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Week 5: Stars open conference play against Chugiak

After everything the Soldotna football team has accomplished this season, the Stars have yet to win a conference game.

Soldotna plays in the five-team Division II Northern Lights Conference. The Stars have blown out two Division I and two Division II teams in the first four weeks of the season, but open conference play tonight at 6 p.m. at Justin Maile Field in Soldotna against Chugiak (1-1 in NLC, 2-2 overall).

“Right now, every game matters,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said. “All of the nonconference games are out of the way. We want to set ourselves up to win the league and host a first-round playoff game. That’s the best route to another title game.”

The Stars have won 15 straight Northern Lights Conference titles. Brantley Jr. said SoHi should be wary of Chugiak because last season the Mustangs were able to stick with the Stars for a half. The SoHi coach said Chugiak is a better team this season.

Brantley Jr. would like to keep building on the momentum from a 42-8 victory over South in Week 4. Even when the Wolverines loaded up the box with defenders, SoHi’s rushing attack would not be stopped for the first time this season. The Stars have yet to punt.

“They really clogged up the middle and tried like heck to take away the internal run game,” Brantley Jr. said.

The coach said that made it tougher on Gehret Medcoff, but that Lokeni Wong and Wyatt Faircloth were able to take advantage with off-tackle gains.

Wong, just a sophomore, played a huge role that would have been unthinkable a few weeks ago. He filled in for the injured Brayden Taylor, the 2021 Division II Defensive Player of the Year, at safety, then got a lot of reps running the ball when Collin Peck was injured.

“We knew he could have to fill in for Brayden, but he immediately steps in and plays both ways,” Brantley Jr. said. “We were pretty happy with how he performed.”

Wong is part of a sophomore class having a big impact for the Stars. Five of SoHi’s 11 defensive starters against South are sophomores. Brantley Jr. also said sophomore defensive ends Luke Miller and Elijah Lee, and senior outside linebacker Aidan Gavalis, made big improvements that helped the Stars bottle up the Wolverines.

The coach also said junior Zac Buckbee did a good job filling in for Taylor at quarterback.

Kodiak at Kenai, 4 p.m.

The Kardinals will look to get back on track after a 38-20 loss to Homer in Week 4.

The loss dropped Kenai to 0-1 in the Mid Alaska Conference and 2-2 overall.

“In those games, you want to come out and gain control right away,” Kenai head coach Jake Brand. “The team that got the upper hand first maintained it.”

The Kardinals, a Division III school, defeated Division II Palmer 24-6. Brand said the team had some success it hadn’t previously experienced and it showed against Homer.

“There wasn’t the fire they usually have when they come out for a game,” Brand said.

The coach is looking forward to playing Kodiak. The Bears are 0-3, but Brand said it’s always a great game against the Bears because the players there love the game so much.

“It’s an opportunity to get back on track,” Brand said. “It’s also an opportunity to let some of the other players that are being overlooked showcase some of their skill. Anytime you lay an egg, it reopens competition on certain aspects of the roster.”

Homer at Redington, 7 p.m.

After the big home victory over the Kardinals vaulted the Mariners to 1-1 in the Mid Alaska Conference and 3-1 overall, Homer faces a test of a different sort on the road against the defending Division III and Mid Alaska champ Redington (0-0, 0-3).

“We haven’t shown we’re able to travel and play at the same level that we do on our home turf,” Homer head coach Justin Zank said. “It’ll be lights, it’ll be music, it’ll be a different environment for our guys.”

Redington defeated Homer 56-14 last season and Zank points out all three of the Huskies’ losses have come to Division II teams. Meanwhile, Zank said the offense did not play well at all in Homer’s lone road game this season — a 46-0 loss to Houston in Week 2.

The coach is hopeful the team can build on the Kenai win. Zank said quarterback Carter Tennison was solid through the air and on the ground, wide receiver Jonah Martin made a number of big catches, and Russell Nyvall ran the ball well.

“I think we won the physical battle, which was a goal we had set,” Zank said. “We’re trying to increase physicality week to week. I thought our passing game helped open up the run game against Kenai, and our defense did enough to hold them to 20 points.”

Seward at North Pole JV, 11 a.m.

The Seahawks may be 0-3, losing two contests by blowout margins, but they’ve still got their whole season ahead of them.

Seward plays in the Denali Conference, which has been cut to three teams this year because Monroe Catholic and Valdez were not able to field teams. Just one team from the Denali Conference makes the Division III playoffs, so the big games for the Seahawks are a Sept. 17 home contest against Eielson and Sept. 30 game at Nikiski.

“I like where things are sitting,” Seward head coach Tyler Mallory said. “North Pole is a good opportunity to give the kids a game and install some new stuff.”

The last time Seward played was Aug. 26, when the Seahawks lost 46-0 at Homer. Mallory said six players were gone for the game and two more were hurt during the game. He said Homer quarterback Carter Tennison was tough to stop, and that the Homer coaching staff did a better job game planning.

“Everybody’s back from vacation and will be here the rest of the season,” Mallory said. “It was nice to have a week off to get the kids rested and healthy as we’re starting to get into the games that are going to matter.”

Mallory said Landen DeRoos has been great at middle linebacker, averaging 11 tackles per game. Gideon Schrock will be back after missing Homer game, bringing not only his fast running but his solid safety play. Mallory also said sophomore quarterback Brett Gilmore continues to take positive steps at quarterback.

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