Nikiski senior Ian Johnson (8) sheds Monroe Catholic defensive back Parker Glaves in the third quarter of Saturday’s Division III game at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski senior Ian Johnson (8) sheds Monroe Catholic defensive back Parker Glaves in the third quarter of Saturday’s Division III game at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Missed chances cost Nikiski in loss to Monroe

After a miscommunication on a two-point scoring attempt led to a failed chance to take the lead midway through the fourth quarter of Saturday’s game with Monroe, the Nikiski Bulldogs knew the game wasn’t over yet, not with eight minutes left to play.

However, missed chances and opportunities held Nikiski back and the Monroe Rams sweated through several late scares to escape with a 7-6 nonconference victory in Nikiski.

Nikiski drops to 0-2 overall while Monroe moves to 1-1.

The biggest moves of the day were made by Nikiski senior Ian Johnson, who knew he was in for a rough day before the first snap. Johnson woke up Saturday morning with chest congestion, coughing, a feverish feeling, but like any star athlete, he was prepared to roll with the punches.

“I couldn’t even sleep last night,” Johnson said. “I had to get over it, and play my hardest today.”

He did more than that as he put the Bulldogs on his back, rushing for 156 yards on 32 carries and scoring Nikiski’s only points of the day.

“We have only three guys that have played all four years, so I’ve got to play my hardest no matter what,” Johnson said.

After a scoreless first half that saw both teams trade turnovers and missed fourth downs, Monroe Catholic struck first in the third quarter on a 57-yard pass by quarterback Trae Puryear, who took advantage on a missed tackle by Nikiski to find Isaac Minnema streaking downfield.

Nikiski then mounted a massive 95-yard, 14-play drive that included 12 carries alone by Johnson, which ended with a 4-yard push into the end zone by Johnson.

The Bulldogs opted to go for two to take a lead, but the botched play saw Johnson inundated with Monroe defenders, and the Rams took over with their lead still intact.

From there, the Rams did all they could to hold off Johnson.

Puryear finished 19 for 31 for 177 passing yards and a touchdown, while throwing two picks as well.

In a defensive lockdown, Nikiski made the most headway with 263 total yards of offense — including 194 ground yards on 48 carries — while Monroe scratched out 207 of their own yards.

First-year Monroe coach Marcus Cogley said the victory was important in getting the Rams’ season going after the opening week loss.

“This is huge,” Cogley said. “I saw a lot of improvement, lots of change … it means the world to come down here and beat Nikiski.”

The biggest break of the game occurred with just over a minute left with Monroe backed up to its own 5-yard line thanks to a pair of penalties. Puryear surveyed from the pocket for a brief moment, then tried running the ball out, but was faced with several Nikiski defenders, who pushed Puryear back to the goal line for a sack.

While the Bulldogs began calling for a safety, the referees instead called the play dead on a forward momentum decision, putting the ball at the 1-yard line.

“So close,” said Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson. “That was an intense moment for sure.”

From there, Monroe used a screen play to gain 6 yards, moving them out of immediate threat of a safety, then punted to put Nikiski on the Monroe 40-yard line.

Nikiski got one last shot at a game-winning drive, starting with a miraculous 42-yard catch from Eiter to Cody Handley that put the Bulldogs 18 yards from the end zone, but in his haste, Eiter promptly was picked off by Higbee on last time.

“It just seemed like the clock was getting away from us, so we tried picking the pace up a bit,” Nelson said. “There was a lot of pressure.”

Monroe received two huge breaks earlier in the fourth quarter when Nikiski got the ball back with five minutes to play and a one-point game. The Bulldogs got to midfield but were facing third down when Bulldogs senior Tyler Olson took the ball on a pitch and was immediately swarmed by Monroe defenders.

Olson stayed down after the play with an injury and had to be carted off the field on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance, and the lengthy break in the action all but subdued Nikiski’s charge. Cogley said the injury to Olson helped to quell the momentum that Nikiski had built up to that point.

“You never want to see a player get hurt, but were able to come together and keep them out of the end zone,” Cogley said.

The Rams also got two crucial interceptions in the final 80 seconds of the game, when Nikiski had two drives end in the hands of defensive back Jordan Higbee.

“He’s a stud corner,” Cogley said about Higbee. “He’s just a sophomore, but he’s excellent at tracking the football.”

The Ram were fresh off handing Redington its first ever varsity win in program history with a 54-40 loss, so Nelson was pleased that his Bulldogs only gave up a single scoring play in 48 minutes.

“Our defense played lights out,” Nelson said. “Definitely hats off to the defense.”

The Bulldogs committed 10 penalties that backed them up 62 yards throughout the day,

In his first varsity game at quarterback, sophomore Michael Eiter finished 4 for 10 with 69 passing yards and four interceptions.

“It’s the first time (Eiter) has started a game, so you’ve got to expect stuff like that to go down,” Nelson said. “We’ll clean it up, but yeah, a little bit of a heartbreaker.”

Nikiski will travel to play non-division opponent Ketchikan next Friday night.

Rams 7, Bulldogs 6

Monroe 0 0 7 0 —7

Nikiski 0 0 0 6 —6

Third Quarter

Mon — Minnema 57 pass from Puryear (Higbee kick), 10:14

Fourth Quarter

Nik — Johnson 4 run (run failed), 8:18

Nik Mon

First downs 17 6

Rushing 48-194 18-30

Pass yds 69 177

Total yds 263 207

Comp-att-int 4-10-4 19-31-2

Return yds 23 58

Punts 2 4

Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0

Penalties-yds 10-62 11-90

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing — Nikiski: Johnson 32-156, Olson 10-22, Eiter 6-(-12), Handley 4-28. Monroe: Gray 7-34, Nicholson 5-(-1), #3 2-2, Garcia 2-1, Puryear 2-(-6).

Passing — Nikiski: Eiter 4-10-4—69. Monroe: Puryear 19-31-2—177.

Receiving — Nikiski: Handley 1-42, Olson 2-17, Johnson 1-10. Monroe: Minnema 4-87, Garcia 5-26, Ortiz 1-6, #3 2-9, Higbee 5-23, Gray 2-26.

Nikiski senior Tyler Olson (14) tackles Monroe Catholic running back Isaac Garcia in the first half Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski senior Tyler Olson (14) tackles Monroe Catholic running back Isaac Garcia in the first half Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski sophomore quarterback Michael Eiter wards off a Monroe Catholic lineman Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion) Nikiski sophomore quarterback Michael Eiter wards off a Monroe Catholic lineman Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski sophomore quarterback Michael Eiter wards off a Monroe Catholic lineman Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion) Nikiski sophomore quarterback Michael Eiter wards off a Monroe Catholic lineman Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski junior Cody Handley escapes the grasp of a Monroe Catholic tackler Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski junior Cody Handley escapes the grasp of a Monroe Catholic tackler Saturday at Nikiski High School. (Photo by Joey Klecka/Peninsula Clarion)

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