One of Nikiski football coach Ted Riddall’s key messages he tells his team every game is to grab a three-possession lead before the other team can even think about making a comeback.
Friday night under dreary, rain-spitting skies, the Bulldogs had an early scare when they fumbled the ball away deep in their own territory with only a 14-0 lead over conference rivals Seward.
The mistake did nothing to deter the Nikiski defense, however, as the Bulldogs forced the Seahawks back on three straight plays and took the ball back on downs. On the first offensive play of the ensuing possession, sophomore running back Rykker Riddall broke through the line and sprinted 74 yards to pay dirt, giving his team the 21-0 lead it desired.
“Not at all,” Riddall answered when asked if he was concerned. “We were (back) 20 yards, and I was totally confident in my teammates we were going to get the stop, and we did.”
Riddall ultimately led the Bulldogs to the 44-0 win over Seward in the 2015 regular-season finale to punch Nikiski’s ticket to the small-schools playoffs for a fifth straight year. Riddall scored three touchdowns and piled up 173 rushing yards, including scoring runs of 71 and 74 yards.
“I told them it’s a big deal,” coach Ted Riddall said about securing a playoff berth. “To play well, on top of that, to use the momentum, is big.”
Being back in the playoffs is a big deal for Nikiski, a team that has played in the state championship game for four straight years, winning two of them (2011 and 2013).
With the No. 1 seed from the Peninsula Conference locked up, Nikiski will have home field advantage next Saturday against No. 2 seed Barrow of the Aurora Conference. Barrow recently made headlines around the state with an eight-part documentary on the NFL Network cable channel.
Coach Riddall said his biggest concern with the Whalers is dealing with their size, as well as the motivation that comes along with having a national TV crew following their every move.
“They’re big, they’re fast and they’re athletic,” coach Riddall said. “They’ve got some momentum on their side, they have the NFL Network people behind them … we need to come out, start fast and execute.”
Friday night, Nikiski stopped Seward with a negative rushing total of 2 yards, while racking up 290 ground yards for itself.
Coach Riddall said Friday’s early miscue on offense provided a perfect example for his team, especially the experienced seniors. If the ’Dogs wish to make it 5 for 5 on state title game appearances, they will need to play a full 48 minutes of focused and well-executed football.
“There’s that 14 points, but our defense got the ball back there,” Riddall said. “If you can go up 21 points on somebody, you can’t relax, but it allows you to do some other stuff.”
The Nikiski defense forced Seward to punt twice on its first three possessions and turn it over on downs on the other. On offense, quarterback Cade Anderson found his rhythm early with a pair of touchdown passes in the first 6:13 of the game, connecting with a wide-open Nathan Carstens for a 24-yard strike to open the scoring, then found Hunter Holloway on a 61-yard scoring romp to put the lead to 14-0.
Holloway ended the day with 100 receiving yards, while Anderson completed 4 of 5 throws for 144 yards and three touchdown passes.
Loose footballs turned out to be a theme on the day, as the slight drizzle gave players trouble with handling the ball. Nikiski fumbled on three occasions, recovering twice, and Seward let slip five fumbles, recovering four of them.
The first fumble came at Nikiski’s expense, as Anderson was sacked on his own 19-yard line, with Seward defensive guard Gavin Medcalf falling on the loose ball.
Only 19 yards away from the end zone, Seward failed to capitalize, as two runs each by junior quarterbacks Nik Pahno and Michael Wilps failed to convert a first down.
Wilps took over for Pahno at the quarterback position early in the second quarter, and ended up going 3 of 12 through the air for 24 passing yards and two interceptions.
Later in the second quarter, after Riddall capped a six-play, 36-yard Nikiski drive with a 4-yard plunge into the end zone to put the home team up 28-0. Wilps took over as quarterback for Seward, and immediately guided the Seahawks on a 12-play, 40-yard drive that ended on downs.
On the next snap, Riddall found space on a carry directly up the middle to score a 71-yard touchdown, putting Nikiski ahead 35-0.
“Linemen,” Riddall said about his two long touchdown runs. “Enough said.
“We’ve been working on straight line all week and they made those holes so easy to run through.”
On the next Seward drive, senior Corin Cooper intercepted a pass from Wilps to set Nikiski up at the Seward 39-yard line. On the very next play, Anderson connected with Holloway for a quick touchdown pass.
Seward fumbled away the second-half kickoff reception, leaving Nikiski on the Seward 25. However, Luck Broussard came up short on a 37-yard field goal, one of four that he missed on the day.
Nikiski recorded a safety when Wilps fumbled a snap into his own end zone.
In the postgame huddle, coach Riddall continued to impress one point in particular.
“Selflessness,” Riddall said he told his seniors. “Coaches are going to make the best decisions for the team to be successful. If you do that, you’ll like the outcome the next couple weeks.”
Bulldogs 44, Seahawks 0
Seward 0 0 0 0 —0
Nikiski 21 21 2 0 —44
Nik — Carstens 24 pass from Anderson (L. Broussard kick), 8:13
Nik — Holloway 61 pass from Anderson (L. Broussard kick), 5:47
Nik — Riddall 74 run (L. Broussard kick), 1:02
Nik — Riddall 4 run (L. Broussard kick), 9:13
Nik — Riddall 71 run (L. Broussard kick), 3:29
Nik — Holloway 39 pass from Anderson (L. Broussard kick), 2:53
Nik — Nikiski safety, 8:16
Rushes-yds 26-290 27-(-2)
Pass yds 144 34
Return yds 21 80
Comp-att-int 4-5-0 5-16-2
Punts 0 4
Fumbles-lost 3-1 5-1
Penalty-yds 7-35 3-34
Rushing — Nikiski: Riddall 6-173, Cooper 4-16, Anderson 2-(-4), D. Broussard 5-19, Minium 5-54, Hollinger 3-28, Perry 1-4. Seward: Wilps 16-6, Osborne 2-0, Pahno 6-(-14), Sieverts 3-6.
Passing — Nikiski: Anderson 4-5-3—144. Seward: Wilps 3-12-0—24, Pahno 2-4-0—10.
Receiving — Nikiski: Holloway 2-100, Carstens 1-24, Handley 1-20. Seward: Sieverts 4-32, Wilps 1-2.