The host Nikiski football team defeated Eielson 62-46 on Saturday in the nine-man opener for both squads.
The new nine-man league, which was formed this season, is called the Great Land Conference and includes Nikiski, Seward, Eielson and Valdez. The six-game regular season features home and away games against each opponent, but only the second game counts in the conference standings.
Saturday’s game took awhile to come to a boil, with the Bulldogs leading 6-0 after the first quarter. After that, the scoreboard operator was busy with 34 points in the second quarter, 28 in the third quarter and a finishing kick of 40 points in the final 12 minutes.
“In the moment, it’s the same game,” Nikiski coach Matt Trammell said. “The only real difference I noticed was the scoreboard.
“I just looked up and there was 100 points in the game. It really didn’t seem that way.”
The coach said that in nine-man football, big plays become really big plays.
“There’s more space, and less people to cover it,” he said. “As we saw, both teams had a lot of really big chunk plays.”
Nikiski scored nine times, getting stopped only on its last drive of the game when the second string was in. Six of those touchdowns came from more than 20 yards out.
Truit McCaughey had a touchdown and 118 yards on 11 carries, Oliver Parrish had three touchdowns and 94 yards on 10 carries, Kaiden Parrish had a touchdown and 116 yards on eight carries, and Wyatt Maguire had a touchdown and 67 yards on five carries. Oliver Parrish, Kaiden Parrish and Maguire all had their first varsity touchdowns.
Ethan Ellis was 4 for 4 for 107 yards, throwing scores to Maguire and Seth Payne. Ellis, who threw his first varsity touchdown pass, also ran for a score.
“We had everything in the playbook working,” Trammell said. “All the kids stepped up. We have four different ball carriers, and they were all cooking.”
The Bulldogs didn’t commit any turnovers on offense, letting them lead 26-14 at the half.
Eielson scored six times on offense, with three of those scores coming from more than 20 yards out.
In the first half, the Ravens lost two fumbles and had the ball when the clock ran out in the second quarter. In the second half, Eielson turned the ball over on downs once and lost another fumble. McCaughey had two fumble recoveries for Nikiski.
“Nikiski did perfect by capitalizing on our turnovers,” Eielson head coach Matt Mesa said. “That’s the way it should be.”
Mesa was still happy with the game. He said he was teaching his team 11-man football until a few weeks ago in hopes of convincing other coaches to play that style.
He also said that having the school on Eielson Air Force Base means many players are playing with each other for the first time.
“I think it was a good experience for the first nine-man game for us,” Mesa said. “We’ll fix what we need to fix and press on.”
Nico Mesa had a huge game at quarterback, going 7 for 12 for 243 yards and five touchdown passes. Mesa also ran for a touchdown and 57 yards on nine carries.
“I thought we were a running team and I come to find out we are a throwing team,” Matt Mesa said. “So I have a lot of throwing plays to add to our playbook.”
Mitchell Drayton caught three touchdowns and another ball for 181 yards. Michael Garza and Alexander Miranda also had touchdown catches.
Ayden White kept Nikiski honest by running up the middle 24 times for 139 yards.
“I wasn’t too pleased,” Trammell said of the defense. “It’s not necessarily the kids or the effort, just the scheme and the game plan. Go back to the drawing board a little bit.”
Trammell did say Jackson Wittmer had a solid game at nose guard. Wittmer wasn’t a starter at the beginning of the season, but earned a spot with strong play on the scout team.
Nikiski travels to play Seward on Friday at 5 p.m.
Trammell said it should be a good matchup. The two scrimmaged this season, and he said the teams matched up well. He also said the weather was sloppy, so both sides were fumbling a lot.
Bulldogs 62, Ravens 46
Eie 0 14 8 24 —46
Nik 6 20 20 16 —62
Nik — Tru. McCaughey 70 run (run failed), 2:28.
Eie — Drayton 79 pass from Mesa (Miranda pass from Mesa), 11:46.
Nik — Payne 35 pass from Ellis (run failed), 10:15.
Nik — O. Parrish 9 run (O. Parrish run), 8:20.
Eie — Garza 6 pass from Mesa (run failed), 5:52.
Nik — Ellis 1 run (run failed), :06.
Nik — K. Parrish 67 run (run failed), 11:43.
Nik — O. Parrish 39 run (pass failed), 9:56.
Eie — Drayton 16 pass from Mesa (Mesa run), 5:34.
Nik — O. Parrish 12 run (Tru. McCaughey run), :00.
Nik — W. Maguire 55 pass from Ellis (Ellis run), 10:03.
Eie — Drayton 47 pass from Mesa (Wakefield pass from Mesa), 7:04.
Nik — W. Maguire 53 run (Payne pass from Ellis), 5:16.
Eie — Mesa 3 run (Wakefield pass from Mesa), 2:45.
Eie — Miranda 34 pass from Mesa (White run), :00.
First downs 18 12
Rushes-yards 45-259 42-387
Passing yards 243 107
Comp-att-int 7-12-0 4-4-0
Punts 0-0 0-0
Return yards 0 0
Fumbles 3-3 0-0
Penalties 4-25 2-20
Rushing — Eielson: Miranda 3-4, White 24-139, Garza 7-29, Mesa 9-57, Duke 1-25, Wakefield 1-5. Nikiski: O. Parrish 10-94, Tru. McCaughey 11-118, K. Parrish 8-116, W. Maguire 5-67, Ellis 4-(-4), Chamberlain 2-(-4), R. Maguire 2-(-1).
Passing — Eielson: Mesa 7-12-0—243. Ellis: 4-4-0—107.