Week 7 football preview: Playoff scenarios unveiled

Week 7 football preview: Playoff scenarios unveiled

If it was a holiday, its name would be Elimination Day.

On the penultimate week of the regular season, the end of the day Saturday should bring football fans closer to knowing which teams will be in the state playoffs, meaning some will be celebrating while others will be staying home in October.

The Northern Lights Conference race could be wrapped up this weekend. A Kenai Central loss against Kodiak means the Kardinals will miss the Division II playoffs for a third straight year. Kenai (0-1 in conference) enters the weekend third in the NLC, behind Soldotna (2-0) and Eagle River (2-1). The Wolves dismantled the Kards last week to finish up their conference schedule.

A Kenai loss would also cement the two playoff teams from the NLC, Soldotna and Eagle River, although seeding position would still be up for grabs between the two of them.

“We just need to continue to do what’s made us successful this year,” said Kenai head coach Dustin Akana. “We need to continue to be disciplined, trust your teammates and execute. We’re still preaching it because we still haven’t done it.”

In order to make the playoffs, Kenai needs to win out against Kodiak and Soldotna, which would force a three-way tie atop the NLC standings. Tiebreakers then would decide the fate of the teams.

In the Division III Peninsula Conference, Nikiski is also facing elimination with a road date against Houston, which leads the conference at 3-0. Ketchikan currently holds the second seed at 2-1 while the Bulldogs are looking for a way in at 1-1 with two conference games remaining.

A Houston victory would give the Hawks the No. 1 seed in the Peninsula Conference and send Nikiski packing with a week left in the regular season.

“It’s been a tough year for us,” said Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson. “We’ve had different things set us back, between injuries and grades. It’s a grind, it wears on you, and you’ve got to keep the kids excited and pumped up, because we’re looking at the possibility of a .500 season.”

With postseason hopes on the line, here is a closer look at Week 7:

Kodiak (2-3) at Kenai (2-4), 2 p.m. Saturday

The Kardinals enter Saturday’s NLC contest at Ed Hollier Field looking to finish what they almost had last year on Kodiak’s field.

Down five points in the dying seconds of their 2017 meeting, the Kards were stuffed on third down at the Bears’ 2-yard line, then missed out on a fourth-down attempt when the Kenai coaching staff couldn’t get a timeout before the clock hit zero, resulting in a 27-22 Kodiak win.

It left Akana, then an assistant coach under Ted Riddall, ready for a rematch against the hard-nosed Bears.

“There’s some animosity there, some frustration there,” Akana said. “We’re going into this game to battle again, and hopefully we come out on the upper end.”

Akana said the pressure of being forced into a must-win situation is something that he has attempted to keep off his players, who are looking to break a three-year playoff drought.

“We haven’t made it seem like there’s pressure,” he said. “I’ve been preaching, if we do what we do, focus on the small things, then we will have success.”

A 48-14 loss to Eagle River in Week 6 did not do Kenai any favors. Wolves quarterback Ryan Adkins exposed the Kardinals defense by moving the ball 415 yards through the air for four touchdown passes.

While there were several big plays by the Kards, including an interception and a forced fumble by the defense, Eagle River ripped off their big plays more consistently.

“Last week against Eagle River, they saw the success when they were doing their job,” Akana explained. “When they decided to take a play off, they saw the result of that.

“We’re not coaching them for a must-win, live-or-die type of thing. We just have to be disciplined.”

Akana said the Kenai coaching staff has worked with the players this week in practice to be prepared for a Kodiak offense that likes to pound the ball on the ground while slipping in the odd surprise pass play.

“If their core offense is to run, we want to stop the run and make them pass,” he said. “The goal is to make them pass.”

Akana added that defensive end Ben Grossl has been ruled out for the season with an injury.

Nikiski (3-3) at Houston (5-1), 7 p.m. Friday

The Bulldogs face elimination tonight with a tough opponent. Houston is undefeated this year against Division III competition, and can wrap up a perfect Peninsula Conference run by beating Nikiski.

