Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski's Corin Cooper gets depantsed by Eielson's Tobias Dobashi-Noa during their small schools state championship game on Saturday Oct. 17, 2015 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski's Corin Cooper gets depantsed by Eielson's Tobias Dobashi-Noa during their small schools state championship game on Saturday Oct. 17, 2015 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Eielson tops Nikiski to repeat as small-schools champions

It may be labeled as small-schools football, but there was nothing small about Saturday’s matchup between the two teams fighting for the third-tier division of the Alaska high school state football championship.

After three hours, the Ben Eielson Ravens had claimed their second straight small-schools title at Dimond Alumni Field, topping the Nikiski Bulldogs 49-14 in a sloppy contest.

“This is crazy,” said Eielson coach David DeVaughn. “I don’t think I can put this feeling into words.”

The win left Eielson as the first team to win back to back small-schools titles since Soldotna pulled the trick in 2008 and 2009.

“That’s a good act to follow,” DeVaughn quipped.

However, to get there, the Ravens had to endure a hard-nosed Nikiski squad that gave them trouble.

Ten total turnovers marred the game as the two heavyweights battled for supremacy on a soggy turf, which had been soaked from overnight rains.

Nikiski senior quarterback Cade Anderson suffered three interceptions, two of them going to Eielson defensive back Jerimiah Brown. Anderson ended up 7 for 19 for 73 yards, including a touchdown.

However, Eielson brought a heavy ground game that racked up 438 team rushing yards. Three Eielson players eclipsed the 100-yard mark individually — Kalib Dunlap led the way with 168 rush yards and two touchdowns, quarterback Antonio Griffith had 112 yards and three scores, and Andrew North added 146 yards with two touchdowns.

“I’m so happy I can contribute to this team,” Dunlap said. “It’s just great knowing we could execute both years.”

“It was just so emotional the last two minutes of the game,” North added.

The loss left Nikiski coach Ted Riddall with fleeting disappointment, as sophomore running back Rykker Riddall was lost to injury early in the second quarter. Riddall — who compiled 821 rushing yards in the regular season — ended with only six carries Saturday.

“You can’t lose a 1,000-yard rusher in the beginning of the game and expect to win,” coach Riddall said. “It just made it difficult to sustain and do what we wanted to do all the way through. We had to adjust.”

Junior Matthew Minium and senior Corin Cooper picked up the slack in place of Riddall. Minium led Nikiski with 70 rushing yards and Cooper finished with 53 yards and a touchdown.

Coach Riddall ultimately praised Eielson for making the right plays when it needed to.

“Hats off those guys,” Riddall said. “They got after it, and we just couldn’t make enough plays.”

After both teams were forced to punt on their respective opening possessions to start the game, Anderson was intercepted by Brown, who brought the ball back to set Eielson up at Nikiski’s 21-yard line. On the first offensive possession following an Eielson penalty, Griffith found room to the outside and kicked in the afterburners for a 26-yard touchdown, putting Eielson into the early lead.

On the ensuing possession, a 20-yard catch by Nathan Carstens set Nikiski up at the Eielson 31, but Riddall fumbled away to the Ravens, who then promptly gave the ball right back on a Dunlap slip. Ian Johnson was the first Bulldogs player on the fumble.

The turnovers led to Nikiski scoring on a 16-yard pass from Anderson to Dylan Broussard, and a two-point run by Cooper gave Nikiski an 8-7 late in the first quarter.

Dunlap helped get Eielson back in Bulldogs territory with several quick getaways up the middle, but on the first play of the second quarter, it was Griffith scoring again on a 34-yard scamper around the outside to give Eielson the lead at 14-8. The touchdown gave the Ravens a permanent lead.

“We would hold it to the inside and they’d pop to the outside and someone new was in that position and they’d lose the contain,” Riddall said.

As the first half wound down, a bizarre series of events took hold of the game.

After Nikiski had worked its way to the Eielson 35, Anderson threw his second pick of the day to Brown, but Griffith immediately mirrored Anderson with an interception of his own to Broussard. Three plays later, Nikiski fumbled the ball away on a carry by Minium, but Eielson returned the favor on a fumble by Griffith, with Minium making up his error with a recovery.

It all resulted in four total turnovers in the final 60 seconds of the first half.

“It kind of feels like you’re in quicksand,” DeVaughn said. “The more you fight it and the more you tell them things, they just keep spinning those wheels. It was just settling it down and realizing you’re not going to hit a home run dinger every time.”

On its opening possession of the second half, Eielson drove 72 yards in seven plays to score on a 33-yard romp by Griffith, his third of the game. The touchdown put Eielson up 28-14.

The Bulldogs followed that by driving to the Eielson 44, only to fumble again on an Anderson misplay. Jon McCormick, who had just returned from missing two game due to injury, later brought down an interception on Griffith to give Nikiski the ball back, but the Bulldogs couldn’t convert, instead losing the ball on downs.

North then iced the game for Eielson with a pair of touchdown runs of 70 and 63 yards, respectively.

Saddled with the loss, Riddall noted that he was still proud of his squad, adding that it was important for the Bulldogs to retain the academic award.

“We’re not going to hang our heads off the field,” Riddall said. “We’re going to keep our heads up and walk off with pride.”

 

Ravens 49, Bulldogs 14

Nikiski 8 6 0 0 —14

Eielson 7 14 14 14 —49

1st Quarter

Eie — Griffith 26 run (Paul kick), 5:12.

Nik — D. Broussard 16 pass from Anderson (Cooper run), 1:12.

2nd Quarter

Eie — Griffith 34 run (Paul kick), 11:52.

Eie — Dunlap 76 run (Paul kick), 8:57.

Nik — Cooper 2 run (pass failed), 4:46.

3rd Quarter

Eie — Griffith 33 run (Paul kick), 8:42.

Eie — North 70 run (Paul kick), 1:00.

4th Quarter

Eie — North 63 run (Paul kick), 9:34.

Eie — Dunlap 16 run (Paul kick), 2:16.

 

Nik Eie

First downs 14 8

Rushes-yds 54-184 40-438

Pass yds 73 17

Comp-att-int 7-19-3 1-4-2

Return yds 120 49

Punts 2 2

Fumbles-lost 3-3 3-2

Penalties-yds 3-15 4-30

 

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing — Nikiski: Minium 15-70, Cooper 14-53, D. Broussard 7-31, Anderson 8-41, Perry 4-(-2), Riddall 6-(-9). Eielson: Dunlap 19-168, North 5-146, Griffith 9-112, Velez 7-12.

Passing — Nikiski: Anderson 7-19-1—73. Eielson: Griffith 1-4-0—17.

Receiving — Nikiski: D. Broussard 4-26, Carstens 1-20, Holloway 1-10, Cooper 1-3. Eielson: Scarboro 1-17.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski quarterback Dennis Anderson makes a run during their small schools state championship game against Eielson High School on Saturday Oct. 17, 2015 in Anchorage, Alaska.

Photo by Rashah McChesney/Peninsula Clarion Nikiski quarterback Dennis Anderson makes a run during their small schools state championship game against Eielson High School on Saturday Oct. 17, 2015 in Anchorage, Alaska.

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