Week 5 prep football preview: Grading the teams

The prep football season reached its midpoint this week, with four games down and four to go for teams across the state.

Although the academic year is still in its early stages, the midterm report cards have come out for football teams. So where does each team stand among its rivals?

Wasilla (2-2) at Kenai (2-2), 6 p.m. Friday

Kenai coach John Marquez said he would grade his team at a “solid B.”

“That’s just being honest to my kids and what I see on film,” Marquez said. “We’ve come from a high ‘D’ status on execution, to now being a solid ‘B’ due to practice.”

After an 0-2 start to the year, the Kardinals have gotten back on track with wins over Kodiak and Palmer, the latter being the first of a two-game series with large-school Railbelt Conference teams. Tonight’s matchup with the Warriors may be the bigger of the two challenges from the Railbelt.

“Wasilla is a very good team, as good or better than Palmer,” Marquez said. “Athletewise, they’re about the same as Palmer, if their running back gets outside (of the defensive formation), they can take it to the house.

“But I think Wasilla is executing better, and that can be tough. We need to do our jobs.”

Palmer’s biggest threat was senior Chase Ferris, who ran for 130 yards against Kenai. However, the Kards did better, as senior Chase Logan had 292 yards on 29 carries. Logan has 674 overall rushing yards in 2014, tops among Peninsula athletes.

Wasilla amassed 343 rushing yards in a 49-25 win last week against West Valley in Fairbanks, and running back Devin Otto led the way with 220 yards and four touchdowns. If Kenai can key in on Otto and leave him to the fearsome Kardinal defensive line, another win is in the cards.

“It’s the little things we need to do,” Marquez said. “The biggest thing is sticking together through adversity. Every game we’ve had adversity and the last two games we’ve learned how to deal with it.”

Marquez said Wasilla likes to run a wing-T trap option style offense, which means there could be one of three backfield players with the ball on any given play. Kenai will have its hands full.

“We’ve got to come out and play four quarters, like we did the first, third and fourth quarters against Palmer,” Marquez said. “They’ve got big guys, speed, but if we do our jobs and execute, it’ll be fun. It’ll be a dogfight.”

Tonight’s game will also be the last for Kenai until Sept. 27, since all Northern Lights Conference teams get a bye week due to Houston dropping out of the conference.

Soldotna (3-0) at Kodiak (1-3), 2 p.m. Saturday

After sitting out on a rare bye week, Soldotna gets back to action Saturday afternoon with its first conference game of the year in Kodiak.

SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. says after three dominating wins to start the year, he would give his team a “C+.”

“We’ve not progressed from an execution standpoint,” Brantley Jr. said. “We still have some silly errors, but we spent a lot of this time off polishing those up.”

The last bye week that the Stars had was 2008, when Juneau-Douglas — still a large-schools opponent — canceled its meeting with Soldotna.

“We’re excited to get back to football, it feels weird to sit around,” Brantley Jr. said.

Brantley Jr. said Soldotna spent the off week focusing on correcting small errors, mostly blocking and tackling mistakes.

The Bears are primarily a run-based offense, with running back Jay-Ar Small and Isagani Galindez getting most of the carries. But if Kodiak wishes to fool the stout SoHi defense, quarterback Melvin Javier will need to step up as a third playmaker.

“They have an athletic quarterback that runs their system very well,” Brantley Jr. said. “When a team runs the option, it takes time to develop it throughout the season to get their reads down. For them to hold Colony to a single offensive touchdown in one half is good.”

Brantley Jr. added that, like any week, the Stars are not looking past Kodiak, even as SoHi continued to stand as one of the dominating forces in the Northern Lights Conference.

“I think they’ve done positive things,” he said about Kodiak. “They were beating Kenai after one quarter, and against Colony last week gave up one offensive touchdown in the second half. Maybe they’re not as deep or athletic as past Kodiak teams, but they can certainly hang around if you let them.”

The veteran coach also said that game film of opponents has helped SoHi prepare better than any other method. Looking at common opponents does not truly give the Stars an idea of what to expect.

“I think that’s the worse trap people can get into,” Brantley Jr. said. “You don’t know how teams will match up and you never wanna look at that. The best thing you can do is keep your nose down and prep as much as you can for the next team.”

Ketchikan (3-1) at Homer (2-2), noon Saturday

The Mariners thus far in 2014 have bounced back with two straight wins, but one of the big tests of the season lies ahead of them.

“I expect a great game because they’re a team we don’t see often,” said Homer coach Josh Fraley. “I think we’ve maybe played them three times in the last 10 years. It may be a shootout game.”

