Two weeks of sitting on the sidelines will rev up anyone’s motor.
A fresh trio of Nikiski’s best gridiron gladiators picked up the load Friday evening at Nikiski High School as the Bulldogs grabbed a convincing 28-0 win over Redington, a nonconference opponent.
The win pushed Nikiski to 2-1 overall this year with its first Peninsula Conference matchup still to come next week against Ketchikan. Redington dropped to 0-3.
The three players that made their season debuts after eligibility checks included seniors Michael Eiter and Justin Harris, and junior Mason Payne, and all three had impacts on the game.
Eiter caught two scoring passes on three catches and Harris chipped in two touchdowns, one on a blocked kick return and another on a 38-yard run, to fuel Nikiski to the victory.
“Sitting out left me with a lot of pent up energy, I had some butterflies in the stomach,” Eiter explained. “As a football player you want to go out there and talk some smack with your guys.”
Mason Payne also joined the action as a defensive back, following two weeks of sitting out, and notched a fumble recovery.
The workhorse of the day, however, returned as junior Sam Berry, who followed up a 214-yard rushing day last week against Valdez with a 101-yard day Friday against Redington. Berry brought his total ground yardage this year to 357 in just three games, leading all peninsula backs.
Overall, Nikiski outgained Redington 311 to 159 in total yardage, including 269 yards rushing.
Each side committed four fumbles, but Redington had three get away for good. In all, the Bulldogs forced five total turnovers — three fumbles and two interceptions.
Noah Litke and Eiter each hauled in an interception with the game on the line. Litke’s interception of Huskies quarterback Kyler Rumfelt with 1:08 remaining in the third quarter set up a drive that ended with Litke connecting with Eiter on a 14-yard fade route in the end zone, a touchdown pass that put Nikiski up 20-0 and helped ice the victory with 10:46 left.
Litke finished the day with only the two competed passes, both of which went to Eiter for touchdowns, and 42 passing yards.
Entering the day, Nikiski head coach Paul Nelson acknowledged Nikiski’s biggest task would be to keep Huskies QB Kyler Rumfelt from running wild on the Bulldogs, and they did by containing the burly Rumfelt to just 31 rush yards and pressured him into two picks in a 6-for-22 passing day.
Nelson said after nearly going scoreless for the entire first half, the Bulldogs showed moxie in finishing the game strong.
“It’s big,” Nelson said. “Redington really came out with a killer defensive plan and they shut us down early on.”
The first half was trending toward a scoreless halftime until Nikiski finally came through in the red zone with a touchdown pass from Litke to Eiter with five seconds left.
After nearly 24 minutes of empty possessions, a Redington fumble forced by Eiter late in the second quarter gave the Bulldogs the ball with just enough time to run a scoring drill.
The 58-yard drive was capped with an 18-yard lob from Litke to Eiter along the sideline, and Eiter snuck by a defender to get inside the orange pylon to give Nikiski a lead it wouldn’t give up.
“That was the spark that started everything for us,” Eiter said. “It’s a lot different when we went to the locker room at half with the lead.”
The Bulldogs finally managed to distance themselves in the second half starting with a 37-yard blocked punt return by Justin Harris that pushed the lead to 12-0 midway through the third quarter. Redington’s initial punt was blocked by a wall of Nikiski linemen, and while most on the field hadn’t realized the ball was live, Harris quickly recognized the situation and scooped the ball up for a touchdown.
Nikiski kept the momentum going late in the third quarter on a Litke interception that gave the Bulldogs great field position. Nikiski capitalized with a 14-yard scoring pass by Litke that landed into the hands of Eiter for the second time with 10:46 left in the game.
Eiter then provided one of the final daggers of the contest by forcing a fumble on Redington’s Josh Miller, getting his arm on the play to pop the ball loose and set up another touchdown drive.
Harris capped that drive with a 38-yard scramble to end the scoring with 8:20 left. Litke found Eiter in the end zone on the ensuing two-point play to make it a 28-point lead.
As if to make his impact felt, Eiter notched his second turnover in as many possessions with an interception on Rumfelt with 6:25 to play.
Nelson said the win was another step in the right direction for the Bulldogs.
“To see that adversity in the first half, and the kids battle back, it was good,” Nelson said. “It’s huge for us to maintain focus and keep our foot on the gas.”
BULLDOGS 28, HUSKIES 0
Redington 0 0 0 0 —0
Nikiski 0 6 6 16 —28
Nik — Eiter 18 pass from Litke (pass failed), :05
Nik — Harris 37 kick return (run failed), 7:50
Nik — Eiter 14 pass from Litke (Harris run), 10:46
Nik — Harris 38 run (Eiter pass from Litke), 8:20
First downs 8 15
Rush yds 23-66 57-269
Pass yds 93 42
Comp-att-int 6-22-2 2-4-0
Return yds 33 84
Punts 6-21.8 4-40.2
Fumbles-rec 4-1 4-2
Penalties 1-5 7-50
Rushing — Nikiski: Berry 27-101, Eiter 15-73, D. Harris 4-7, Litke 4-(-19), J. Harris 3-49, Sarks 4-58. Redington: Rumfelt 14-31, Miller 5-19, Pinard 2-6, Jones 2-10.
Passing — Nikiski: Litke 2-4-2—42. Redington: Rumfelt 6-22-0—93.