Thanksgiving came early Saturday at Nikiski Middle-High School.
Nikiski defeated Eielson 40-6 in the nine-man football state semifinals. The Bulldogs move to 5-2 overall and will play Seward for the nine-man title at 7 p.m. Saturday at Colony High School. Eielson ends its season at 2-5.
The Bulldogs went into the game without starting quarterback Ethan Ellis. Just over midway through the second quarter, with Nikiski leading 18-0, backup quarterback Everett Chamberlain left the game with an ankle injury.
Nikiski head coach Matt Trammell said the emergency quarterback was having trouble fielding snaps on the cold, rainy day.
“We were just like, ‘Find me someone who can field the snap and adapt and overcome,’” Trammell said. “We were basically drawing up plays in the huddle, just like you would in the backyard at Thanksgiving or something.
“It was quite the experience.”
Oliver Parrish finished the first half at quarterback and got the Bulldogs in the end zone once, while Truit McCaughey played quarterback in the second half and was able to marshal a pair of touchdown drives.
“There wasn’t even any plays going on,” McCaughey said. “We were making it up on the fly. It was wild out there.”
The way the Nikiski defense was playing, it didn’t matter.
This is the third time the squads played this year, with Nikiski winning 62-46 on Aug. 19 and 32-26 on Sept. 9.
In that first game, Eielson quarterback Nico Mesa was 7 for 12 through the air for 243 yards and five touchdowns.
Saturday, Mesa was 0 for 9 with two interceptions and fellow Eielson quarterback Mykah Drayton was 0 for 2 with one interception.
In single coverage, Wyatt Maguire had two interceptions for Nikiski, while Seth Payne had a pick he returned 55 yards for a touchdown.
“That was the best game we played all year executionwise,” Trammell said. “Both times we played them, they carved us up through the air and I don’t think they completed a pass this week.
“So hats off to Wyatt Maguire with two picks. Last time, he got worked a little bit. This time, he came ready to play.”
Eielson head coach Matt Mesa was scratching his head after the offensive performance.
“I don’t know, our offense just kind of wasn’t there today,” he said. “Our defense did great. A few things went untouched.
“But our offense didn’t show up today.”
In addition to trying two quarterbacks, Eielson handed the ball to seven different running backs but only produced 107 yards of total offense.
Mitchell Drayton had a late score for Eielson.
Quarterback or no quarterback, Parrish and McCaughey were the key for the Nikiski offense, which had 298 yards on the ground and 34 through the air.
Parrish had three touchdowns and 229 yards on 20 carries, while McCaughey had two touchdowns and 66 yards on 18 carries.
McCaughey, a senior, said it’s great to be going to the title game after Nikiski did not have winning seasons in his first three years at the school.
The Bulldogs lost 38-14 and 34-18 to the Seahawks this season.
“My thoughts are that every time we play them, we get better,” McCaughey said. “Hopefully, we’re going to get better enough to beat them this time.”
The Seahawks had a bye this week, which could be an advantage in the health department. Trammell said he’s hoping his players heal up for the game.
“We know who Seward is,” Trammell said. “We’ve seen them three times this year, including scrimmages.
“They’re bigger than us. They’re more physical than us. But we’ve also showed we can hang with them.”
Coach Mesa gave credit to his whole team for a great season, particularly seniors Zachary Wakefield, Ayden White and Brayden Herrin.
“Those are my three seniors that I relied on to handle the season, take the team and guide them in the Raven way,” Mesa said.
Based on Eielson Air Force Base, the team has more turnover than most schools.
“We’re losing half our team this year that we know of,” Mesa said. “Half of it will stay and hopefully we’ll come back next year and dominate.”
Bulldogs 40, Ravens 6
Eielson 0 0 0 6 —6
Nikiski 18 8 8 6 —40
Nik — O. Parrish 64 run (run failed), 9:56.
Nik — Tru. McCaughey 18 (run failed), 6:04.
Nik — Payne 55 interception return (run failed), 0:37.
Nik — O. Parrish 27 run (O. Parrish run), 0:40.
Nik — Tru. McCaughey 1 run (Deveer pass from O. Parrish), 3:10.
Nik — O. Parrish 47 run (kick failed), 10:10.
Eie — Mi. Drayton 13 run (run failed), 7:05.
First downs 4 11
Rushes-yards 16-106 51-298
Passing yards 0 34
Comp-att-int 0-11-3 1-2-0
Return yards 0 84
Punts 0 0
Fumbles 2-0 12-1
Penalties 4-20 5-45
Rushing — Eielson: Mi. Drayton 3-18, White 2-16, Mesa 5-49, Duke 2-20, Miranda 2-(-6), Garza 1-7, My. Drayton 1-2. Nikiski: Tru. McCaughey 18-66, O. Parrish 20-229, Chamberlain 4-(-9), Maguire 5-0, Isabell 1-0, Scott 1-(-2), Goodnight 1-(-1), No. 22 1-15.
Passing — Eielson: Mesa 0-9-2—0, My. Drayton 0-2-1—0. Nikiski: O. Parrish 0-1-0—0, Payne 1-1-0—34.