Three rushing touchdowns from senior Tommy Cronin and a huge interception from freshman Brett Gilmore pushed visiting Seward to a 28-26 victory Friday against Nikiski.
Both teams play in the Denali Conference, but this Nikiski homecoming game was a nonconference affair. The conference game will be Oct. 1 and will be Seward’s homecoming. Seward is 1-2 overall, while Nikiski is 1-3.
The Seahawks took a 14-12 lead at the half, then led 28-12 at the end of three quarters. The Bulldogs came storming back in the fourth quarter.
Dwyght Mullins, who returned from injury this week to lead the Bulldogs with 107 yards on the ground, made it 28-18 with a 2-yard run with 9:48 left in the game. Truit McCaughey then cut the gap to 28-26 with a 4-yard scamper with 4:04 left.
The Bulldogs defense was able to turn Seward over on downs at the Nikiski 40-yard line with 1:14 to play. After Nikiski quarterback Brady Bostic threw incomplete on first down, Gilmore snared a nifty, over-the-shoulder interception on the Seward 45 with 1:01 to play to end the game.
“Brett is an awesome kid,” Seward coach Tyler Mallory said. “He works hard every day and wants to do the right things. He made some mistakes early and made up for it.”
Gilmore’s interception was the only turnover in the game, making it one of the biggest deciding factors in a very even contest.
Seward rushed for 212 yards, with Cronin leading the way with 104 rushing yards, and Cronin passed for 80. Nikiski rushed for 266 yards and passed for 51.
In the first half, Cronin ran in two touchdowns for Seward, while McCaughey ran in a touchdown for Nikiski and Seth Payne caught a 28-yard strike from Bostic.
“We’d gotten to the 1-yard line three times (in the first half) and one time we didn’t score,” Mallory said. “We knew we could move the ball on them. So at halftime we told them to stop them and go out there and score on offense.”
Seward did just that and Kupono Albino scored with 5:38 left in the third for a 20-12 lead. Seward then recovered an onside kick and suddenly a Cronin touchdown run with 1:54 left had the Seahawks up 28-12.
“He just had an incredible game,” Mallory said of Cronin. “He threw the ball well and completed passes, and he didn’t have any fumbles this game.”
Nikiski coach Paul Nelson said his team dipped in execution in the third quarter. He gave credit to Seward for taking advantage.
“It seemed like we might have been getting tired,” Nelson said. “Guys might have been getting worn down a little bit.”
The coach was happy with the way his team rebounded in the fourth quarter.
“Down 16 and to come within two at the end, that was very commendable,” Nelson said. “There’s a lot of positives to take from this game.”
Nelson said the pass defense was much improved. So was the offensive execution.
“That run game is built to wear you down,” Mallory said of Nikiski. “It’s built to run and run and run and get 3 or 4 yards, and once in a while 10 or 12. And that’s what they did on us.”
Mallory said Seward got a big game from freshman Noah Price, who was in on many tackles from his middle linebacker spot.
If anything, the game had a “To be continued” feel to it.
“We don’t want to look too far ahead, but the next Seward matchup is going to be good,” Nelson said. “It’s their homecoming, then the Fish Bowl is on the line, and the conference game.
“So I think when the time comes, we might be a little hungry.”
Seahawks 28, Bulldogs 26
Seward 0 14 14 0 —28
Nikiski 0 12 0 14 —26
Nik — McCaughey 1 run (run failed), 10:32.
Sew — Cronin 1 run (run failed), 7:02.
Nik — Payne 28 pass from Bostic (run failed), 3:27.
Sew — Cronin 4 run (Cronin run), 0:58.
Sew — Albino 4 run (run failed), 5:38.
Sew — Cronin run (Albino run), 1:54.
Nik — Mullins 2 run (pass failed), 9:48.
Nik — McCaughey 4 run (McCaughey run), 4:04.
First downs 16 20
Rushes-yards 25-212 51-266
Passing yards 80 51
Comp-att-int 5-8-0 3-9-1
Punts 0-0 0-0
Return yards 0 0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 6-51 5-46
Rushing — Seward: Albino 17-87, Cronin 25-104, Price 6-20, Schrock 2-1. Nikiski: Mullins 20-107, McCaughey 15-86, Grenier 10-50, Hemphill 2-2, Bostic 3-18, Caddock 1-3.
Passing — Seward: Cronin 5-8-0—80. Nikiski: Bostic 3-9-1—51.