In leading Nikiski to small-schools state football titles in 2011 and 2013, then-Nikiski coach Ted Riddall gained a reputation as a coach concerned more with quality of play and constant improvement than what was on the scoreboard.
So it was appropriate that Friday, in Riddall’s quasi debut as head coach at Kenai Central, the scoreboard never changed no matter how many times the Kardinals got into Nikiski’s end zone. The Bulldogs had forfeited the contest the week before the game, leading to a scrimmage with four 15-minute periods of a running clock.
Riddall’s squad did not need the scoreboard as an incentive. Kenai finished all six of its drive with touchdowns and had just two penalties during a sharp debut in front of the fans at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai. Despite some intermittent rain, the only time the Kardinals put the ball on the ground was when a snap was mishandled on an extra point.
“There weren’t a lot of mental errors,” Riddall said. “It was good for the first outing.”
It’s never quite fair to post a score in a scrimmage, because Nikiski did things like multiple fourth-down attempts that wouldn’t have happened in a game, but for those who must know, the Kards scored 47 points and shut out the Bulldogs.
“They know what they’re doing,” Nikiski coach Paul Nelson said. “They’ll have a good season.”
The play on the field also proved the merit of Nelson’s decision to forfeit and play a game that offered his young squad less exposure to the Kardinals. Kenai has 12 juniors and nine seniors on its varsity rosters, while Nikiski has just five seniors and four juniors.
Two Bulldogs players were down on the field for extended periods after hits, but Nelson said both players were doing all right after the game.
“We came here to learn and we certainly learned a lot,” Nelson said. “We have plenty to work on Monday in practice, but I’m happy with the direction we’re headed in.”
Even though the Kards were not stopped on offense, Nikiski’s defense showed promise, allowing just one play over 20 yards.
“I felt good about out defense,” Nelson said. “We had some aggressive play and people were getting to the ball.”
Meanwhile, Kenai unveiled a multidimensional offense led by junior quarterback Connor Felchle, who had all the ballhandling down for his handoffs and hit all three of his passes, two for scores to Zack Tuttle. Tuttle also scored on a fumble return.
“We could throw it out to Tuttle 10 to 15 times if they stack the box to stop the run,” Riddall said.
And opponents would have reason to stack the box, because Rykker Riddall ran six times for 53 yards and a score, James Siamani ran five times for 45 yards and a score, Tyrone McEnerney ran four times for 20 yards, and Titus Riddall had 39 yards and two touchdowns on five carries.
Riddall said his line needs to sustain blocks better, and the backs need to take better routes on their runs, but overall he was pleased with the offense. He specifically pointed to junior Jacob Grant making his varsity debut at center and not having any ballhandling issues.
On defense, the Kardinals were dominant, not allowing a run of 10 yards the whole game. Riddall said senior Seth Kruse captained the defense from his inside linebacker spot and was all over the field.
“They swarmed around pretty good,” Riddall said. “Defenses are usually ahead of offenses this time of year.”
Nelson alternated Sam Berry and Ian Johnson at quarterback, and Johnson had 14 carries but no room to run. Nelson was encouraged that his squad put together more and more running plays that looked good as the game went on.
Kenai travels to take on North Pole on Friday at 7 p.m., while Nikiski hosts Monroe Catholic on Saturday at 2 p.m.