A row of footballs iat the Homer-Seward game at Homer, Alaska, on Aug. 29, 2020. (Photo by Michael Armstrong/Homer News)

Week 6: Conference clashes are in full swing

Kenai Peninsula schools Soldotna, Kenai Central, Homer and Seward all have conference games in Week 6, while Nikiski has another bye.

Kenai at Redington, 7 p.m. Friday

Both the Kardinals and Huskies face a crucial Mid Alaska Conference test as both try to return to the Division III playoffs this season.

Kenai Central is 0-1 in the five-team conference and 3-2 overall, while Redington is 0-1 in the league and 0-4 overall. The top three teams in the conference make the playoffs.

Last season, the Huskies topped the Kardinals 68-14 in the regular season, then 60-14 in the Division II semifinals, on the way to winning the state title.

“They beat us in the regular season and beat us in the playoffs, so there’s a bit of unfinished business on our part,” Kenai head coach Jake Brand said. “We’re going to have to go up there and play a good game, and the kids know it.

“They’re looking forward to it.”

In Week 3, Kenai scored a big 24-6 victory over Division II foe Palmer, but then Brand was not happy with the way the team came out in a 38-20 loss to Homer the following week.

Last week, the Kards ripped Division II Kodiak 48-0. Brand said coaches have been telling the team not to get too high after the Kodiak win.

“We’re hoping they’re taking it to heart,” the coach said. “Ultimately we’ll see on Friday.”

The offense looked smooth in putting up 48 points on the Bears. Brand said he wasn’t named head coach until the weekend before practice started this season. The same went for Blake Taplin as offensive coordinator.

“Blake Taplin has been scrambling, working on the fly, pulling things out of his back pocket and crafting stuff on his own time,” Brand said. “The results speak for themselves.”

Brand coaches defense for the Kards. He said most schools emphasize the run on offense, but Redington likes to pass.

“I’m excited as their defensive coach to see something a little different,” Brand said.

Soldotna at Palmer, 7 p.m. Friday

The Stars, at 1-0 in the Northern Lights Conference and 5-0 overall, face the Moose, who are 0-2 and 0-5.

SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. said running backs Gehret Medcoff, Wyatt Faircloth and Collin Peck have been doing a great job this year, accounting for a big reason Soldotna has yet to punt.

The coach also said Zac Buckbee has been solid filling in at quarterback since starter Brayden Taylor was injured Week 3 against West Valley.

Up front, Brantley Jr. said Joe Whittom, at middle linebacker and guard, and Logan Katzenberger, at defensive tackle and right tackle, have been getting the job done.

“It’s more than just our offensive attack,” Brantley Jr. said of the lack of a punt. “Special teams-wise, we’ve ended up on a short field. Our defense has made stops to put us in four-down territory. We’ve also been fortunate enough to overcome penalties.”

The only thing to cause concern for the Stars thus far is injuries. Brantley Jr. said Soldotna has now lost three two-way starters and a one-way starter.

“We’ve kind of been decimated by injuries the last few weeks,” Brantley Jr. said.

Brantley Jr. said it’s always tough to watch players lose football time to injury. At the same time, he said the injuries are opening up opportunities for younger players on the roster.

Barrow at Homer, 5 p.m. Friday

The Mariners enter their homecoming game at 2-1 in the Mid Alaska Conference and 4-1 overall. A win in Homer’s final conference game of the season means the Mariners are in the playoffs, while a loss would set up a suspenseful Week 7 and 8.

Barrow comes in at 0-1 in the league and 2-1 overall.

The Mariners and Whalers, both Division III schools, both defeated Division II Kodiak but took blowout losses to Houston, which has looked like the cream of the Mid Alaska thus far.

“Barrow is big up front and aggressive,” Homer head coach Justin Zank said. “They’ve got some dudes.”

Another wild card in assessing the Whalers is how much the pandemic impacted the program. Barrow did not play any games in 2020 and played just two games last season. In 2017, the Whalers defeated the Mariners for the Division III state title, then finished second in 2018 and 2019.

Homer is rolling coming off a 52-12 victory over Redington, which is the defending Division II state champion. Quarterback Carter Tennison was unstoppable on the ground in the game, rushing 14 times for 231 yards and five touchdowns.

Zank also said running back Russell Nyvall continues to get better every week.

“After watching the film, we still have a lot of things we need to clean up and work on, and the guys are aware of it,” Zank said. “They’re putting in the work this week to try and clean it up. Even with mistakes in that game, we were still able to come out on top.”

Eielson at Seward, noon Saturday

With just three teams in the Denali Conference, and one Division III playoff berth at stake, each conference game takes on the utmost importance.

Seward is 0-4 overall this season, but has yet to play a conference game. The Ravens are 0-1 in the league and 0-4 overall. If the Seahawks win, they set up a conference title game with Nikiski in Week 8.

“I think the kids are ready and understand the gravity of this game and what it means if they want to play in the postseason,” Seward coach Tyler Mallory said. “It’s also a must-win game for them.

“We don’t want to leave it up to the tiebreaker. We want to make sure we walk out of this conference champs.”

Mallory said the Ravens are fast on offense and like to get to the edge, so the outside linebacker and defensive backs will have to do a good job forcing the action inside.

When Seward is on offense, Mallory said the Seahawks have to be able to use their size.

“We’re big,” Mallory said. “We’ve got some monsters on our team.”

For that to matter, Mallory said the Seahawks must get to their blocks quickly and hold them in order to create big, chunk plays that could decide the game.

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