Facing a third-down situation against Nikiski with 45 seconds left and the victory essentially locked up, Eielson running back Anthony Griffith took the ball on a sweep play to the right and ran 36 yards into the record books Saturday afternoon at Nikiski High School.
Griffith, a senior at Ben Eielson High School in Fairbanks, eclipsed the state high school single-game rushing record on a crisp, sunny autumn afternoon with 516 yards on 42 carries and eight touchdowns in a 52-34 win over Greatland Conference opponent Nikiski.
“Man, I couldn’t do it without my front line,” Griffith said after the game. “They give me that edge, and I just do what I’m taught to do, just hit the hole.
“That record goes to the line. That goes to all my teammates, we all broke that record together.”
Griffith had scoring runs of 36, 12, 8, 6, 63, 93, 77 and 36 yards to give the Ravens the win and the outright lead in the Greatland Conference standings with a 3-0 conference record (4-0 overall in 2014). Nikiski dropped to 1-1 in the conference (2-1 overall).
“Wow, Anthony’s just a special kid,” said Eielson coach David DeVaughn. “As much as he does on the field, he’s just as good off the field. He’s a great player and it couldn’t have happened to a better kid.”
Last week against conference opponent Voznesenka, Griffith notched 424 yards and seven touchdowns in a 77-0 rout. In three total games starting this season, Griffith has amassed 1,125 yards and scored 17 touchdowns. In Saturday’s game, Griffith averaged 12.26 yards a carry.
“With God, all things are possible,” Griffith said. “We had doubts from people, but we came out here and played to what we could’ve been playing the whole season. It hits me right in my heart to be out here with my boys, and to accomplish something that’s been a goal since day one.”
Unfortunately for Nikiski, it’s the second year in a row that the state record has been set against the Bulldogs. In August 2013, Kenai’s Jace Daniels put up 488 yards and seven touchdowns on the Bulldogs in a 51-16 win to break the previous mark.
After witnessing several plays that became missed opportunities for Nikiski, coach Ted Riddall had a long post-game talk with his team.
“You can’t let people that are gifted athletes have more of a chance than they already have,” Riddall told his team. “So when you’re wrapping somebody in, you can’t let them break the tackle. You got to tackle as a team, you can’t have one guy thinking I’m gonna contain him and tackle him. You gotta have other guys coming to the ball.”
Riddall was particularly displeased with an early situation in which Nikiski drove the ball down to the Eielson 12-yard line, only to turn it over on downs 5 yards from the end zone. On the ensuing Eielson possession, Griffith ran two plays — a 59-yard dash and a 36-yard touchdown that provided the first real boost for the Ravens.
“We were there with the tackle, we just didn’t finish it,” Riddall said. “There wasn’t like there were missed opportunities, we were there and just didn’t finish it.
“This was no surprise to me that it would come and be like this kind of game, even if we would’ve won, it would’ve been close like this.”
On the other side, DeVaughn acknowledged the growing rivalry between the two schools received a new chapter Saturday.
“These are always great games to play and great teams to go against,” DeVaughn said. “I think Ted would say the same thing. For us, it’s always a good day to beat a Bulldog, and for them, it’s a good day to beat a Raven.”
Early on, Nikiski held all the momentum, starting with a 47-yard pass from quarterback Cade Anderson to Dylan Broussard 59 seconds into the game for the early lead. Anderson ended with 213 aerial yards on 12-for-25 passing and two touchdowns.
The Ravens turned the ball over on downs on the ensuing possession, which Nikiski followed with another quick touchdown, a short run from Christian Riddall that resulted in a 14-0 Bulldogs lead. Riddall ended the day with 91 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
“Nikiski has a great program, and we had a little sour taste on our tongue from previous seasons,” Griffith said. “There was a little bit, and it was one of our goals to come here in a hostile environment and win this one.”
If Eielson needed any more motivation to win, it came in an unfortunate way during the game. After Eielson put its first points on the board after the 36-yard dash from Griffith with 2:44 remaining in the first quarter, Eielson defensive back Caleb Velez was injured on the extra-point kick and required an on-field ambulance appearance. Fifteen minutes later, Velez was strapped to a backboard and taken to the nearby hospital.
DeVaughn reported that Velez suffered a deep-muscle injury to his back, but is fine.
“We’re brothers, we’re just an extended family,” DeVaughn said. “I think our guys realized they needed to pick it up. I think it definitely sparked us a little bit.”
Following the brief delay, Eielson proceeded to outscore Nikiski 20-8 and take a 26-22 lead into halftime. At that point, Griffith had 220 rushing yards and four touchdowns.
“We have a tendency when we get up to coast a little bit, and I think it just reaffirms what coaches always say to players, you always gotta keep going because they’re never gonna quit,” DeVaughn said. “It gives you temporary ulcers, but I said on the sideline, that this is one of those games that you love to coach in. It got a little nerve-racking, but coaching against Ted and his staff is fun.”
Eielson took the lead for the final time with 2:40 left in the first half, executing a 10-play, 73-yard drive that ended in a 6-yard scamper from Griffith.
After receiving the second-half kickoff, Griffith took off on the second offensive play for a 63-yard score, increasing Eielson’s lead to 34-22 after catching the two-point pass conversion from his brother, Antonio Griffith.
Heading into the fourth quarter, Eielson had increased its lead to 18 points after a massive 93-yard play from Griffith, and Nikiski needed any momentum it could muster.
Dylan Broussard provided a jump-start with an 18-yard run on a sweep play, scoring 18 seconds into the fourth quarter to put the Bulldogs within 12 points of Eielson. On Nikiski’s next possession (following a punt from Eielson), it took three plays for Anderson to connect with Hunter Holloway on a nifty screen pass that ended up going 45 yards to the end zone, leaving Nikiski with a 40-34 deficit. Holloway ended the day with 126 receiving yards.
However, Griffith immediately responded with a 77-yard rumble with 6:41 left that provided a serious gut check to the home team. On Nikiski’s ensuing possession, Anderson was sacked at midfield that forced Nikiski to punt the ball away with 4:48 left.
Between the two teams, there were four turnovers on downs in the game.
RAVENS 52, BULLDOGS 34
Nikiski 14 8 0 12 —34
Eielson 6 20 14 12 —52
Nik — Broussard 47 pass from Anderson (kick failed), 11:01
Nik — Riddall 1 run (Carstens pass from Anderson), 9:30
Eie — Griffith 36 run (kick blocked), 2:44
Eie — Griffith 12 run (pass failed), 11:22
Eie — Griffith 8 run (Griffith pass from Griffith), 7:47
Nik — Riddall 5 run (Carstens pass from Anderson), 7:08
Eie — Griffith 6 run (pass failed), 2:40
Eie — Griffith 63 run (Griffith pass from Griffith), 11:12
Eie — Griffith 93 run (pass failed), 3:14
Nik — Broussard 18 run (pass failed), 11:42
Nik — Holloway 45 pass from Anderson (run failed), 7:38
Eie — Griffith 77 run (pass failed), 6:41
Eie — Griffith 36 run (kick failed), :39
Homer 55, Valdez 0
The Homer football team routed Valdez in a 55-0 game Saturday in Valdez.
The win improves the Mariners overall season mark to 2-2, while the Buccaneers drop to 1-3 overall.
Seward 56, Monroe Catholic 0
The host Seahawks shut out the Rams on Thursday in Greatland Conference play.
Seward moves to 1-1 in the league and 2-2 overall, while Monroe drops to 0-3 and 0-4.
Barrow 62, Voznesenka 0
Barrow shut out Voznesenka Friday at Homer High School in a Greatland Conference matchup.