Homer won out in a nonconference match in Nikiski on Friday. The final score was 46-36.
The Mariners are now 6-1 overall, while the Bulldogs fall to 2-2.
Nikiski head coach Matt Trammell said it was a tough loss, but added that he’s hoping the Bulldogs get a second shot at the Mariners, which could become a reality if Nikiski wins next week’s game against Seward and earns a Division III playoff berth.
Homer has already clinched a Division III berth. The Bulldogs came into this game after two bye weeks.
Homer head coach Justin Zank said it was an ugly game.
“I’m proud of my guys for overcoming all that adversity, because we absolutely got whooped physically,” he said.
The game opened with the ball in Bulldogs hands. A slow push from Nikiski took up much of the first quarter, until a nearly eight-minute drive finally concluded in a touchdown. A successful two-point conversion put the score 8-0 in Nikiski’s favor.
Homer made a huge run off of the returning kickoff, making it all the way to the 12-yard line.
A fumble on the next play put the ball back in Nikiski’s possession with four minutes still remaining in the first quarter.
Nikiski’s second drive crossed into the second quarter, but the Mariners managed to hold the drive and flip the ball on downs right against the goal line.
Homer’s Carter Tennison led a dominant drive all the way to the opposing goal line. A fumble near the goal line was recovered by the Mariners. A second was not.
The Bulldogs quickly crossed the field off of a 50-yard run by Dwyght Mullins, and secured a second touchdown. They missed the two-point-conversion, but put 14-0 on the scoreboard with three minutes left in the half.
In those three minutes, Homer came alive.
“It could have gotten out of hand there early,” Zank said. “I’m proud of us for finding a way to stay in it, and then claw back.”
The Mariners locked in their first touchdown and two-point-conversion with a minute left for 14-8 score.
The Bulldogs brought it right back and advanced to 20-8, their two-point-conversion stopped by Homer’s Jackson Snaric.
After that touchdown, only two seconds remained in the first half.
Then, off of the kickoff, in those final two seconds, the Mariners caught the ball and ran it all the way in for another touchdown. Tennison cleared the extra two points, barrelling through the Bulldogs defenders.
“We’ve been looking for a special teams break all season,” Zank said. “I guess when we needed it, we finally got it. That was a big return, that was a big momentum shift.”
At halftime, Nikiski still had a 20-16 lead.
The momentum that Homer built going into the half only grew in the third quarter.
During the first play after the kickoff, Homer secured another touchdown, taking the lead. A successful two-point-conversion gave the Mariners a 24-20 lead.
Nikiski again had a slow but progressing drive, taking seven minutes. Homer managed to stop the Bulldogs and turn the ball back over on downs at the 4-yard line.
Zank said Chris Martishev played a great defensive game for the Mariners.
The Mariners drove up the field and Tennison carried in another touchdown with seven seconds left in the third. Another successful two-point conversion put the score at 32-20.
In the fourth, Nikiski was again held by the Mariners with 10 minutes remaining, flipping the ball on downs.
A minute later, Nikiski’s Mullins made a heroic interception, running the ball all the way back for a touchdown.
“It was a resuscitation,” Trammell said. “Suddenly we were back in the game.”
Trammell said Mullins was a strong performer all night.
A successful two-point-conversion put the score at 32-28.
Homer acted quickly to restore the lead, landing a touchdown with 7 1/2 minutes left in the game. The Mariners missed the extra point, but put 38-28 on the scoreboard.
A fumble by Nikiski on the kickoff returned the ball to Mariners hands, and they scored an additional touchdown on the next play. Tennison carried in the two-point-conversion and further cemented the Mariners lead at 46-28.
The ball didn’t stay with the Bulldogs long, as Tennison intercepted it moments later.
Nikiski’s defense shut down that Mariners drive, flipping the ball back on downs in time for Braeden Porter to bring it in for the final touchdown of the night, with 20 seconds left on the clock. The two-point conversion was good, making the final score 46-36.
Zank said that the Mariners are in Chugiak next week.
“They’re gonna be big, they’re gonna be physical. We’ve got some work to do in preparation,” he said.
Trammell said his eyes are firmly locked on next weekend’s homecoming game against Seward.
“There’s a lot going on that night,” he said.