WEEKEND/SPORTS: Port Angeles has crucial homecoming game tonight against North Kitsap

PORT ANGELES — The Port Angeles football team is down to one last major hurdle before its much-anticipated showdown with archrival Sequim.

As that game lurks just two weeks from today, the unbeaten Roughriders host the North Kitsap Vikings tonight in a contest with serious Olympic League championship implications.

Win, and ninth-ranked Port Angeles (4-0 in league, 6-0 overall) locks up the league’s No. 2 seed to the Class 2A preliminary state playoffs at the very least.

Lose, and the team’s clear path to a league title matchup at Sequim gets a little hazy with North Kitsap (3-1, 3-3) suddenly back into the mix.

Throw in a little extra homecoming motivation, and today’s 7 p.m. kickoff at Civic Field couldn’t get much bigger.

That’s a fact that’s not certainly lost on Port Angeles head coach Tom Wahl.

“There’s a lot riding on this game,” said Wahl, whose team has a game at last-place Klahowya between tonight’s matchup and the one in Sequim on Oct. 28.

“This is a big game, and it’s big because of the homecoming game, too. We take that seriously.

“The football team gets to go out and defend the pride and the honor of the community and really set the tone of the community as a whole.”

Unfortunately for the Riders, they must take on that task at less than full strength tonight.

Port Angeles will be without top wide receiver Cameron Braithwaite (22 receptions, 421 yards), who is likely to miss the next three weeks because of a knee injury suffered in last week’s 27-20 win over North Mason.

And while the Roughriders are getting receiver/linebacker Eli Fiscalini back from his own injury, it’s just the second time in four weeks he will start both ways.

That means the Riders’ shotgun spread attack may lean even more on all-everything senior quarterback Keenen Walker, the team leader with 1,556 yards of total offense.

“It’s hard to tell what’s going to happen [without Braithwaite],” said Wahl, hinting that the team might emphasize the run game a little more tonight.

“We’re just going to feel that out and see what seems to be most effective.

“It was pretty obvious from last week . . . that Keenen had to take over. We had to put a lot of pressure on him and run him more than we’d like to.

“We’d like to balance things out [tonight].”

If such is the case, the Riders will need big contributions from receivers Skyler Gray (17 receptions, 240 yards) and Riley Hannam as well as running back Dylan Brewer (67 carries, 460 yards).

Yet even with all of the concerns on offense, much of the practice time this week has been spent getting ready for North Kitsap’s multiple-formation offense.

“They are doing the wing-T probably as their base formation, but they are doing all kinds of stuff,” Wahl said.

“They are probably one of the most versatile offenses that we’ve seen this season as far as multiple sets and plays that they have. It’s a pretty big scout sheet.

“It’s taken the full week for sure to prepare for all the stuff they are showing.”

Vikings quarterback A.J. Milyard is a capable passer, having thrown for 929 yards, 11 touchdowns and four interceptions with a 57-percent completion rate.

North Kitsap also feature a couple of explosive playmakers in running back Dan Mitchell (40 rushes. 410 yards) and receiver Andrew Urquhart (20 catches, 541 yards).

Coming off a shocking 34-28 overtime loss to Olympic last week, the Vikings absolutely must have this game if they want to win a league title.

Port Angeles, meanwhile, is gunning for its second straight 7-0 start to a season in addition to everything else.

No other Rider team has done that since the 1967 edition went undefeated at 9-0.

Given that the team won its last two games by just 13 and 7 points over Olympic and North Mason, respectively, getting to that point doesn’t figure to be easy tonight.

“It’s good to be used to winning, and I want the guys to be confident in that,” said Wahl, whose team clinched a second straight playoff berth Thursday by virtue of Olympic’s loss to Sequim.

“I think the guys realize that every week is important when you’re winning.

“If there is any point made in the last two weeks, it’s that everybody is shooting for us.”

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