The Nikiski Bulldogs took care of business on the football turf on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon in the quaint, sunken bowl at Nikiski High School, using a power run game to beat the Houston Hawks 34-0.
But while the numbers in the home column of the scoreboard kept growing, the Nikiski players might as well have been seeing zeros, as tight end and defensive back Dylan Broussard can attest.
“We like to consider the score 0-0 at all times,” Broussard said. “Even if we’re up by fifty points.”
The winning mindset proved valuable, as the score appeared bigger than the action on the field played out. Houston tested Nikiski’s defense throughout the game, but with Broussard and company’s never-back-down attitude, the Hawks never found the end zone.
“We just kept a good mindset and if we made a mistake, just flush it and don’t let it affect our play,” Broussard said. “Our linemen were creating huge holes for us.”
Broussard scored a pair of touchdowns on the day and rushed for 56 yards, and had 64 total offensive yards. Broussard also had a 70-yard pick six called back for a Nikiski penalty, but the interception stood. Broussard said Houston quarterback Kolby Taylor was forced to make the throw under pressure from the Nikiski defensive line.
“I caught the interception and I saw all my brothers out there laying some crazy blocks,” Broussard said. “It didn’t make it for a touchdown but that’s all right, it’s not about the touchdown. It’s about the team, because we got the ball back.”
Sophomore Rykker Riddall led the Nikiski offense with 150 yards on 20 carries while scoring a pair of touchdowns, and senior Corin Cooper added 132 yards with a touchdown.
The win moved Nikiski to 4-1 overall in 2015, and in solid position atop the Peninsula Conference standings as they head north next weekend for a highly anticipated meeting with defending state champions Eielson.
The game was called with 1:32 left on the clock after Houston’s star running back, 6-foot-3, 215-pound junior Ben Pelesasa — had to be carted off on a stretcher after a tackle left him writhing on the turf at midfield on Houston’s final drive of the game. Houston coaches said Pelesasa sustained a shoulder injury.
Up until the final moments, however, Pelesasa made life hard for Nikiski, as he used his brute strength and force to barrel his way through the Bulldogs defense on multiple occasions, racking up 72 yards along the way.
“He was making some great plays, blowing people up, but we took care of him,” Broussard said.
Noah Griffeth combined with Pelesasa to give Nikiski a real challenge. Griffeth ended with 38 yards Saturday.
The first half featured a struggle for possession, as both sides coughed up the ball a combined five times, including a stretch of three straight plays.
After Broussard scored on a 2-yard run up the middle with 7:16 left in the second quarter, Houston began a drive from its own 20. It took the Hawks three plays to get to midfield before they unleashed a spectacular play that set them up at Nikiski’s 15-yard line.
Taylor took the snap from Houston’s own 48, rolled out to his right and sent the ball back across the middle, where it was tipped by a Nikiski defender but still landed in the hands of his intended receiver Kendall Ruta, who then used several spin moves to tack on additional yards for a 37-yard gain.
However, Taylor’s next pass was intercepted in the corner of the end zone by Nikiski’s Patrick Perry. The Nikiski defense picked up four interceptions total on Taylor by the end of the day.
But, on the ensuing play from their own 20, Nikiski turned the ball right back over when Riddall fumbled it away to the Hawks.
After getting the ball right back, Houston nearly turned it over again, as Taylor was caught by the Nikiski defensive line and lost the ball, only to jump back on it.
“That’s part of keeping up with the mental part of the game,” said Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said. “Turnovers usually figure the outcome of the game, but because it was even going back and forth, it made it null and void.”
Yellow flags were also a common theme to the day, as the Bulldogs accrued 15 penalties that backed them up a staggering 159 yards.
Nikiski also had a pair of touchdown plays called back to penalties. Riddall broke free on a 55-yard scoring run about a minute before halftime, and then caught a 9-yard fade pass from quarterback Cade Anderson early in the fourth quarter, but both touchdowns were voided.
“We’ll definitely look at the film and the (two) touchdowns called back, but I felt like we did a good job up front,” Riddall said. “There were some things making it difficult.”
Nikiski opened the game with touchdowns on consecutive drives, starting with a 58-yard, seven-play possession that ended with Riddall cashing in from 3 yards out.
Riddall then picked off Taylor with an impressive one-handed grab in Nikiski territory to set up the Bulldogs for a 65-yard drive. The possession ended with Broussard scampering 22 yards to the house, then fooling the Houston defense on a trick two-point play that saw him snatching the ball on a deceiving extra-point kick and connecting with Riddall in the right corner of the end zone to put Nikiski up 15-0.
BULLDOGS 34, HAWKS 0
Houston 0 0 0 0 —0
Nikiski 15 6 6 7 —34
Nik — Riddall 3 run (L. Broussard kick), 8:13
Nik — Broussard 21 run (Broussard to Riddall pass), 4:22
Nik — Broussard 1 run (pass failed), 7:16
Nik — Riddall 5 run (kick missed), 6:28
Nik — Cooper 1 run (L. Broussard kick), 2:52
First down 8 20
Rushing yds 104 339
Passing yds 97 76
Punts-yds 2-44 0-0
Return yds 37 24
Fumbles-lost 2-1 3-2
Penalties-yds 7-70 15-159
Rushing — Nikiski: Cooper 17-132, Riddall 20-150, Broussard 6-56, Minium 1-5, Anderson 2-(-4). Houston: Pelesasa 11-72, Griffeth 14-38, Ruta 1-(-8), Taylor 7-(-1), #25 1-3.
Passing — Nikiski: Anderson 4-11-1—76. Houston: Taylor 6-16-4—97.