The Eielson Ravens saw on Saturday that the Nikiski Bulldogs have a short memory.
The Ravens lost 35-20 in a battle of the top two Greatland Conference high school football teams, and the contest at Buck Nystrom Field on Eielson Air Force Base also was a rematch of last year’s small-schools state final.
The Ravens, in 2012, defeated the Bulldogs in a regular-season game in Nikiski and in the state championship matchup at Chugiak High School. The Bulldogs remembered both of those outcomes before Saturday’s first meeting of the season between the Greatland rivals.
“We had a lot to make up for from last year,” said Bulldogs senior running back Michael Stangel, who rushed 25 times for 108 yards, including two of the visitors’ scores during their four-touchdown second quarter. Junior Christian Riddall led Nikiski with 154 rushing yards on only seven carries.
“We wanted to come back and show them what we had,” Stangel added. “Show them that it wasn’t the same team — it’s a different team this year.”
Nikiski improved its Greatland Conference record to 5-0 (5-2 overall) and can clinch home-field advantage next weekend with a win against Monroe Catholic. If they don’t win, then the top seed in the conference will be decided with a coin flip.
Tony Griffith accounted for two of Eielson’s touchdowns and Jaheem Prioleau produced the last score Saturday for the Ravens (4-1 Greatland, 4-3 overall). After a scoreless first quarter, the Ravens saw the Bulldogs (5-0, 5-2) seize a 29-6 lead in the second quarter, starting at the 7:24 mark with Stangel’s 75-yard sprint and Luke Johnson’s two-point conversion run.
“Roller coaster” is how Eielson head coach David DeVaughn described his team’s afternoon in its last home game of the regular season.
“We had a slow start and they were definitely hungry,” DeVaughn said. “We have that target on our backs.”
It was a rare conference loss in the regular season for Eielson since becoming a Greatland member in 2003.
“They’re a well-coached team, we knew that coming in,” DeVaughn said of Nikiski. “They came in and got after us. It was real tight at the start, and then we started not paying attention to our assignments and trying to do more than our assisgnments.
“It got us overextended a couple of plays and gave them some big plays,” DeVaughn said.
Garrett Feller caught a 49-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Dennis Anderson to extend Nikiski’s lead to 15-6 with 5:37 left in the second. Stangel made it 21-6 with his 4-yard run with 1:32 remaining and Christian Riddall tacked on a 32-yard burst with 35 seconds left before halftime.
Griffith was contained several times by the Bulldogs, limiting him to 101 yards on 19 carries. It was the second straight week that the junior had a tough go of it, as he was held to 50 yards in a 47-0 nonconference loss at West Valley on Sept. 20.
Before the loss at West Valley, Griffith had ran for 1,395 yards this season.
Nikiski head coach Ted Riddall said the Bulldogs were aware of Griffith’s presence Saturday.
“Just knowing where he was on the field,” coach Riddall said. “We talked about an umbrella defense ... no holes up in the middle and keep pushing him to the sideline, and having guys basically come to the football.”
However, on Saturday, Griffith revived his wheels with a 60-yard run for Eielson’s first touchdown, coming with 7:14 left in the second quarter for an 8-6 score.
Griffith showed at the 2:59 mark of the third quarter that his throwing arm can be as effective as his legs. He found freshman Kyle White in the end zone for a 20-yard touchdown on a halfback option pass.
“I’ve been waiting for a pass to me all season,” White said of the first catch of his high school career. “I saw that (ball) go up, I wanted to take advantage of it as much as I could. I knew how important it was to the game and I knew how important it was to my team, and I wanted to act upon it.”
Christian Riddall added a 40-yard scoring run for Nikiski with 5:03 left in the fourth quarter.
Prioleau, a Ravens senior, scored with a 21-yard run with 3:35 left in the fourth.
The loss to West Valley was considered an eye-opener for Eielson. Saturday’s defeat against Nikiski was a wake-up call with one week left in the regular season.
“I call this game a kick in the pants we need to not slouch off like we’ve been doing, like the second quarter,” said White, “and play through the game like we did in the first quarter and the second half.
“We’re going to be needing to do that all through the rest of our term (season) if we want to do what needs to be done,” he added.
The Ravens have clinched a berth in the small-schools state semifinals in two weeks. Eielson ends the regular season and conference play this coming Saturday at Voznesenka.
Bulldogs 35, Ravens 20
Nik. 0 29 0 6 —35
Eie. 0 6 8 6 —20
Nik — Stangel 75 run (Johnson run), 7:24
Eie — Griffith 60 run (pass failed), 7:14
Nik — Feller 49 pass from Anderson (Feller kick), 5:37
Nik — Stangel 2 run (pass failed), 1:32
Nik — Riddall 32 run (Stangel run), :35
Eie — White 20 pass from Griffith (White pass), 2:59
Nik — Riddall 40 run (pass failed), 5:03
Eie — Prioleau 21 run (kick failed), 3:35
Rushing yds 271 93
Passing yds 122 73
Comp-Att-Int 8-17-0 4-9-0
Penalties 12-85 1-5
Fumbles 0 2
First downs 18 10
Returns yds 72 33
Punts-yds 4-122 4-167
Rushing — Nikiski: Stangel 25-108, Riddall 7-154, Eide 6-12, Castro 1-1, Anderson 1-(-4). Eielson: Griffith 19-101, Prioleau 10-13, Velez 3-(-21).
Passing — Nikiski: Anderson 8-17-1—122. Eielson: Velez 2-5-0—50, Griffith 2-4-1—23.
Receiving — Nikiski: Riddall 2-39, Stangel 3-15, Feller 3-68. Eielson: White 3-33, Prioleau 4-40.