Nikiski’s Dwyght Mullins rushed for 265 yards and four touchdowns as the host Bulldogs defeated Eielson 42-7 on Saturday in a key Denali Conference matchup.
The Denali Conference has five teams, but Monroe Catholic announced at the beginning of the season it would not have a team. Valdez said this week it will not have a team.
That leaves just three teams in the conference fighting for a playoff berth. If the Bulldogs (2-1 overall) are able to defeat Seward in Week 8, Nikiski is in the playoffs.
The bad news is all the opponents dropping out means Nikiski does not have any varsity competition for the next three weeks. Saturday, the Bulldogs travel to play East Anchorage’s JV at 10 a.m. and look to fill in opponents after that.
Saturday, Nikiski set the tone against the Ravens (0-3 overall) with an 14-play scoring drive to open the game that took 8 minutes, 35 seconds. James Hemphill finished the march with a 10-yard touchdown.
“I thought we were in for a grinder and that’s what we did,” Nikiski head coach Matt Trammell said of his team’s opening statement. “Eventually, the crack showed and we were able to exploit them.”
The Bulldogs were able to wait for that crack due to a dominant performance by the defense.
While Nikiski rushed for 310 yards on 42 carries and passed for 64, Eielson rushed for 79 yards and passed for 12. The Bulldogs defense also got a fumble recovery from Oliver Parrish and an interception from Hemphill.
Trammell said Parrish led the defensive effort from his inside linebacker position.
“Our main focus over the past week was the outside backer squeezing everything down because they get a lot of their yards on the outside,” Trammell said. “So practice, practice, practice. And we got a few players back from eligibility.”
With 4:20 left in the half, Mullins ran 26 yards for his first score and Hemphill ran in the conversion for a 14-0 halftime lead.
Niko Alvrado then cut that lead in half with a 66-yard kickoff return to start the second half.
“I’m really, really happy with the performance,” Trammell said. “It’s just that one seven on the scoreboard.
“The funny part was, I told them at halftime I wanted the shutout. And then the very next play.”
Mullins quickly turned around that momentum with scoring runs of 53 and 26 yards in the third quarter and 65 yards in the fourth quarter. Hemphill and Kevin Love had two-point conversions mixed in for a 36-7 lead.
“I was trying to spread the ball around, but they just kept forcing me to give it to him,” Trammell said of Mullins.
Sam Yerkes finished the scoring with a 2-yard run for his first varsity touchdown.
Eielson head coach Matt Mesa said his team is young and inexperienced. The Ravens have three seniors and five juniors on the roster. Mesa added 70% of the team is new to Eielson or hasn’t played football before this season.
“Week after week, we learn something new,” Mesa said. “We correct it, we move on and we go from there.”
Mesa said he is not one to make excuses, but he did say the trip to Nikiski was tough. The players had to wake up at 5 a.m. Saturday for a flight from Fairbanks to Anchorage. Eielson then had to bus to Nikiski. Right after the game, and Ravens loaded up on the bus again for a reverse trip that was due to put them back in Fairbanks about midnight.
Bulldogs 42, Ravens 7
Eielson 0 0 7 0 —7
Nikiski 6 8 14 14 —42
Nik — Hemphill 10 run (run failed), 3:19.
Nik — Mullins 26 run (Hemphill run), 4:12.
Eie — Alvarado 66 kickoff return (Thapa kick), 11:50.
Nik — Mullins 53 run (Hemphill run), 9:44.
Nik — Mullins 26 run (pass failed), 6:17.
Nik — Mullins 65 run (Love pass from Porter), 10:50.
Nik — Yerkes 2 run (run failed), 3:22.
First downs 5 10
Rushing 36-79 42-310
Passing 12 64
Comp-Att-Int 1-3-1 2-5-0
Return yards 0 20
Punts 1-35 0
Fumbles 2-1 3-1
Penalties 4-26 2-20
Rushing — Eielson: White 5-7, Brown 8-14, Mesa 2-5, Alvarado 6-0, Garza 15-53. Nikiski: Hemphill 12-36, Mullins 20-265, Porter 6-3, Maguire 2-(-4), Yerkes 2-10.
Passing — Eielson: Brown 1-3-1—12; Nikiski: Porter 2-5-0—64.
Receiving — Eielson: Johnson 1-12. Nikiski: Payne 1-44, Parrish 1-20.