Week 2 prep football preview: Big conference, nonconference matchups loom

Week 1 of the prep football season is in the books and after seeing competition for the first time, teams have a clearer understanding of where their program sits.

Week 2 of the 2014 season will continue to see most teams facing nonconference opponents, which has the potential to shake up the standings.

One of the more intriguing matchups will be tonight when Soldotna travels to play Palmer, a medium-schools squad facing a large-schools team. Coming off a thrashing of large-schools opponent Eagle River last Saturday, the Stars face a bigger challenge with the Moose, a team that nearly made it to the state title game last year.

Kenai Central also drew a large-schools challenge this week, as they travel even farther north to take on the Lathrop Malamutes in Fairbanks.

Nikiski’s rival this week isn’t even included in a conference or division. The Houston Hawks opted out of the Northern Lights Conference this year and are playing an independent schedule.

That leaves Seward, Homer and tiny Voznesenka as the only Peninsula squads that will begin their conference schedule this weekend. Homer faces off with Kodiak, Seward gets Eielson and Voznesenka travels to Valdez.

Soldotna at Palmer, 7 p.m. Friday

A 21-game winning streak is on the line for the Stars this weekend, and it just so happens that the last loss SoHi had came against the Palmer Moose in August 2012.

SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said going up against a team that lost a large-schools state semifinal in overtime in 2013 will be a challenge that his squad is up to.

“I don’t think you have to worry about kids showing up motivated,” Brantley Jr. said. “That’s the easy part of being a coach, but we have to absolutely give it our best or we won’t have a chance.”

Soldotna will not only have a tough large-schools opponent to deal with, but a determined opponent as well. Palmer is coming off a 28-6 loss to West Anchorage, the same team that ended its season last year.

Fortunately, Brantley Jr. is quite friendly with Palmer coach Rod Christiansen off the field. In addition to sharing connections in both Soldotna and Palmer, Brantley Jr. shared his home with Christiansen several years ago after their car broke down.

“I think it’s really easy for coaches to keep things in perspective,” Brantley Jr. said. “We both know it’s not a battle between coaches, it’s between the kids on the field.

“They’re as well a coached team as they’ve ever been, and it’s gonna come down to who gets the big plays.”

Brantley Jr. believes the Moose have one of the best front lines in the state, pointing to No. 71 — Nick Benshetler — as the top lineman.

“I think they’re a lot like us,” he said. “The fact that they have specific systems that run both sides of the ball, we know what we’re going to get. The biggest challenge will be staying in the trenches.”

Last week, junior running back Drew Gibbs carried the weight for SoHi, rushing for 146 yards and scoring three touchdowns to go along with a 31-yard touchdown reception.

“Drew had a great game,” Brantley Jr. said. “He’s gonna be one of those players people will key in on.”

Brooks Furlong got the start at quarterback in Week 1, but the Stars only utilized him on three passing plays, two of them resulting in touchdowns to Gibbs and Trevor Walden.

“Brooks did a really good job managing us and getting us up and down the field,” Brantley Jr. said. “One of our other bright spots was Bailey Blumentritt. He had an outstanding game, and proved himself a capable back.”

Brantley Jr. said he was pleased with the effort up front, commending the solid play from Austin Crowder at guard and Walden at tight end, as well as Ty Fenton.

As for defense, Brantley Jr. is not changing anything for now.

“Defensively, we had one breakdown (against Eagle River) where we missed a couple tackles that resulted in the long touchdown run, but we worked hard all week and cleaned up that stuff,” he said.

Kenai Central at Lathrop, 7 p.m. Saturday

The Malamutes are not only in a different conference and division than Kenai, but they exhibit a strikingly different style of play from the Kardinals.

Kenai’s offense likes to stick to the basics and run a ground-and-pound, hard-nosed method of moving the ball, while Lathrop features a high-flying attack. In last weekend’s loss to Bartlett, Lathrop quarterback Glenn Maiden threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns on 47 pass attempts.

Kenai coach John Marquez said that has forced his squad to change its preparation for Saturday’s road game.

“Obviously you gotta pressure (Maiden),” Marquez said. “In an offense like that, you got to make him release the ball before he’s ready. It doesn’t come down to coverage, it comes down to timing, and if you disrupt the timing, they have a much harder time connecting.”

Since it’s been at least four years since Lathrop and Kenai have face each other, and Marquez was not yet a coach at Kenai, there’s no telling what kind of game is set to transpire.

