The Nikiski football team took a convincing 57-0 victory over Greatland Conference rival Barrow amidst a snowstorm Friday evening in Nikiski, and locked up home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Nikiski ended the regular season with a 4-1 conference record and 6-2 overall, and will be seeded second in the small-schools playoffs, which begin next week.
Friday, the Bulldogs got off to a quick start, as senior running back Stephen Hartley scored on the opening kickoff, running 77 yards to put Nikiski up by eight after a successful two-point conversion.
Hartley rushed for 294 yards and had five touchdowns, including the 77-yard kick return. Hartley also had a 54-yard score late in the second quarter, running left and breaking tackles to find a clear line to the end zone.
“The kids played well,” Nikiski coach Ted Riddall said. “Defensively, offensively, special teams, just the whole entire game was a complete game. It’s 48 minutes long, and that’s what we challenge them to do, and they did it.”
Sophomore Christian Riddall also rushed for 123 yards, including two touchdowns of 8 and 34 yards.
Nikiski notched three touchdowns in both the first and second quarters, and one each in the last two quarters.
Barrow was seemingly overwhelmed by Nikiski’s defense, recording only 235 total offensive yards, and Nikiski senior linebacker Lincoln Johnson had three sacks on the day. In contrast, Nikiski had 516 total yards of offense.
“It helps if you can tackle people, and we weren’t doing that well,” Barrow coach Brad Igou said. “We shot ourselves in the foot, offensively, a couple times. We have a senior quarterback who’s never really played quarterback because our other guy got hurt, and it’s his first game starting, and he played his heart out, but Nikiski is just really good and we have a lot of work to do.”
As Nikiski built up its lead on a cold, overcast day, the sky began to emit sleet near the end of the first half. By the time the Bulldogs returned to the field to begin the second half, the weather had morphed into an all-out blizzard, as large, wet snowflakes assaulted the crowd.
Barrow, of course, is no stranger to this weather, and coincidentally fields a quarterback named James Snow.
“We apologize for bringing the weather down with us,” Igou quipped. “It was a whiteout, almost. It was crazy.”
Nikiski junior Garrett Feller said the biggest detriment the snow presented was the cold temperatures, not the slick grass.
“I never thought I’d like it, but it was pretty fun, despite the cold,” Feller said. “We made sure we kept our cleats clean, so it wasn’t too bad.”
Even coach Riddell was impressed by the unexpected white stuff.
“It’s pretty awesome, and it’s the first snow game I think we’ve ever had here,” Riddall said. “It’s unusual, but pretty cool. The field was a great field for something like this to happen on.”
As far as the championship picture is concerned, Feller said the Bulldogs are ready to make another run at the small-schools state title.
“It’s good because now we have home-field advantage next weekend against Monroe, and we’re going to watch game footage and get ready,” Feller said. “We’re going to prepare against Monroe, and hopefully we make it to the state match.”
Riddall echoed Feller’s words.
“Obviously, we’ll look at Monroe again, and treat them like a new opponent, and try to figure out what we can do to improve from the last time we played them,” Riddall said. “Anything could happen at this point, there could be another snowstorm, a rainstorm, whatever it is. It could be a white field next week.”
Bulldogs 57, Whalers 0
Nikiski 24 20 7 6 —57
Barrow 0 0 0 0 —0
Nik – Hartley 77 run (Riddall run), 11:46
Nik – Hartley 7 run (Apted run), 7:18
Nik – Hartley 9 run (Riddall run), 3:28
Nik – Carstens 2 run (Eide pass), 8:59
Nik – Riddall 8 run (kick failed), 6:12
Nik – Hartley 54 run (kick failed), 1:41
Nik – Hartley 21 run (Stangel kick), 5:59
Nik – Riddall 34 run (kick failed), 9:30
First downs 27 21
Rushing yards 507 150
Passing yards 9 85
Comp-att-int–yards 2-2-0 8-24-1
Punts-yards 0-0 7-175
Turnovers 3 3
Penalties-yards 6-40 4-21
Rushing: Nikiski – Hartley 14-294, Riddall 9-123, Apted 2-37, Feller 3-22, Uhls 2-12, Stangel 1-18, Anderson 1-1. Barrow – Sanchez 20-65, Snow 12-69, Tifflin 2-16.
Passing: Nikiski – Carstens 2-2, 12 yds, 1 rushing td, 2 yds. Barrow – Snow 7-23, 72 yds, 1 int. Masterson 1-1, 13 yds.
Receiving: Nikiski – Apted 1-9, Eide 1-3. Barrow – Masterson 6-68, Snow 1-13, Kim 1-4.