Seward celebrates defeating Nikiski on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward celebrates defeating Nikiski on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward topples Nikiski for 9-man state title

Seward defeated Nikiski 42-0 on rainy Saturday night at Colony High School to win the first football state title in school history and the first nine-man state final in Alaska’s history.

The Seahawks (7-0) completed their first undefeated season by defeating their greatest rival. The Bulldogs have seven state titles to their credit, beating Seward in the final for four of them.

“It’s a rivalry between us and beating them is never easy to do,” said Seward head coach Tyler Mallory, who has been head coach for three years and in the program for seven. “It’s something that until this year, I’ve only done one time in my entire coaching career in seven years.”

Three of Nikiski’s titles were not sanctioned by the Alaska School Activities Association. In 1997, Nikiski and Seward, along with Houston and Glennallen, decided to form the Greatland Conference because the smaller schools didn’t like the fact Alaska had only one division for football.

The Bulldogs topped the Seahawks for three straight seasons for the Greatland title before ASAA created a division for small and big schools in 2000. In 2001, Nikiski topped Seward for the small-schools title.

For this season, Nikiski and Seward, along with Valdez and Eielson, created a nine-man league that better suits their school size. The league is not sanctioned by ASAA, but hopes are 2000 will repeat itself and sanction will be earned.

“It’s not easy to win state at any level,” said Mallory, whose team handed the 5-3 Bulldogs all of their losses. “It’s not easy to beat teams two or three times like we had to do this year.

“And for us to walk away with something that’s never been done in Seward, the community loves it. They’ve been behind us all year.”

Kupono Albino, who rushed 18 times for 137 yards and two touchdowns, and Gideon Schrock, who rushed nine times for 128 yards and a touchdown, are the only seniors on the team who played all four years.

They have firsthand experience with one of the biggest reasons nine-man was created — to keep underclassmen from injury risk by playing against upperclassmen from bigger schools.

Seward had just 13 players in 2020, when the Seahawks played three games due to the pandemic. The next season Seward got a few more players and went 2-3.

“We went to games with 12 guys,” Schrock said. “You get injured, you stay on the field. It was as hard as could be, but we kept the program running.

“I’m so happy we did now. It’s so worth it.”

John Van Buskirk, listed as 6-foot-4, 280 pounds, ran cross-country freshman year because he said he was scared to play football.

He came out as a sophomore and fell in love with the sport. Going 1-6 as a junior didn’t have him thinking state championship.

“It’s something I never expected would have happened,” he said. “We were pretty much getting blown out last year.”

Mallory said his players have shown perseverance.

“The kids put in the work and got their friends to come out,” he said. “Me and the coaches, we sold a vision of wanting to achieve this — wanting to be champions and compete in every game we played in.

“The kids battled for the last three or four years of games where we got beat 45-0 and 60-0. Over time, they’ve continued to buy in and sell out for each other and for themselves and for the team.”

Seward’s roster had 21 players Saturday.

“With Seward’s reputation for losing all the time, I didn’t think many people were going to come play football for my senior year,” said Albino, who played on the line as a freshman.

The Seahawks had fallen behind the Bulldogs early in the team’s two regular season matchups, but were clicking in all three phases of the game Saturday in leading 6-0 after a quarter, 22-0 at the half and 34-0 after three quarters.

On offense, quarterback Brett Gilmore directed an offense that scored on its next five possessions after turning the ball over on downs on the opening drive.

Gilmore ran for a touchdown and also threw a 37-yard strike to Judah Brueckner. Brueckner, along with Jerick Senecal and manager Melanie Woodard, are the other seniors for Seward.

“Usually when we play Nikiski, we’ve got to wait until the second half to pick it back up,” Albino said. “This time, we picked it up right from the beginning.”

Mallory said it was nice to have Emerson Cross back from injury, and added Noah Bird caught his first ball ever for a two-point conversion.

On special teams, Hunter Forshee-Kurtz had a 30-yard punt return for a touchdown.

