A dominant Nikiski running attack led the Bulldogs to a 55-31 victory over Eielson at Nikiski High School on Saturday.
The victory gave the Bulldogs a berth in the small-schools state championship game Saturday in Chugiak against Barrow, which defeated Monroe Catholic 28-6 on Saturday. The game starts at noon.
The Bulldogs will enter the championship game with an 8-1 record, with the lone loss coming to Barrow. Barrow enters the championship 7-1. Eielson finishes its season at 4-5 overall.
Nikiski ran for 393 yards behind a solid offensive line.
Saturday was the second matchup of the schools in two weeks. Bulldogs coach Ted Riddall said although Nikiski was victorious last week, that didn’t guarantee a similar result Saturday.
“Challenge number one was to make sure our kids understood the importance of, ‘It’s a new week, it’s a new team, and we just need to go out there and readjust,’” Riddall said. “And play it like it’s the last game.”
The Bulldogs did just that — scoring five touchdowns on the ground and two more in the air from senior quarterback Colton Anderson.
Despite the score, the Ravens kept battling, and were able to put up the first points in the first quarter with a Jovante Kincade quarterback keeper.
“They scored first, it didn’t stop us, we came back and hit it hard,” said Nikiski junior running back Stephen Hartley.
After the initial Ravens’ score, Nikiski answered with a Josh Brown plunge from the 1-yard line and a successful two-point conversion.
The next score would come with 4:36 left in the second when Nikiski’s Anderson hit senior wide receiver Sayyid Parrish for a 58-yard touchdown. With a successful extra point, Nikiski led 15-7.
Eielson muffed a punt on its next drive with the ball on its own 44-yard line, giving the Bulldogs great field position on the Eielson 29. Nikiski took advantage as Anderson hit senior receiver Walter Moore for a 29-yard touchdown. Again, the two-point conversion was good, giving the Bulldogs a 23-7 lead with 2:28 left in the second quarter.
On the ensuing kickoff, Eielson’s Kincade busted an 80-yard return for a touchdown, shining a bit of hope on Eielson’s chances.
The score at halftime was 23-13 and Eielson looked to be very much in the game. A quick touchdown from Nikiski’s Brown a minute into the third quarter was what Nikiski needed to start shutting the door on Eielson.
Another score by Nikiski senior running back Kaden Spurgeon with 8:04 left in the third put the Bulldogs up 35-13 before the Ravens could blink.
“It was the third and fourth quarter that made a difference last week — it was the same this week,” Riddall said. “Their individual effort in practice and preparation for this is what propelled them to do what they did today.”
Riddall credited the offensive line for the dominance on the ground, giving the backs a chance to break long runs instead of only getting the 3 or 4 yards per carry last week.
“In the second half we challenged our linemen to come out and establish the run,” he said. “The running backs just followed their lead and so it was good.”
Hartley had two of the five rushing touchdowns. He echoed his coach’s statement.
“The line blocked good, and our running backs ran hard,” Hartley said.
On one run in the second half, Hartley had what appeared to be half of the Ravens defense hanging on to him. He continued to drag them past the first-down markers. That run captured the essence of the Bulldogs’ determination Saturday.
“I just kept my legs moving, I thought I was going to break it, but I just kept moving,” Hartley said.
Ravens 31, Bulldogs 55
Eielson 7 6 12 6 — 31
Nikiski 8 15 12 20 — 55
Eie — Kincade 1 run (Friske kick) 8:09
Nik — J. Brown 1 run (Anderson pass to G. Brown) 4:40
Nik — Parrish 58 pass from Anderson (Feller kick) 4:36
Nik — Moore 29 pass from Anderson (Hartley run) 2:28
Eie — Kincade 80 kickoff return (kick failed) 2:17
Nik — J. Brown 78 run (kick failed) 11:07
Nik — Spurgeon 41 run (pass failed) 8:04
Eie — Delauder 22 pass from Kincade (kick failed) 3:51
Eie — Delauder 1 run (run failed) :32
Nik — Hartley 9 run (Feller kick) 10:41
Nik — Hartley 15 run (pass failed) 6:06
Nik — Riddall 34 run (kick failed) 1:58
Eie — Phillips 66 kickoff return (pass failed) 1:47
First downs 13 20
Rushes-yards 35-90 45-393
Passing yards 175 135
Punts-avg 2-37 3-26
Fumbles-lost 2-1 3-0
Penalties-yards 6-41 3-30
Rushing -— Nik: J. Brown 16-178, Spurgeon 13-114, Hartley 13-74, Riddall 2-30, G. Brown 1-1, Anderson 3-(-3). Eie: Griffith 10-30, Delauder 4-21, Ellsworth 15-2.
Passing -— Nik: Anderson 6-12-0-135. Eie: Kincade 10-20-0-175.
Receiving — Nik: Parrish 1-58, Spurgeon 1-35, , Moore 2-32, J. Brown 1-7, Green 1-3. Eie: Delauder 7-129, Phillips 2-46.