Six weeks of the prep football season have done a lot for the new-look Nikiski Bulldogs, and Saturday’s Peninsula Conference clash with the Homer Mariners verified their position as the team to beat.
Nikiski beat Homer 22-6 to improve to 3-0 atop the conference standings, clinching a small-schools playoff spot.
The top two teams get postseason spots. Seward currently sits second with a 2-0 conference mark, while Voznesenka beat Redington to get to 1-1 with two games left, but any potential tiebreaker between Nikiski and Voz would go to the Bulldogs, which wrapped up a 33-0 win over the Cougars in week 4.
Saturday’s win over Homer moved the Bulldogs to 4-2 overall, while Homer dropped to 0-6 on the year, a disappointing skid considering the depth of talent on the Mariners squad.
“That’s the best (0-6) team you’ll see,” said Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson. “They’ve had a little bad luck this year, but they’re pretty solid.”
Senior running back Patrick Perry led the charge with 200 rushing yards and a touchdown, and also grabbed an interception in the second quarter that helped turn the tide of a scoreless game.
“The Homer offense played awesome, they gave us a lot of different formations,” Perry said.
After a winless start to the season, it was up to Homer coach Josh Fraley to come up with something different to change the Mariners’ fortunes. A season-ending injury to starting quarterback Teddy Croft two weeks ago also helped to make the decision.
Fraley said the decision to install the Wildcat came after the Mariners had trouble running the ball in a 22-14 loss to Seward last week. Homer finished with 15 total ground yards on 16 carries in that game.
“We had our first rushing touchdown today by a running back,” Fraley pointed out. “But our passing game suffered more today.”
Homer ended with 150 rushing yards Saturday but only 31 passing yards by quarterback Jaime Rios, who wrapped up a 1-for-13 day with four interceptions, all distributed between four Nikiski defensive backs.
The Bulldogs combined for 306 team rushing yards on 54 carries, as Matthew Minium also chipped in 58 yards on 20 carries, and quarterback Ian Johnson had 30 yards on two touchdown runs.
“This was probably the most important win of the season,” Perry said.
Homer freshman Noah Fisk led the Mariners with 123 rushing yards and a touchdown.
After trading possessions that ultimately came up empty, Nikiski got a break when Perry jumped a route and picked off Rios at midfield. The Bulldogs then marched down the field, a drive that included a fourth-and-one conversion by Perry that went 25 yards, and capped it off with a 28-yard field goal by Luke Johnson with 37 seconds to spare before halftime, giving Nikiski a 3-0 lead.
A pair of touchdown runs in the third quarter helped distance the Bulldogs from the Mariners. Nikiski’s opening possession was going well until Homer forced a fumble, but the Mariners couldn’t take advantage and punted the ball away.
From there, Perry was able to rip off a 61-yard scramble up the far sideline, putting Nikiski in the red zone. Perry finished the job with a 14-yard run to the outside, extending the Nikiski lead to 10-0 with six minutes left in the quarter.
Johnson ran the ball in from 3 yards out on a quarterback sneak to boost the lead to 16-0 late in the third quarter.
Homer finally got its first points on the board on the first snap of the fourth quarter when Fisk bolted 37 yards to the end zone, shedding a few tackles along the way.
However, Nikiski responded with a long 16-play drive that sapped 8 minutes, 21 seconds, from the scoreboard and finished with a 5-yard push in to the end zone by Johnson.
Michael Eiter, Tyler Olsen, Perry and Johnson all had interceptions for Nikiski.
Nikiski will wrap up the regular season with a pair of big matchups — next week’s homecoming game against small-schools rival Eielson, and a Week 8 clash with Seward that will likely decide the conference title.
BULLDOGS 22, MARINERS 6
Homer 0 0 0 6 —6
Nikiski 0 3 13 6 —22
Nik — Johnson 28 FG, :37
Nik — Perry 14 run (Johnson kick), 6:03
Nik — Johnson 3 run (Johnson kick), :38
Hom — Fisk 37 run (run failed), 11:49
Nik — Johnson 5 run (kick missed), 3:28
Rush yds 31-150 54-306
Pass yds 31 0
Comp-att-int 1-13-4 1-6-1
Return yds 0 54
Punts 3 2
Fumbles-rec 2-1 1-0
Penalties 2-10 2-15
Rushing — Nikiski: Perry 20-200, Olsen 4-11, Minium 20-58, Johnson 9-30, Eiter 1-7. Homer: Fisk 12-123, Heimbold 4-20, Rios 13-6, Love 1-4, Sumption 1-(-3).
Passing — Nikiski: Johnson 1-6-1—0. Homer: Rios 1-13-4—31.