After getting the first win of the year in Barrow in Week 3, Homer continued the streak with a 55-0 shut out of Valdez on Saturday. Fraley said once his squad established an early lead, he substituted his varsity players out with several of the JV players.

“We went in trying not to look past them, but knowing it was probably gonna be a short game,” Fraley said. “I liked that we were able to score 30 points quickly in the first quarter, but then we got our varsity players out of there.”

Fraley said Homer is also glad to be getting back home after a three-week stint on the road, which consisted of trips to Kodiak (on the ferry), Barrow and Valdez. Not necessarily a dream vacation.

Against Ketchikan, Fraley said the advantage his Mariners hold is defense.

“Right now, we’re looking good,” Fraley said. “We’ve only allowed 12 points in the last few games, but more importantly we’re getting turnovers.”

With a defensive line consisting of defensive end Patrick Rainwater and tackle Ben Knisley — two players that coach Fraley said have been difference makers — Homer faces an entertaining matchup with the Kings. Ketchikan beat Thunder Mountain 40-35 last week.

“Ketchikan has some good running backs, and it’s a pretty balanced attack,” Fraley said. “Hopefully our defense keeps us going, and our offense can put some points on the board.”

Fraley explained that with Josh Fisk and Connor Seay providing a deeper running threat each and every week, it has allowed quarterback Sheldon Hutt to make bigger passing plays when the opposing defense keys in on an expected running play.

“Sheldon has been throwing the ball 15 to 20 times each game, and last year we were unable to run the ball,” he said. “This year we have a few big sophomores on the offensive line that have added so much more depth, and they’ve been stacking the box to allow Sheldon some good looks.”

Valdez (1-3) at Nikiski (2-1), 2 p.m. Saturday

Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said he would grade his team with a “B.”

“We don’t just look at wins and losses,” Riddall said. “I look and see is the team getting better? Are they showing the same signs as teams in the past?”

The Bulldogs were hurting after Eielson senior Anthony Griffith posted a new state single-game record of 516 rushing yards against them Saturday afternoon. But in true Bulldog fashion, Riddall had the team up and running again at full capacity in practice.

“It’s been with a little more purpose in the way our kids are practicing,” Riddall said. “We’ve challenged them, watched film, laid it out for them, and it was a great opportunity for them to get better. It’s in their hands for them to get better.”

Riddall said he was able to provide an optimistic perspective on the Eielson game. He explained that while Griffith scored eight touchdowns on 42 touches, it also means he was stopped on the 34 other plays he made with the ball.

“(Griffith) is the same kid on those touches as he is with the others,” Riddall said. “It wasn’t like we didn’t have somebody there, he wasn’t running free.”

Having allowed a running back to take the state single-game rushing record for the second straight year (after Kenai’s Jace Daniels broke the previous mark in August 2013 against Nikiski), the Bulldogs more than doubled their defensive yards allowed this season. But Riddall pointed out that not only was Nikiski within six points of Eielson with 7 1-2 minutes left in the game, the situation that presented itself allowed Griffith to rack up the yards that he did.

Including the 16 receiving yards he had, Griffith held 532 of Eielson’s 577 total offensive yards. Without him, the Ravens would not have beaten Nikiski.

“If you’re around small-schools football enough, one or two kids can make a huge difference,” Riddall said. “You lose one kid and it makes a big difference.

“We lost our fullback and outside linebacker to injury in the Kenai game (in 2013) with us leading 16-15 at halftime. Once we put our JV kids in there, they weren’t able to do what our starting linebacker was doing.”

With a matchup against a Valdez team that holds one win in 2014, Nikiski will make use of its Wing-T option attack early and often, but Riddall said once they are sitting comfortably, he’ll pull his starters.

“Valdez is scrappy, defensively,” Riddall said. “They’re going to make it difficult. They sometimes do things that are unexpected, but if we don’t take a step and get better this week, then our focus is off.

“I can’t control how good they play, I can’t control the football, the passes, fumbles that they have, but they can. The focus has to be that.”

Seward (2-2) at Barrow (3-1), 2 p.m. Saturday

The Seahawks have come out of the gate swinging with a pair of Greatland Conference wins, including a 56-0 shut out against Monroe Catholic — last year’s state runner-ups — last weekend. The Seward offense has averaged 25 points a game in 2014, while the Seahawks defense has averaged 29.75 points a game.

Monroe (0-4) at Voznesenka (0-3), Saturday

The two schools at the bottom of the Greatland Conference standings meet up Saturday to decide who will remain winless. The Cougars have averaged a losing deficit of 58.33 points this season, and have only scored eight points all year.

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