Nikiski's Justin Tumbaga is stopped by a deck-load of Homer Mariners Friday.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
The Nikiski High School football team took one on the chin, dropping a nonconference game to Homer 35-6 Friday in Nikiski.
“It was a tough game. I felt like there was a part when we had just about lost heart, but we came back and fought,” said Nikiski head coach Ned Clooten.
Neither team gained an advantage through the scoreless first quarter, with both defenses holding the opposing offenses in check.
The Mariners got the first big play of the game, though, when big running back Noah McWilliams broke free for a 44-yard gain late in the half to set Homer up with a first-and-goal from the Nikiski 8-yard line. Two plays later, Homer’s Justin Smith loped into the end zone for a 3-yard score with 1:15 left until halftime, sweeping out to the left when the Nikiski defense bit on the fake handoff up the middle.
Homer kept that momentum going in the second half, finding the end zone on its first two possessions of the third quarter. Cameron Hagen scored on a 16-yard run to cap a six-play drive to open the quarter and caught a 3-yard pass from quarterback Canyon McKinstry in the end zone with 1:25 left in the frame. The second touchdown was set up when McKinstry kept the ball on an option play and carried it 37 yards to the Bulldogs’ 7-yard line.
Nikiski's Zech Hemphill looks to pass the ball Friday against Homer.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
McWilliams scored on a 5-yard run early in the fourth quarter after the Homer defense was able to force a Nikiski punt deep in Bulldogs territory, giving the Mariners a 28-0 lead before the Bulldogs were finally able to get a big play of their own and finish off a scoring drive.
Nikiski quarterback Zech Hemphill got his team into the red zone when he broke free for a 52-yard gain to the Homer 16, then capped the 11-play, 75-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak for the score.
The Mariners added one more score on a 21-yard run by Hagen with just under a minute to play. Luke Gilbert was 5-for-5 kicking extra points for the Mariners.
“It all starts with the line,” said McKinstry. “We made some adjustments and they dug down deep and made us pretty boys look good.”
McKinstry completed five of nine passes for 81 yards while the Mariners racked up 269 yards rushing, including 112 yards on 14 carries for McWilliams and 101 yards on 18 carries for Hagen.
“We like to do a little bit of everything. we don’t want to be one-dimensional. We’ve got really good players who can do anything, and we like to spread it around a little bit,” McKinstry said.
McKinstry said both the Homer offense and defense executed very well, and added that the Mariners have their sights set on the playoffs.
“We’re headed in the right direction. I just can’t wait for the next game,” McKinstry said.
Clooten said the main thing he would take from the game is that his team didn’t fold when it was down and instead regrouped and battled to the end.
“That’s a big thing for my football team, to be able to turn the corner after a nonconference loss,” Clooten said. “... We’ll see how we adjust to some adversity.”
At times, Clooten noted, the Bulldogs looked sharp, something they’ll build on heading into next week’s game.
“I felt like we moved the ball very well. There were times when we struggled with their defensive shifts,” Clooten said.
Hemphill led the Bulldogs with 79 yards rushing in addition to 62 yards on 6-for-11 passing. Justin Tumbaga finished with 30 yards on 17 carries, and Jordan McCaughey carried the ball 11 times for 25 yards.
Nikiski (2-1 overall, 2-0 in the Great Land Conference) will visit conference rival Sitka next week while Homer (2-1 overall) travels to Soldotna for its first Northern Lights Conference game of the season.
MARINERS 35, BULLDOGS 6
Homer 0 7 14 14 35
Nikiski 0 0 0 6 6
Hom Smith 3 run (Gilbert kick), 1:15
Hom Hagen 16 run (Gilbert kick), 9:37
Hom Hagen 3 pass from McKinstry (Gilbert kick), 1:25
Hom McWilliams 5 run (Gilbert kick), 9:48
Nik Hemphill 1 run (rush failed), 3:20
Hom Hagen 21 run (Gilbert kick), 0:51
First downs 14 11
Rushes-yards 37-269 42-139
Passing yards 81 62
Return yards 1 3
Passing 5-9-0 6-11-0
Punts-avg. 1-34.0 3-36.0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 2-1
Penalties-yards 4-25 2-18
Rushing Homer: McWilliams 14-112, Hagen 18-101, McKinstry 3-52, Verburgt 1-1, Smith 1-3. Nikiski Hemphill 12-79, Tumbaga 17-30, McCaughey 11-25, Blatchford 2-5.
Passing Homer: McKinstry 5-9-081. Nikiski: Hemphill 6-11-062.
Receiving Homer: Hagen 2-46, Layland 1-11, Isenhour 1-10, McWilliams 1-14. Nikiski: McCaughey 3-39, Fagan 1-11, Blatchford 1-10, Tumbaga 1-2.
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