Homer will be the first Kenai Peninsula football team to jump into conference action this season, taking on Houston at 7 p.m. tonight in Mid Alaska Conference action in Houston.
The Hawks, who opened their season by defeating Seward 45-0, are currently one of the top programs in Division III, winning the state title in 2019, finishing runner-up in 2021 and taking third in 2018.
“We know they’re gonna be super physical and try to punch us in the mouth,” Homer coach Justin Zank said. “We know it’s going to be a hostile environment. It’s going to be fun and it’s definitely going to be a challenge.”
The Division III Mariners also got their season off to a positive start with a 42-30 victory over Division II Kodiak.
Zank, in his fourth season as head coach at Homer, said the Mariners will have to match Houston’s intensity.
“The Kodiak game was a really good start and a really good win for our program,” Zank said. “I’m hoping it sets the tone for the rest of the season.
“We played that game with a physicality we haven’t really had.”
Zank said the victory was a team effort, with great blocking from the offensive line allowing all the skill position players to have solid games.
Now the challenge is keeping that going against Houston.
“After watching the film, they’re gonna stack the box,” Zank said. “We’ve got to be able to handle that.”
North Pole at Kenai, 1 p.m. Saturday
Central peninsula prep football fans get a chance to watch their first home game of the year when the Division III Kardinals take on the Division II Patriots.
Kenai opened with a 32-7 victory over Division III Eielson, while North Pole lost 60-6 to Division II Soldotna.
“The kids are pretty excited,” Kenai coach Jake Brand said. “They’ve had a taste of success, but everybody knows it will be a little different situation going against North Pole. They’re hungry to have that success again.”
With the exception of the pandemic season of 2020, the Kardinals and Patriots have faced off every season since 2017. North Pole won all three of its home games, while the Kardinals won their lone home game.
Brand said it took a complete team effort and great leadership from the seniors to top the Ravens. That will remain the same against the Patriots.
“It was great to reward the kids and let them know hard work and effort amount to results like that,” Brand said of the Eielson victory.
Nikiski at Seward, 5 p.m. Friday
All the games stand a good chance of being affected by rain this weekend, but the highest probability goes to this nonconference affair between these Denali Conference rivals.
“It’s gonna be wet this week,” Seward coach Tyler Mallory said. “It’s been raining nonstop for two weeks in Seward.”
The good news for Nikiski coach Matt Trammell is the Bulldogs have had plenty of practice in the rain.
“It’s been sloppy over here so we’re prepared for it,” Trammell said, still shivering after Wednesday’s rainy practice. “It should be a wet, sloppy football game.”
The teams will meet again in Week 8 matchup that promises to have playoff implications. Both coaches said they will hold nothing back this week in hopes of a Week 8 surprise.
Mallory said the offense has to improve execution after committing seven turnovers against the Hawks.
“That was a really poor performance by our offense and not what we’re capable of,” Mallory said.
Mallory said the defense played well, led by 12 tackles from Landen DeRoos. Emerson Cross also played well enough to move into a starting slot at outside linebacker. On offense, Mallory said Gideon Schrock ran well and made a big catch.
Nikiski will be looking to get past a 12-8 loss to Barrow. The Bulldogs were stuffed on fourth-and-goal from the Barrow 2-yard line, then the Whalers drove 99 yards for the victory.
“The kids fought hard and we had to go through a lot of travel complications,” Trammell said.
Trammell said the plane to Barrow overshot the runway Friday, so Nikiski had to go back to Anchorage and spend the night. The Bulldogs then flew up the day of the game.
“We definitely had some errors, but the effort was there and I really think Barrow is one of the teams to beat in our division,” Trammell said.
Trammell said Tim Goodnight was the MVP on defense, flying around at nose guard despite battling some big kids from Barrow. Goodnight forced two fumbles. On offense, Trammell said sophomore James Hemphill stepped in after an injury to the starter and scored the lone touchdown of the game.
“I think if we take care of the football we can win this game,” Trammell said of the Seward matchup.
Soldotna at Service, 8 p.m. Friday
By trouncing North Pole, the Stars got off to a great start in chasing a first state title since 2019. SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said his team played with great effort and tackled well on defense for so early in the season.
“We’re just excited by all the young guys,” the coach said. “They’re improving every day in practice. The light is coming on at different times for different guys. It’s a fun group to coach.”
Last season, the Division II Stars topped the Division I Cougars 48-34. Brantley Jr. said Service has improved since then, especially on offense. The coach said Service is a bigger school with more athletes, so the Stars must win this one on execution.
“I don’t think this is a team we can shut down,” he said. “I think we’re going to have to try and eliminate the big plays as much as possible, then score enough points.”
SoHi’s offense looked ready to do that against North Pole. Gehret Medcoff had three rushing touchdowns, but Brantley Jr. said Collin Peck and Wyatt Faircloth also ran the ball really well. Brantley Jr. said Joe Whittom and Hakoa Montoya blocked well up front.
“We feel like we have a pretty talented backfield,” Brantley Jr. said. “Last year, we really leaned on Gehret Medcoff and he carried the load quite a bit, but we feel like there’s a couple other backs to share the burden.”
On defense, the coach was excited by the debut of junior Henry Williams, who transferred in from Texas.