The pomp and circumstance of the opening week of the prep football season will give way to a more businesslike approach, and coaches couldn’t be happier.
After their 49-30 triumph over reigning large-schools champs West Anchorage, the Soldotna Stars will be suiting up for another Friday night clash, but this time without the microphones, camera booms or extra media surrounding the field.
“The week leading up to (Friday) was a little overwhelming with media coverage, but it’s nice to get back to practice,” said SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr.
As for Kenai Central, new head coach Davis Lowery and his Kardinals are just simply glad to be back home at Ed Hollier Field after sustaining a 27-13 loss to South Anchorage.
Lowery said he was feeling a bit stung after losing a game he felt Kenai could win. The Kardinals led South 7-6 before the Wolverines took hold in the second half, which was made more bitter with the loss of two Kardinals offensive lineman to injury.
“We made some typical first-week mistakes that we’d love to have back, but we’re getting that corrected,” Lowery said. “But the kids showed lots of heart and fortitude.”
Filed in the shocking upset category of the week, Nikiski opened its season with a 38-20 loss to Valdez, the first loss for the Bulldogs to a conference opponent, other than Eielson, since the 2013 season. In his first game as head coach of the Bulldogs, Paul Nelson said the revamped team had to work the bugs out after a slow start.
“You play your first game and it shows your strengths and weaknesses, what you should’ve worked on more,” Nelson said.
Now, with Week 2 ringing the doorbell, peninsula squads are ready to tackle the bulk of the season.
Service at Kenai, 6 p.m. Friday
Service opened the season with a 55-39 nonconference win over West Valley in Fairbanks, and will next bring its multifaceted attack to Ed Hollier Field for a Friday night showdown.
The Kardinals and Cougars will meet for the first time in six years, the most recent matchup resulting in a 20-13 Service win in August of 2010.
With consecutive games against Anchorage squads, Kenai’s depth is being tested early in the year. Lowery said with the loss of two offensive lineman, the Kardinals will have to reload quickly.
“(Service is) a talented squad, they’ve got athletes in every position, and I think they played a good game against West Valley,” he said. “We certainly expect another week we’re gonna have to play our best.”
Kenai put its new offensive playbook to use against South last Saturday, as quarterback Chase Gillies surpassed all of last year’s passing yardage with 115, including a scoring strike. Kenai had 70 total air yards in 2015.
The Kenai defense also held the South attack in check with just a single touchdown given up in the first half, and Wolverines quarterback Jack Hanson was held to 38 pass yards on 11 attempts, and no touchdowns.
However, the Kardinals gave up 250 rushing yards to South, an area that Lowery said the team will be looking at.
Lowery praised the never-quit attitude his team showed against South, but added there are improvements to be made to the reorganized line, particularly in picking up the blitz.
“Being in a new system, there were some typical delays, but (Gillies) is learning his progression and getting faster,” Lowery said. “He’ll get better every week, he’s a quick learner.”
North Pole at Soldotna, 6 p.m. Friday
For the Stars, who picked up their state-record 40th straight win last Friday, things are back to business as usual.
Brantley Jr. said after reviewing the tape of last week’s game against West, there are still big changes to make.
“Honestly, we’re far from perfect,” he said. “We made a ton of blocking errors, some ball security stuff. The ball was on the ground three times.”
The result still looked the same for SoHi, however, as the Stars’ stout offensive line allowed SoHi to rush the ball 69 times for a team total 448 yards.
North Pole opened its season last weekend with a 36-0 nonconference loss to Lathrop, but it bears mentioning that the Patriots are without dangerous quarterback Dew Rogers, who is spending his senior year at West Valley. Rogers tested Soldotna by rolling off 280 offensive yards in the 2014 state championship game.
However, the Patriots still have senior running back Lafi Skipps.
“They are much improved over last year,” Brantley cautioned. “They have a new system there, and (head coach) Dennis (Diviney) does a good job. I think they had 90 kids out for the team, and some talented athletes.”
With a spread option matchup that North Pole is likely to bring, Brantley Jr. was glad to have played West last weekend.
“The challenge from a defensive standpoint wasn’t easy,” he said.
Tonight’s game is Veterans Appreciation night, with all veterans gaining free admission with support of the Soldotna Elks Lodge.
Thunder Mountain at Nikiski, 2 p.m. Saturday
Last week, Thunder Mountain beat Juneau 50-20 in a scrimmage that did not count toward the Southeast standings, but the Falcons were listed third among small- and medium-size schools in a football poll released this week by Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network. Soldotna and Eielson were the only two ranked ahead of Thunder Mountain.
Nikiski coach Paul Nelson said he does not pay too much attention to the polls, especially in the early weeks of the season.
“It’s tough to say who is where, especially after Week 1,” Nelson said. “You never know what teams are going to look like later down the road, but (the polls) are going to get more real as we go along.”
The most recent meeting between the two teams turned into a thriller. Nikiski won 28-21 last September, scoring on a late drive to record the nonconference victory on a rainy Friday night in Juneau.
After defeating the other two panhandle squads, Juneau and Ketchikan, last year with a combined score of 106-0, the Falcons ended their season in the playoffs with a semifinal loss to Soldotna.
Nelson said he has seen tape of the Falcons and expects a lot of passing.
“They like to throw around a little bit, they spread it open, bring four-receiver sets, but they also do a little tight end work with three backs,” he said.
Following their defeat to Valdez, Nelson said he has had the Bulldogs working on cleaning up errors on special teams as well.
“We changed up our defensive scheme, we’ve been working on tackling and polishing our offense,” he said. “Last week is in the past. We’re looking ahead.”
Seward at Valdez, 6 p.m. Friday
The Seahawks are taking to the road for a Friday night matchup with the team that just toppled Nikiski in Week 1.
Seward opened its season with a 34-14 loss to Ketchikan, a medium-schools opponent. Facing an improved senior-laden Buccaneers team, however, will be another challenge.
Barrow at Homer, 3 p.m. Saturday
The Mariners open their home slate with a clash with Barrow, a perennial small-schools contender that features several gifted athletes.
While Homer didn’t play the Whalers last year, the last meeting in 2014 resulted in a 30-12 road win over Barrow at the blue “Smurf Turf” field that borders the Arctic Ocean.
In its season opener last week against Eielson, Homer lost stealthy quarterback Teddy Croft in the second half after a hit that forced the Mariners to administer concussion protocol. Coach Josh Fraley was unable to say whether Croft would play against Barrow.
Also lost in the 67-31 loss to Eielson was receiver Noah Fisk, who sprained an ankle.
Voznesenka at Monroe Catholic, 1 p.m. Saturday
The Cougars open their season Saturday after missing Week 1. Against a stout Monroe Catholic Rams squad, Voznesenka is expected to try to keep possession and the score low.
Voznesenka finished last year 1-6 overall, with a 40-6 win over Redington their lone victory.
The Rams were ranked fifth among small- and medium-size schools in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network poll released this week following a 59-6 win over Redington High School.