For almost three hours Saturday afternoon, Greatland Conference teams Nikiski and Eielson traded punches in a barnburner of a game at Nikiski, but it was the Eielson Ravens that escaped with the 57-48 victory.
The game featured 15 touchdowns, seven from Nikiski and eight from Eielson, and most of the game was played with the two teams separated by a single touchdown or less. In fact, the final score was the largest lead of the day for either team. There were 12 lead changes and ties throughout the game.
“This was our first test of the year, and Nikiski kept swinging back, it was like a heavyweight fight,” Eielson coach David DeVaughn said. “Our seniors got everyone in there and rallied everybody together.”
Nikiski head coach Ted Riddall had similar comments about the nature of the game.
“At the end, it was just one break they had, the kickoff, because it was going back and forth and they got the momentum from that,” Riddall said. “I told the kids earlier this week that it was going to be 48 minutes of a war, one play of a time, and it was all of that and quite a bit more. We have some things that happened that were good, but we also have some things that we need to go back and look at.”
Eielson broke a tie to take the lead for the final time on a 49-yard touchdown run from sophomore running back Anthony Griffith with just under six minutes to go, giving them a 55-48 advantage.
On the ensuing kick return, Nikiski junior Jesse Eide fumbled the ball and Eielson took possession right back, a crucial mistake for the Bulldogs.
“Jesse fumbled it, and and I was going up to block, and I turned around and saw the ball and dove for it, but the 22 got it before we could,” Nikiski running back Michael Stangel said.
The Ravens retained possession on Nikiski’s 34-yard line and moved to 10 yards out from the endzone.
Just when it looked like curtains for Nikiski, Stangel managed to recover an Eielson fumble, but the Bulldogs did not make it far, as Nikiski quarterback Seth Carstens was sacked in his own endzone on the second play and Eielson picked up the safety with 1:08 to play.
“I think we would have been able to take it down and do what we were doing the previous couple drives,” Riddall said. “Again, it was one play away from winning the game. It was going to be one big play that decided the game, and my hat’s off to them, they wanted it and they’re a good football team.”
Stangel, a Nikiski junior, rushed for 29 yards and had 60 receiving yards to cap a successful game.
Once again, senior running back Stephen Hartley put up some big numbers, running 250 yards for three touchdowns, including an 84-yard kick return early in the game that put Nikiski right on Eielson’s front door, and led to Christian Riddall converting a first down attempt to a touchdown.
Riddall had 82 rushing yards, while all 69 of his recieving yards came on one scoring play in the second quarter. Riddall suffered a neck injury before the halftime break and was out for the remainder of the game. Assistant coach Scott Anderson said he expects Riddall will be back next week.
The biggest playmaker for Eielson was sophomore Anthony Griffith, rushing for 389 yards and five touchdowns, while senior Tyler Ellsworth ran for 168 yards and a touchdown.
Junior Garrett Feller had the Nikiski crowd on it’s feet with eight minutes to go in the game, breaking through Eielson’s defense and running 40 yards for a score to tie the game up at 48-48.
Unfortunate for the Bulldogs, it was after that that Eielson put on it’s final surge.
“They’ve got some good players, with a big quarterback like that, it makes it hard to get on him,” Senior linebacker Lincoln Johnson said. “With speedy, shifty guys like Anthony and Tyler, they’re good players and athletes, so we had to have everything perfect to stop them.”
The loss drops Nikiski to 1-1 in the Greatland Conference and 3-2 overall, and will host Valdez next week.
Ravens 57, Bulldogs 48
Eielson 12 22 7 7 —57
Nikiski 14 20 14 9 —48
Nik — Hartley 39 run (Stangel kick), 10:20
Eie — Griffith 31 run (kick failed), 3:41
Nik — Riddall 6 run (Stangel kick), 3:25
Eie — Kincade 8 run (run failed), 1:44
Eie — Griffith 89 run (Friske kick), 10:40
Nik — Riddall 69 pass from Carstens (pass failed), 8:36
Eie — Griffith 66 run (Kincade run), 6:18
Nik — Hartley 1 run (Stangel kick), 3:43
Eie — Kincade 24 run (Friske kick), 2:20
Nik — Ross 35 pass from Carstens (Stangel kick), :42
Eie — Ellsworth 46 run (Friske kick), 9:53
Nik — Hartley 25 run (Stangel kick), 3:39
Eie — Griffith 12 run (Friske kick), 1:03
Nik — Feller 40 run (Stangel kick), 8:06
Eie — Griffith 49 run (Friske kick), 5:52
Eie — Smith safety, 1:08
First downs 29 31
Rushes-yards 49-704 36-390
Passing yards 31 191
Comp-att-int 2-6-1 5-10-2
Return yards 92 187
Punts 1 1
Fumbles 2 2
Rushing — Eielson: A. Griffith 15 for 389, T. Ellsworth 17 for 168, J. Kincade 12 for 89, K. Dunlap 3 for 47, K. White 2 for 11. Nikiski: S. Hartley 19 for 250, Stangel 9 for 29, Riddall 6 for 82, J. Ross 1 for 10, J. Eide 1 for 19.
Passing — Eielson: J. Kincade 2-6-1—31. Nikiski: S. Carstens 5-10-2—191.
Receiving — Eielson: A. Griffith 1-21, K. Dunlap 1-10. Nikiski: M. Stangel 3-60, C. Riddall 1-69, J. Ross 2-62.