On defense, the Seahawks held Nikiski to 137 yards. The Bulldogs are fine with 3 yards and a cloud of dust, but 13 negative plays meant they could never settle in on offense.

Schrock and Ronan Bickling had fumble recoveries for Seward, while Noah Price had an interception.

“Their offense is designed to get those 3 or 4 hard yards and just push and force out guys,” Schrock said. “Our guys wouldn’t let it happen.”

Mallory told his team he wanted a shutout. Late in the third quarter, Nikiski’s Oliver Parrish broke free and appeared headed to the end zone, but Schrock chased him down.

Nikiski eventually got the ball first and goal from the Seward 4-yard line, but the Seahawks were able to hold.

“Coach said the only thing he wanted was for us to go something and zero at state,” Schrock said. “We wanted zero. I was not going to let my coach down. I was going to track (Parrish) down.”

Nikiski coach Matt Trammell knew the Seahawks were bigger and more physical heading into the game.

“They really didn’t make any mistakes,” he said. “Unfortunately, we had a couple players go down, but the guys who finished the game fought hard and left it all out there, especially the seniors.”

Nikiski lost its top two running backs — Truit McCaughey and Parrish — during the game. Parrish was able to rush 11 times for 88 yards.

Trammell said seniors Seth Payne, Robbie Isabell and Jerry Snodgrass all had great games.

“Earlier in the season, we’d kind of collapse and implode on ourselves,” Trammell said. “We had every excuse to do that today, but for the most part, we kept our heads up.

“We didn’t let our emotions control us.”

Saturday

Seahawks 42, Bulldogs 0

Nik 0 0 0 0 — 0

Sew 6 16 12 8 —42

1st Quarter

Sew — Gilmore 7 run (run failed), 1:17.

2nd Quarter

Sew — Albino 1 run (Bird pass from Gilmore), 10:13.

Sew — Schrock 12 run (Cross pass from Gilmore), 1:18.

3rd Quarter

Sew — J. Brueckner 37 pass from Gilmore (run failed), 5:47.

Sew — Forshee-Kurtz 30 punt return (run failed), 3:11.

4th Quarter

Sew — Albino 2 run (Schrock run), 2:57.

Nik Sew

First Downs 7 12

Rushing Yards 98 311

Passing Yards 39 63

Comp-Att-Int 3-5-1 2-5-0

Return Yards 0 30

Punts 3-16.0 0-0

Fumbles 3-2 0-0

Penalties 3-32 10-75

INDIVIDUAL STATS

Rushing — Nikiski: O. Parrish 11-88, Tru. McCaughey 7-12, Ellis 14-2, No. 5 3-2, No. 24 1-(-3), K. Parrish 2-(-3). Seward: Albino 18-137, Schrock 9-128, Gilmore 9-41, Price 1-5.

Passing — Nikiski: Ellis 2-4-1—29, O. Parrish 1-1-0—10. Seward: Gilmore 2-5-0—63.

Receiving — Nikiski: Wittmer 1-10, K. Parrish 1-7, Payne 1-22. Seward: Forshee-Kurtz 1-26, J. Brueckner 1-37.

Fans cheer for Seward on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Fans cheer for Seward on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward’s Judah Brueckner catches a touchdown pass against Nikiski on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward’s Judah Brueckner catches a touchdown pass against Nikiski on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Truit McCaughey turns the corner on Seward’s Lane Petersen on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Truit McCaughey turns the corner on Seward’s Lane Petersen on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Seth Payne makes a catch between Seward’s Hunter Forshee-Kurtz and Noah Price on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Nikiski’s Seth Payne makes a catch between Seward’s Hunter Forshee-Kurtz and Noah Price on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward’s Kupono Albino runs behind the block of Gideon Schrock on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward’s Kupono Albino runs behind the block of Gideon Schrock on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward celebrates defeating Nikiski on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

Seward celebrates defeating Nikiski on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023, in the nine-man football state final at Colony High School in Palmer, Alaska. (Photo by Jeff Helminiak/Peninsula Clarion)

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