Nelson said his players are prepared for war.

“We know we’re going to get more of the same as the last few weeks,” he said. “(Houston has) some fast linebackers and they like to bring the pressure. We’ve been emphasizing in practice all week on picking up pressure and getting blocks.”

Against a fearsome defensive line, Nikiski QB Noah Litke will need to stay cool, Nelson said. Litke currently leads peninsula teams with 570 passing yards and eight touchdown throws in six games, but is coming off a three-interception day against Monroe Catholic.

“It’s been a work in progress,” Nelson said. “In games where he’s gotten pressure, he’s thrown some picks, and that’s his newness to the position. We’ve coached him up to believe if it’s not there, don’t force anything. Just run it or take the sack. That’s much better than a turnover.”

Nelson said the key objective on defense will be to keep the Hawks from gaining an edge on the outside lanes of the field, where the Bulldogs have been burnt before.

Nelson also said senior running back Cody Handley has officially been ruled out for the season with a fractured talus ankle bone, which he suffered in a Week 2 win over Valdez.

Service (4-2) at Soldotna (5-1), 2 p.m. Saturday

While other teams fight it out for conference spots, the Stars are sitting pretty on the top of the NLC at 2-0, and haven’t lost a game since their Week 1 toppling by West Anchorage.

One last nonconference battle remains against a Division I opponent before SoHi wraps up its season with the traditional SoHi vs. Kenai battle in Week 8. Head coach Galen Brantley Jr. said the Stars will have their hands full with a deep Service Cougars program in an important tuneup just two weeks before the postseason begins.

“It’s a playoff team out of the Cook Inlet Conference that’s going to give us everything to handle,” Brantley Jr. said. “We know we’ve been improving steadily, more improvement from last week in Kodiak. It’s just a matter of the unknown.”

With victories over Chugiak, West and Dimond in 2018, the Cougars have strutted their stuff in style. Traditionally sporting a spread offense, Brantley Jr. said Service will give the SoHi secondary a challenge.

But can they keep up with SoHi’s ground-and-pound game?

“They’re a very athletically talented team with outstanding quarterback play and a good coaching staff that’s taken over that program,” Brantley Jr. said. “As far as the big schools go, they’re defensively good.”

Brantley Jr. pointed out Service’s win over West as a good indication of how good the Cougars are, saying a win over a team that defeated SoHi needs to be taken seriously.

“They have enough talent to out-athlete a team we couldn’t,” he said.

Brantley Jr. noted that junior Jake Cooper is out for the year with an injury. Cooper was part of a rotation on the offensive line.

Seward (2-3) at Homer (0-6), 5 p.m. Friday

A crucial contest stares two peninsula teams in the face this week. For Homer, a victory would break up a winless season and inject some relief into a tough campaign that followed up a state runner-up finish from 2017.

For Seward, a victory would keep the Seahawks in contention for a state playoff spot, even as a long shot.

The Mariners are also celebrating homecoming, and Homer coach Walter Love said he would like to give his players two more enjoyable regular season games and see where the chips fall.

“It’s been a season of weirdness, so everybody’s going to play,” Love said. “We’re going to give them a game, give them a good game, and just try to play (Seward) as even as possible. We’d like to put some points on the board.”

Homer beat Seward 45-0 last year, but that was with a powerful Mariners squad that eventually finished second at state.

That Homer team graduated the bulk of its star talent, so Love expects a much closer contest.

“We’re going to have some fun the rest of the season,” he said. “We want to score some touchdowns, and for some kids, this is the last home game of their career.”

Love said the team is currently dealing with a couple injuries, but will also welcome back senior Noah Fisk, who has been out since Week 3.

“It’s really big,” Love said about having Fisk back. “We ran Jadin Mann with the ball (last week against Ketchikan). … He’s a senior and he’s kind of been on me for him to run the ball a little.”

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