“It’s a good matchup,” he said. “I think our kids learned a lot from the Juneau game. They learned they can compete and beat the best if they compete.”

Unfortunately for Kenai, a Week 1 loss to Juneau — a state finalist last year — proved costly. Kenai twice fumbled the ball and gave the Crimson Bears optimal field position.

“We also had a costly late-hit penalty on third and long that kept (Juneau) going,” Marquez said. “So I think we’re three mistakes away from being a solid team.”

Marquez said there are no secrets when it comes down to who to look for in this week’s matchup. Lathrop is deadly with Maiden under center and twin brother Garrius at wide receiver, and Kyle Foree and Chase Logan present the toughest backfield ball carriers for Kenai. Foree and Logan both got over 100 yards on the ground last week.

“We got to ride our horse,” Marquez said. “We’re not broken, we’re just not running at full caliber yet.”

Marquez said he was most pleased last week with junior left tackle David Beck, a first-year varsity player who is only in his second year playing football. Marquez said Beck played formidably against Juneau, and the gaps he managed to open also helped Andrew Welborn step his own game up and score a touchdown against Juneau.

“I asked the guys who we were gonna give the ball to (late in the game),” Marquez said. “They said, ‘Coach, we gotta give it to Welborn.’ That’s the type of team we have, kids are trying to share the load.”

Nikiski at Houston, 7 p.m. Friday

After deciding to compete as an independent team this year, Houston will not be a part of any playoff scenarios, but tonight’s game still counts as an overall contest that the Bulldogs are looking to capitalize on.

“We’ve set a course to get better every week,” said Nikiski coach Ted Riddall.

Houston will be playing its home opener, after coming up short in a 14-7 loss in Seward last weekend. Vanu Mose rushed for 87 yards in the loss, including a 14-yard score in the third quarter.

“We always look at their best running back and wide receiver and what their quarterback does best,” Riddall said. “But as long as we stay fundamentally sound, I think we can hold them.”

After cruising to a 42-19 win over medium-schools Thunder Mountain, Nikiski’s offense has clearly jelled well early in the season. But coach Riddall knows better than to sit back on the team’s laurels and think they will defend their state title.

“We’ve been working on fundamentals and pushing the kids on cardio training,” Riddall said. “The main goal is helping them to sustain drivers better. That’s just small-schools football, the better shape you’re in, the better off you’ll be.”

Riddall’s son, Christian, was one of three players to carry the ball over 100 yards against Thunder Mountain. Nico Castro and Luke Johnson were the other two. Additionally, quarterback Cade Anderson racked up 118 passing yards as well, which is all thanks to the team’s Wing-T offense.

“Any time you run an offense that we’ve been running for a while, it comes down to having good athletes,” Riddall said. “It’s hard to defend, it’s always given us an advantage, and when we’re running it pretty effectively, it can be devastating.”

Homer at Kodiak, 2 p.m. Saturday

The Mariners need a kick-start for their season, which got off to a rough start last weekend with a 41-16 loss to Eielson, a small-schools team.

Unfortunately, Week 2 will not get any easier for Homer. The team’s first Northern Lights Conference game is a meeting with Kodiak, a team that beat them 26-8 a year ago. Both teams are looking for their first win of 2014, as Kodiak got pummeled by Chugiak 50-0 in Week 1.

Last week against Eielson, senior quarterback Sheldon Hutt proved his mettle with 78 passing yards and 33 rushing yards to lead the team. The only problem is that Hutt’s combined 111 offensive yards consisted of all but 18 yards total for Homer, while Eielson went rampant with 382 total yards.

Seward at Eielson, noon Saturday

The Seahawks are looking to continue the good start they are off to in 2014 after beating Houston 14-7 in Week 1. Preston Atwood and quarterback Alex Pahno provided the scoring plays against the Hawks.

A big defensive effort will be needed against Eielson, though, as the Ravens are coming off a 41-point showing against Homer, a medium-schools squad. The fact that Seward and Eielson are both in the Greatland Conference only adds to the importance of Saturday’s contest.

Voznesenka at Valdez, TBA Saturday

The Cougars are opening their season with a trip to Valdez to take on the Wolverines for a Greatland Conference matchup.

Voznesenka skipped Week 1 to help prepare the team for a more complete effort in conference play. Coach Justin Zank tabbed Gavril Kalugin as the quarterback this year, and said he expects big plays from linemen Misael Martushev, Safron Kusnetsov, Markian Polushkin and running back Kiril Sanarov.

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