Kenai Central running back Zach Burnett looks for a gap Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, against West Valley at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Kenai Central running back Zach Burnett looks for a gap Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, against West Valley at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Week 6 football preview: Conference schedule begins

Week 6 of the prep football season brings the season’s first full slate of conference games, along with relief following the averted teacher’s strike.

Tuesday’s early morning news that the Kenai Peninsula School District would be continue classes after an agreement was reached between the school district and two employee associations also allowed prep sports to continue their season schedules. Needless to say, the response has been enthusiastic.

“My wife woke me up at 3:45 a.m. when we got the message,” said Homer head coach Justin Zank about getting the news. “It’s great we can get back to work.”

SoHi coach Galen Brantley Jr. expressed concerns about the two sides’ inability to come to an agreement ultimately hurting KPBSD students and activities, which would have been canceled with no player-coach contact.

“We’re just blessed to be able to play at this point,” Brantley Jr. said. “We’ve gotten off to a wild year.”

The season has featured one unpredictable swing after another, starting with the Swan Lake Fire forcing game cancellations and rescheduling due to a travel ban and unhealthy air quality.

“It’s definitely been an eventful season,” Zank said. “I, as well as the coaching staff and team, are extremely grateful it was resolved overnight, especially for the seniors we have, they want as many games as they can.”

Now, it appears the football can finally be the focus once again. Brantley Jr. said that starts with this weekend’s Northern Lights Conference opener against Kodiak.

“We have a huge stretch at home here,” he said. “If we take of business, we get to host playoff game.”

Houston (5-0) at Nikiski (1-3), 5 p.m. Friday

A big matchup awaits Nikiski this weekend as the reigning Peninsula Conference champions and currently undefeated Houston Hawks come into town for a Friday night show.

The Bulldogs (1-0 conference) are fresh off a big road win over Ketchikan, which took a fourth-quarter touchdown and defensive play to escape with a 9-8 win. Both big plays finished in the hands of Nikiski senior Michael Eiter, who caught the go-ahead TD from Bulldogs QB Noah Litke, then hauled in the game-clinching interception with seconds to spare against the Kings, sealing the victory.

Houston rolled Nikiski 34-8 last year. One season later, the strength of Houston’s undefeated season has been the defense, which has held opponents to just 6.8 points through five games. Nikiski’s offense has, on the other hand, has scored 9.7 points through four games, a lot of which has been due to stalled drives and mistakes that have cost the team scoring opportunities.

Kodiak (0-5) at Soldotna (4-0), 2 p.m. Saturday

The Stars roll into Week 6 as the No. 1 ranked team in the Alaska coaches poll, a spot SoHi has held all year thus far. Last week, SoHi downed the No. 2 ranked Lathrop Malamutes 51-14 in the team’s home opener.

In their second home game of the year, the Stars will face what looks to be an easier battle against the winless Kodiak Bears, but in true form, head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said the Stars are not underestimating their NLC opponent.

“We’ve been very successful by not looking ahead,” he said. “This is an important game for us, it’s a conference game, and it’s one of the games you have to win in order to solidify a playoff game.”

Last year, SoHi blasted the Bears 57-16. In 2019, SoHi has outscored the opposition by an average of 37 points this season. Brantley Jr. said he expects the Stars to get off to another hot start Saturday if they can contain Kodiak’s single-wing offense that flaunts a lot of tricky misdirection plays.

“I think it’ll be an opportunity for us to shore up some things,” Brantley Jr. said. “They’ll put some pressure on you and control the clock if you’re not careful.”

Homer (2-2) at Seward (0-5), 2 p.m. Saturday

Standing at 0-1 in Peninsula Conference play, the Mariners face a sizeable opportunity this weekend to notch their first conference win of the year.

Zank cautioned against underestimating the winless Seahawks, which almost toppled Homer last year when the Mariners escaped with a 21-20 win.

“Seward brings stuff to the table,” he said. “What they lack in numbers, they make up for in size and power. They have some kids that can lay some hits. They’re going to hit hard and we’ve got to be ready for that.

“We’re looking to do business as usual.”

Homer is coming off a big win in Valdez, where the Mariners blitzed the Bucs 52-6. Senior QB Anthony Kalugin passed for three touchdowns and ran for three more in a big day that Zank called a huge step for his signal caller. Kalugin leads the team in both passing and rushing yards in 2019 and accounts for 72% of the team’s offense.

“Anthony’s starting to progress, he’s making better reads,” Zank said. “He’s made some good reads this week in practice and he’s starting to develop a rapport. He’s had one with (receiver) Carter (Tennison), but now Cade (Hrenchir) is getting into the mix.”

Zank said the emergence of several Homer ballcarriers and catchers has been the product of an improved pass protection from the team’s front line.

“That was probably the best blocking we’ve done all season,” Zank said about the Valdez game.

Kenai (1-3) at Eagle River (3-2), 2 p.m. Saturday

After falling 45-22 to Div. II opponent West Valley in their home opener last weekend, the Kardinals are back on the road to begin their NLC schedule against the Wolves.

Eagle River broke out last year with a 5-2 regular season record en route to making the Division II championship game, where the Wolves lost to Soldotna.

This year, the loss of a core group of seniors has left Eagle River struggling to recoup as the team got off to an 0-2 start this year, but the Wolves have shown a determined effort in rebounding with wins over North Pole, West Valley and Kodiak.

Last year, the Kardinals lost 48-14 to Eagle River at home, the Wolves’ first win over Kenai in school history (1-3 overall against Kenai).

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