In a tumultuous high school football season for large schools -- no team has held the No. 1 ranking for more than two consecutive weeks and eight of 13 teams have been ranked at some point in the opening seven weeks -- the final week of the regular season comes down to a clash between the current top two teams.
South (5-2), ranked No. 1 in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network poll released Monday, plays No. 2 West (5-2) for the Cook Inlet Conference championship Thursday at 7 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium.
West, which has won five straight games, reached its highest ranking of the season, moving up three spots. That's particularly impressive considering the Eagles lost starting quarterback Sam Wedin to a season-ending knee injury in Week 2. But replacement Tyrone Davis has markedly improved, receiver Leroy Elliot has proved a game-breaker and West's defense has stiffened -- all those factors were evident again last Saturday, when West dismantled previously top-ranked Service (5-2) of the CIC, which fell three spots to No. 5 this week.
Defending state champion South has been ranked No. 1 five times in the seven regular-season polls this season, with Service twice earning the top spot. South this week moved up two spots after its 42-14 win over Dimond and West's victory over Service.
Meanwhile, Chugiak (5-2) of the CIC, elevated to a season-best No. 3 ranking after beating East, 27-13. Palmer (5-2) and Lathrop (5-2), both from the Railbelt Conference, tied for No. 4.
All five playoff teams from the CIC have been decided, with South, West, Chugiak, Service and Dimond claiming the prizes. But three of the four conference games this week will determine postseason seedings for those clubs.
In other CIC regular-season finales that have seeding implications besides the South-West showdown, Bartlett plays at Chugiak at 2 p.m. Saturday and Dimond faces Service at AFS at 2 p.m. Saturday.
For all the change in the large-schools poll, the poll for medium and small schools hardly changed. Soldotna (7-0), Kenai (6-0), Juneau-Douglas (6-1) and North Pole (5-1) remained Nos. 1-4, respectively. Nikiski (5-2) retained its No. 5 ranking, but this week shared that spot with Monroe (5-2).