Jim Beeson can't remember his first victory as a head coach, a 47-0 thrashing of Nikiski in the second week of the 1990 season.
He won't forget his 100th win, a 27-26 nonconference nail-biter over those same Bulldogs on Friday night played in a pleasant early autumn haze at Ed Hollier Field.
"Nikiski wasn't very good back then, so I don't remember that one," Beeson said of his first victory. "This one I'll remember."
The rules to this game were simple -- each of the four times Nikiski scored, Kenai came back on the next drive and took the lead by one point.
Beeson became the fifth Alaska coach the join the 100-win club relying on running backs with names like Machado, Hershberger, Craig, Janson and Chimphalee.
But with the Kardinals starting a drive on their own 33 trailing 26-19 with 11:45 left in the game, it was a quarterback named Zach Rabung that came to the fore.
Due to a couple of holding penalties, the Kardinals faced fourth and 10 with 9:04 remaining. Rabung, a rangy lefty, rolled left, scanned the field and decided to run for it.
"I saw an opening and decided to take it," he said. "A guy came up on me and I was praying that I could get past him. I did, and reached the ball past the marker."
Rabung, who completed 4-of-6 passes for 69 yards and two touchdowns, was just getting started. After Nikiski stuffed a couple runs to Billy Kiefer, Rabung dropped back and found tight end Ty Fuller running behind the defense for a 40-yard scoring strike.
Down 27-26 with 7:22 to play, Beeson decided he didn't want to take a chance of earning his first career tie before earning his 100th win.
This wasn't the 1990 Bulldogs -- a young program struggling to find its way. This was the mature version, a school that won two small-schools state championships under head coach Scott Anderson.
On Friday, Anderson was in the press box as an assistant, using his usual wizardry as a play-caller for the Wing-T offense to keep the Kenai defense off-balance. The Bulldogs outgained the Kardinals in the game 371-348.
"We went for two because we didn't think we could stop them," Beeson said. "We figured it might make a difference if we could get ahead."
On the decisive two-point conversion, Rabung rolled left and found Fuller open in the front of the end zone.
"To be honest, I had my back to the play and coach (Jeff) Baker said, 'Here we go,'" Beeson said. "I turned around just in time to see Ty catch the football. I don't think I wanted to watch."
The final drive was the result of changes to the offense that Beeson had made in practice leading up to the Nikiski game.
Nick Rouswell was inserted at fullback, and Beeson said the junior ran hard in picking up 95 yards on 13 carries.
Rouswell, who also caught a touchdown pass, diverted some of the attention from Kiefer, who ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 31 carries.
Fuller moved from fullback to tight end and provided more power in the running game, as well as the two game-deciding catches. John Hughes moved from tight end to wide receiver and caught one ball for 11 yards.
The Bulldogs got the ball on their own 37 with 7:15 to play and quickly marched to the Kenai 34 behind the rushing of Beau Calderwood, who would finish with 205 yards and three touchdowns on 26 carries.
"He's a phenomenal athlete and the offensive line is starting to jell in front of him," said Nikiski coach Ted Riddall.
Calderwood had only carried for negative yardage three times in the game when he got a second-and-eight carry and was stuffed by Jeff Narlock for a 5-yard loss at the Kenai 39.
Narlock is normally a linebacker, but he was playing at defensive tackle due to an injury.
"That's an example of when you get a chance to go in the game, you have to make the most of your opportunity," Beeson said.
With big-play receiver Evan Holloway, who had 70 yards and a touchdown on four catches, on the bench after re-aggravating a knee injury, the Bulldogs threw incomplete on third down and had to punt.
Kenai was able to run out the clock, completing its second fourth-quarter comeback in two weeks.
"We have a lot of heart on this team," Rabung said. "We're not the biggest, fastest or strongest by far, but we're a close-knit team."
Beeson said he is more focused on the fact that his team is now 2-1 than on his 100 wins, although he did say it was nice to get No. 100 out of the way.
Riddall, whose team sandwiched a blowout of Great Land Conference foe Delta in between respectable losses to Soldotna and Kenai, is extremely optimistic about the rest of the Bulldogs' conference slate.
"I couldn't have asked for anything more from the guys," he said. "I don't think anybody expected it to be this close."
Kardinals 27, Bulldogs 26
Nikiski 6 6 6 8 --26
Kenai 0 13 6 8 --27
Nik -- Holloway 35 pass from Bennett (run failed), :05.
Ken -- Rouswell 7 pass from Rabung (Narlock kick), 10:54.
Nik -- Calderwood 1 run (run failed), 7:51.
Ken -- Kiefer 3 run (pass failed), 3:33.
Nik -- Calderwood 52 run (pass failed), 8:52.
Ken -- Kiefer 10 run (kick failed), 6:35.
Nik -- Calderwood 20 run (Calderwood pass from Bennett), 11:48.
Ken -- Fuller 40 pass from Rabung (Fuller pass from Rabung), 7:22.
First downs 15 13
Rushes-yards 42-285 51-279
Passing yards 86 69
Return yards -2 10
Passing 6-13-1 4-6-0
Punts-avg 2-42.5 2-36.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties-yards 8-50 5-55
Rushing -- Nikiski: Calderwood 26-205, Wik 3-16, Krogseng 11-71, Bennett 2-(-7). Kenai: Rouswell 13-95, Kiefer 31-185, Rabung 7-(-1).
Passing -- Nikiski: Bennett 6-13-1--86. Kenai: Rabung 4-6-0--69.
Receiving -- Nikiski: Calderwood 1-10, Holloway 4-70, Krogseng 1-6. Kenai: Rouswell 1-7, Hughes 1-11, Fuller 2-51.
Peninsula Clarion ©2014. All Rights Reserved.