullins had shown himself capable of big gains in the offense, for the most part it operates by consistently getting 3- and 4-yard gains. That’s why Trammell said his team must avoid the penalties and fumbles that stopped Nikiski against Homer.

Homer runs the spread offense, with quarterback Carter Tennison, depending on what the defense gives him, running or passing for large chunks of yardage.

“Coach Zank is doing a good job with the kids he has,” Trammell said. “He’s really able to take advantage of teams that don’t see a lot of huge quarterbacks that can move too.

“Trying to game plan against them is picking your poison.”

While Tennison has put up huge numbers, Zank said the players around him make it possible. Tennison was injured for the first two weeks and Homer went 1-1, a period Zank said was crucial to the team’s development.

“Homer does have more than one dude on their team,” Zank said. “We don’t want to overly rely on that one guy, because if that guy goes down we’ll be in trouble.”

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