Nikiski defeated Barrow 52-21 to win the small-schools First National Bowl on Saturday at Tom Huffer Sr. Field at Chugiak High School.
It is Nikiski's first state title since 2001. Barrow (7-2 overall) had defeated Nikiski earlier in the season.
"It worked out like a storybook that we get another opportunity to play Barrow," Bulldogs coach Ted Riddall said after his team finished 9-1 overall. "The kids were really looking forward to that."
Nikiski senior quarterback Colton Anderson was a little kid on the sidelines watching his father celebrate a state championship with the Bulldogs in 2001. Ten years later, it was his turn to celebrate being the best team in the state.
Anderson said the small details were the key to the victory.
"The little things make the difference in the game," he said. "If we can hold those blocks for an extra second, we ran it hard for an extra second.
"We knew it would make the difference."
Early in the first quarter, Anderson found senior receiver Walter Moore for a quick 25-yard score. Five minutes later, Barrow answered with a 12-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Edward Benson to freshman receiver Cody Ponce De Leon.
The Bulldogs answered right back with another 25-yard pass from Anderson to sophomore tight end Jesse Eide gave Nikiski a 15-6 lead.
Barrow was able to put up one score in the second quarter, but the Nikiski offense proved too much for the Whalers defense.
The Bulldog defense was stifling, only allowing three touchdowns. Eide had an interception in the second quarter as Barrow was on the doorstep of another score.
"The defense played hard, if they made a mistake they would come back with a big play," Eide said.
The Bulldogs scored three times in the second quarter. Junior running back Stephen Hartley added two on the ground and an Anderson 8-yard pass to junior running back Josh Brown put the game just a bit out of reach.
"They got some big plays on us," Benson said. "I guess a little bit of morale got shot out."
The score at halftime was 38-13 in favor of Nikiski.
The Bulldogs did not put the ball in the air at all during the second half. They were led to the finish line by the ground game.
"We just kept on going to what we knew and what we could do and just kept at it," said senior running back Kaden Spurgeon. "We knew we'd be in better condition, we worked all year for perfect conditioning."
However, the Whalers had a spark in the third quarter. They were the only team to put points up during the quarter with a Benson quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line.
"At halftime we had to evaluate what we were doing offensively and defensively," Whalers coach Brad Igou said. "We changed a few things around, and we did slow them down a little bit."
Two more Bulldogs scores on the ground in the fourth quarter from Spurgeon and freshman running back Christian Riddall sealed the game for Nikiski.
Anderson credited the running backs and the offensive line for the victory.
"I was proud of our linemen - how they kept blocking," he said. "We didn't get disheartened, and our backs ran really hard. They just ran over the defense."
Fans from both schools applauded their teams as the final whistle blew. However, the Bulldogs will have a much easier trip home. Spurgeon said the championship is the culmination of the team's dedication that started in the offseason.
"Just being up in the weight room and yelling, ‘State,' and stuff on the last reps - we've been waiting for this, we knew we could do it," he said.
For the week leading up to the championship game, Spurgeon said the team was locked in to seek vengeance against the team that handed the Bulldogs their lone loss of the season.
"We've been waiting for this game since we lost to them the first time," Spurgeon said. "We studied game film every day at lunch, after practice, we dedicated this whole week to football."
Anderson said the win was something he has been working toward since he can remember.
"I've been waiting for this my whole life," he said. "It's just great."
The ride home for Anderson, he said, will be filled with reflections.
"It's going to be reminiscing memories since I was a freshman," he said. "Just how everything came together, I'm just going to love being with my team."
Saturday, Chugiak High School
Bulldogs 52, Whalers 21
Nikiski 15 23 0 14
Barrow 6 7 8 0
Nik - Moore 25 pass from Anderson (Feller kick) 8:34
Bar- Edwards 12 pass from E. Benson (pass failed) 3:02
Nik - Eide 25 pass from Anderson (Hartley run) 1:03
Bar - Hudson 35 pass from Long (E. Benson kick) 7:20
Nik - Hartley 11 run (Feller kick) 5:46
Nik - J. Brown 8 pass from Anderson (J. Brown run) 3:30
Nik - Hartley 11 run (pass failed) :47
Bar - E. Benson 1 run (E. Benson run good) 6:27
Nik - Spurgeon 11 run (Hartley run) 7:40
Nik - Riddall 1 run (run failed)
First Downs 46 20
Rushes-yards 56-392 24-113
Passing yards 117 194
Punts-avg 1-40 2-48
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-1
Penalties-yards 7-40.5 10-56
Rushing- Nik: Spurgeon 21-151, Hartley 17-135, J. Brown 13-63, Stangel 2-46, Anderson 1 -(-2), Riddall 2-0. Bar: Hudson 13-66, E. Benson 7-35, Edwards 2-7, Long 1-3, Snow 1-2.
Passing - Nik: Anderson 6-8-1-117. Bar: E. Benson 8-28-4-116, Long 2-2-0-78.
Receiving - Nik: Moore 2-51, Parrish 1-32, Eide 1-25, Hartley 1-9, J. Brown 1-8. Bar: Hudson 2-102, Edwards 3-40, Long 2-27, E. Benson 1-13, Masterson 1-2.