In a game defined by a titanic midfield struggle amid a steady autumn rain, it was only appropriate that a high-flying, acrobatic play would decide the final result.
The Barrow Whalers ultimately wore down the Nikiski Bulldogs with two fourth-quarter touchdowns that provided the difference in a 14-0 nonconference win Saturday at Nikiski High School.
Scoreless after three quarters, the Whalers finally put points on the board on a 30-yard, highlight-reel leaping snag by senior Micah Serino with 10 minutes left in the game, helping the Whalers improve to 2-1 overall in 2019. Nikiski stayed winless at 0-3.
Just two years after winning the Division III state championship, the Whalers are in the midst of building back to a title contender, and head coach Chris Battle said he has preached a no-quit attitude in practice and in their personal lives.
“It was just grit, coming together as a unit,” Battle said. “We’re getting ready for conference play. It was a big dogfight to the end, they fought to the end with perseverance and made it happen for them.”
The first three quarters were a struggle for field position as both teams failed to establish any kind of momentum. The first five possessions of the game ended in turnovers on downs, and in the first half, the two teams combined to go 1 for 12 on third down. The teams combined to lose the ball 14 times for six turnovers.
Barrow moved the ball better with 221 team rushing yards, led by the 106 yards by sophomore back Ervin Feleti. Barrow outgained Nikiski in total offense 299 to 71.
Bulldogs senior Michael Mysing led the offense with 46 yards on 17 carries, while senior QB Noah Litke hit 4 of 11 targets for 31 yards and an interception. Nikiski struggled to break off any substantial plays — the Bulldogs’ largest running play longer than 6 yards was a 14-yard burst by Mysing early in the first quarter.
“It was a little bit sloppy, lots of penalties, lots of balls on the ground,” said Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson. “I think it was the team that could pull out the big play was the one that was going to come out on top.”
“Unfortunately for us, they were the ones to do it.”
The big play showed up after both teams traded punts and turnovers in a fierce battle between the two 20-yard lines. Until the early minutes of the fourth quarter, the only red-zone trip for either team was Barrow making it to Nikiski’s 1-yard line in the second quarter following a botched punt attempt. The Whalers wasted that chance to score on a fumble as Mysing scooped it up and took off 78 yards the other way.
But when the fourth quarter dawned at a scoreless deadlock, the Whalers were finally able to open up their passing game, which has been seldom used on the slippery natural grass field. After forcing a turnover on downs, the Whalers got a tide-turning play from junior receiver Jefferson Nobleza, who brought down a long pass from Barrow QB Anthony Freaun that took them from their own 40 to the Nikiski 25.
Two plays later, Freaun rolled back and scrambled to his right, eventually spotting Serino downfield before lobbing the ball up. Serino hauled it in at around the 10 and slipped by a few Nikiski tacklers to score.
Battle said Serino is only in his second year playing football, but the senior has come a long way to give the Whalers added depth.
“Last year was his first year to play,” Battle said. “He’s always been a hockey guy, they have a hockey team that his dad runs, and he decided to come out and play football, and he has grown tremendously.”
After taking a 6-0 lead, Barrow’s defense didn’t let down. Nikiski couldn’t come up with a first down on the ensuing possession and punted away. The Whalers, suddenly full of life, then staged a nine-play, 39-yard drive to score on a 20-yard touchdown run by Serino, who slammed it up the middle to push the lead to 14-0 after a two-point run by Freaun with 5:14 to play.
Saturday in Nikiski
WHALERS 14, BULLDOGS 0
Barrow 0 0 0 14 —14
Nikiski 0 0 0 0 —0
Bar — Serino 30 pass from Freaun (run failed), 10:01
Bar — Serino 20 run (Freaun run), 5:14
First downs 11 4
Rush yds 47-221 38-40
Pass yds 78 31
Comp-att-int 4-7-0 4-11-1
Return yds 0 78
Punts 1-40 4-19.7
Fumbles-lost 5-4 9-2
Penalties 10-80 6-50
Rushing — Nikiski: Mysing 17-46, Berry 8-18, Litke 8-(-18), Eiter 4-(-4). Barrow: Feleti 19-106, Serino 13-57, Dias 10-30, Freaun 2-7, Nobleza 2-20.
Passing — Nikiski: Litke 4-11-1—31. Barrow: Freaun 4-7-0—78.
Receiving — Nikiski: Eiter 3-29, Mysing 1-2. Barrow: Nobleza 2-45, Serino 1-30, Feleti 1-3.