The Nikiski and Eielson football teams added another incredible chapter to the intense rivalry that has sprouted between the two schools Saturday night at Dimond Alumni Field in Anchorage.
Eielson completed a perfect 9-0 season by edging Nikiski 55-51 in an epic showdown between the two Greatland Conference heavyweights to claim the 2014 small-schools championship.
“It’s just awesome,” said Eielson coach David DeVaughn. “This is my second one with Eielson, and hopefully we start to build some tradition of bringing that trophy home.”
In an event that resembled a video game in the later stages, Nikiski and Eielson combined for 972 offensive yards on the night, 802 of that coming on the ground.
Senior Anthony Griffith led the Eielson attack with 262 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
“The guys were putting so much energy out there, and it was going both ways,” DeVaughn said. “It wears on you, and we were able to dig someplace and find something, somewhere.”
Nikiski senior Christian Riddall had an equally impressive game for the Bulldogs, scoring seven touchdowns en route to 256 rushing yards. Five of Riddall’s touchdowns came in the second half.
“I’m excited to see what happens with Nikiski Bulldogs next year,” Riddall said. “We responded well (this year), and there’s a lot of good guys coming back.”
Riddall embraced both his father (and coach) Ted and freshman brother Rykker after the game in an emotional hug.
“We’re always chipping at each other all season,” Riddall said of his younger brother and other teammates. “I showed a little heart, I didn’t expect it.”
Griffith and junior Kalib Dunlap combined to create a formidable duo for Eielson, as Dunlap rushed for 159 yards and three touchdowns. Together, Griffith and Dunlap produced 421 rushing yards.
Eielson came out on fire, building a 19-0 lead by the opening minutes of the second quarter.
After stopping Nikiski on fourth down on the Bulldogs’ opening possession, Dunlap ran 46 yards to score on Eielson’s second play.
Nikiski quarterback Cade Anderson threw an interception on the next drive, setting Eielson up with 52 yards to work with, resulting in a 2-yard plunge by Ravens quarterback Antonio Griffith.
“We kind of came out in a fog, it seems like,” Riddall said.
Riddall scored Nikiski’s first points early in the second quarter on an 18-yard run, closing the deficit to 19-8 after the 2-point conversion pass from Anderson to Nathan Carstens. From there, things got really crazy.
Eielson held a 25-14 lead at halftime, which the Ravens built upon with an opening-drive touchdown by Antonio Griffith, who rolled out to his left, looked to pass, but instead zipped between a couple Nikiski defenders to put the score at 33-14.
Riddall scored with four minutes left in the third quarter, but Griffith responded with a 47-yard dash himself. On the very next offensive play, Riddall found space to his right and romped 79 yards to the end zone, scoring the third touchdown in a span of 82 seconds.
After getting a crucial defensive stop on an Eielson fourth down at the beginning of the final quarter of action, Nikiski took the ball 60 yards to score, cutting the gap to 41-35.
However, Griffith answered with a 63-yard sprint to the end zone on the third play of the ensuing drive. That was followed by Riddall getting a 22-yard touchdown, once again cutting the gap to six points with 6:51 to play.
The biggest drive of the day came when Eielson went 64 yards in 10 plays, eating up nearly five minutes of the clock, ending in a 9-yard scamper by Dunlap.
“We’d been running our inside game with Tony and they were biting really hard,” coach DeVaughn said. “Dunlap was able to get that first down, and it put us where we are now.”
Even though it looked like the game may have been out of reach at that point, Nikiski still had one more trick up its sleeve.
Anderson connected with Carstens on a 49-yard bomb that left Riddall with 6 yards to score. Riddall did exactly that, running to his right to notch his seventh touchdown of the night.
That put Nikiski within four points of Eielson with 90 seconds on the clock. All that was needed was a successful onside kick.
“We had time on the clock, we wanted to go down and score, kick the onside, try for it,” Christian Riddall said. “We would’ve gone right back.”
Riddall said after Christian scored the touchdown, the onside kick did not go exactly to plan.
“We gotta stop them one more time, but we kicked it in the wrong direction,” coach Riddall said. “They made the plays when they needed it, and they played a great game.”
After Griffith found open space with less than a minute on the clock, he smartly laid down on the Nikiski 1-yard line, sacrificing a touchdown to help wring more time off the clock, icing the game.
Coach Riddall said even with the loss, he felt satisfied with the effort of his players, and thought they played better than the 52-34 loss they suffered to Eielson in the regular-season matchup in early September.
“We lost on the scoreboard but we won on a lot of other areas on and off the field,” Riddall said, “Everybody wants to win, but we got better.”
Ravens 55, Bulldogs 51
Eielson 13 12 16 14 —55
Nikiski 0 14 14 23 —51
Eie — Dunlap 46 run (Benjamin kick), 8:13
Eie — Antonio Griffith 2 run (kick failed), 5:36
Eie — Dunlap 14 run (kick blocked), 11:51
Nik — Riddall 18 run (Carstens pass from Anderson), 9:57
Nik — Riddall 1 run (run failed), 6:09
Eie — Anthony Griffith 1 run (pass failed), :39
Eie — Antonio Griffith 10 run (Dunlap run), 7:37
Nik — Riddall 23 run (run failed), 4:00
Eie — Anthony Griffith 47 run (Antonio Griffith run), 2:59
Nik — Riddall 79 run (Riddall pass from Anderson), 2:38
Nik — Riddall 6 run (Schwenke kick), 8:29
Eie — Anthony Griffith 63 run (Griffith run), 7:24
Nik — Riddall 22 run (Holloway pass from Anderson), 6:51
Eie — Dunlap 9 run (run failed), 2:03
Nik — Riddall 6 run (Broussard pass from Anderson), 1:30
Rushing — Nikiski: Riddall 19-256, Castro 5-20, Broussard 5-15, Cooper 2-(-1). Eielson: Anthony Griffith 31-262, Dunlap 13-159, Velez 11-61, Antonio Griffith 8-30.
Passing — Nikiski: Anderson 5-13-1—132. Eielson: Antonio Griffith 2-7-0—38.