The fourth weekend of the prep football season signals the end of a first half of wild nonconference and nondivision contests that have left the football hierarchy in a topsy-turvy state.
It also signals the beginning of a second half of the season that will decide the postseason pecking order of who gets in, who misses out and who gets home-field advantage.
The Division II Northern Lights Conference teams will all still play out-of-conference games, but Division III Peninsula Conference schools will finally dip their toes into conference play this weekend, starting with a key Friday evening matchup in Nikiski when the Bulldogs host Ketchikan, while Homer takes to the road to play Houston. Seward, meanwhile, will travel to Valdez for a nonconference bout.
Kenai Central and Soldotna will both continue to battle with Division II Railbelt Conference rivals for another week, before both schools finally get into NLC play.
The following is a closer look at the weekend’s action:
West Valley (3-0) at Soldotna (2-1), 6:30 p.m. Friday
For a second consecutive week, the Stars are matched up with the undefeated No. 1 ranked team in the Division II and III weekly poll released by the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network.
However, if common sense prevails, diehard Alaska football fans know better than to put a lot of stock into the poll, which two weeks ago left SoHi out completely.
Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. is taking his typical one-game-at-a-time approach to the Wolfpack.
“I certainly don’t put a lot of stock into (the polls) because its apparent that they don’t know what’s going on in the state with football,” Brantley Jr. said.
Coming off a 50-21 win over a large Fairbanks team in Lathrop, the Stars continued to shake off a Week 1 loss to West Anchorage with a big second half against the Malamutes, outscoring Lathrop 24-7 in the final 12 minutes to ice a game that Brantley Jr. said should not have been as close to begin with.
“I think we didn’t handle some of the adversity early as well,” he said. “We got caught up with things early and drug things out longer than it had to.
“But I think we just kind of wore them out eventually by running the football, and it was one of those things … those 3- and 4-yard gains early become 8- and 9-yard gains (later).”
Tonight, the Stars wrap up four straight weeks of Friday night games with another big matchup with an Interior team, and a No. 1 ranked team for a second week in a row.
West Valley is fresh off a 22-7 win over Division I school Chugiak, so Brantley Jr. knows his crew has a big task in front of them.
“They have more team speed than anyone we’ve seen,” he said. “They have some guys that can fly.”
The SoHi coach said West Valley’s stable of running backs are tough enough to spread the field and make the team’s passing attack a second obstacle to overcome.
Brantley Jr. knows this because he coached the team’s top back, Justin Cummings, two years ago in the annual Shriners game in Anchorage.
“Keeping them off the scoreboard is going to be very tough,” Brantley Jr. said. “They can score quickly.”
Quarterback Maurice Maiden will start opposite SoHi junior Jersey Truesdell, and Brantley Jr. said Maiden’s favorite targets in Tyrell Johnson and Avery Weston complement the backfield of Cummings, Preston Damario and Isaiah Warner.
“It’ll be a very similar game plan for us (as Lathrop),” he said. “We know if we come in, execute well and get our running game going, it’ll give us a good advantage.”
North Pole (0-3) at Kenai (1-2), 2 p.m. Saturday
Since Kenai fell 34-6 to Palmer in its home opener last weekend, the Kardinals are hoping for a better showing Saturday in front of their home fans.
Head coach Dustin Akana said the same mistakes that the Kards suffered in Week 2 came back to bite them again last week.
“It’s the same thing we’ve been saying since Game 1,” he said. “We’re making mental mistakes, and we’re showing them on the film the little mistakes they’ve made.
“The biggest thing is if they didn’t make those little mistakes, (it comes down to) how big of a play we would’ve made on offense or defense.”
North Pole is winless on the year, but pushed Division I South Anchorage all the way in a 52-32 loss. The Patriots led the game 20-8 at one point in the first half and were still leading at halftime before the Wolverines pulled away.
Akana said the Kardinals will need to shut down North Pole running back Bradley Antesberger if they wish to pull out the victory. Antesberger was able to put on 160 yards rushing against the powerhouse SoHi Stars two weeks ago in a North Pole loss.
“We’re keying in on him,” Akana said. “They like to spread their offense, which forces (other teams) to pull the backers and defensive backs out, and give him more room to run.”
Akana said the Kardinals defensive secondary — which includes corners Zach Burnett and Titus Riddall, Connor Felchle at safety and Tucker Vann, Ben Grossl, Joey Silvester and Billy Morrow on the linebacking crew — will need to step up to keep the Patriots from running rampant.
“We’re preaching for them to trust your technique, trust your reads,” Akana said. “If you read it right, it will take you to the play.”
Ketchikan (2-0) at Nikiski (2-1), 5 p.m. Friday
Tonight’s conference clash — Nikiski’s first of the season — against the Kings represents a key test for the Bulldogs.
Ketchikan is the new team on the block, having moved down a division and into the Peninsula Conference in 2018 after struggling in the former Southeast Conference against powerhouses such as Juneau.
Now in Division III, the Kings have run rampant with a 2-0 start to their season, including a 77-0 throttling of Valdez last week. Through two games, the Kings have outscored their opponents 126-14.
Nikiski picked up a second straight home win last weekend with a 28-0 shutout over nonconference foe Redington, but the Bulldogs defense will likely need a bigger day to contain the Kings.
Homer (0-3) at Houston (2-1), 7 p.m. Friday
The Mariners are still winless after a tough 28-27 home loss last week against the Monroe Catholic Rams, a loss that particularly stung due to an odd call by the officials.
According to head coach Walter Love, the Rams took the lead late on a pick-six thrown by Homer QB Anthony Kalugin.
The problem came when two separate penalties occurred on the play; first when Kalugin was hit well after the pass for a roughing-the-passer call, and second on a Homer player that was charged with a face mask call on the intercepting Monroe player.
Normally, the two penalties should cancel each other out and bring back the touchdown, but Love said the referee let the score stand after Monroe declined the Homer penalty, but allowed the Monroe penalty to be tacked onto the ensuing kickoff.
“They were completely wrong,” Love said. “Maybe we weren’t going to win, but that’s wrong.”
Ultimately, Homer came back to score on a touchdown run by Noah Fisk, who finished with a game-high 171 yards, but a missed two-point play with just 1:28 to play spelled the difference for Homer.
Love said by Monday, the officials approached him with an apology after realizing their mistake.
“I’m not a finger pointer,” Love said. “But my drill is if you have to blame the referee for ruining the game, you’re not playing a good enough football game yourself.”
Love said with Houston on the schedule tonight, his team will need to clean up their game if they wish to win, citing several penalties by experienced players that hurt the Mariners last week, and added that a change in defensive tactics was needed. Love said he switched to a four-man defensive secondary, moving from a three-man backfield.
Houston’s coming off a big win with a 30-6 drubbing of defending state champion Barrow last week. Love said that automatically makes Houston a tough team.
“I think their QB is good at carrying the ball, they set it up nicely with misdirection,” Love said. “We need to keep an eye on containment, and not get burnt on the backside and over contain.”
Seward (1-2) at Valdez (0-2), 2 p.m. Saturday
The Seahawks were rolled last week in a 45-0 thrashing by Eielson, winner of three of the last four Division III state titles.
However, Valdez is also coming off a bruising loss, a 77-0 dud against Ketchikan.
This game therefore comes down to which side can rebound the best from adversity. Seward head coach Kelly Cinereski has stated earlier in the year his confidence in offensive stars Shane Saulivan and Gabe Schrock, each of whom Cinereski said has carried the ball well in recent weeks.