Soldotna scored on the first play from scrimmage, then settled in for a long, hard slog to defeat Nikiski 32-6 Friday in a nonconference high school football game at Nikiski.
"I wouldn't say we enjoyed the rain we got through it," said Nikiski coach Ned Clooten of the difficult playing conditions. "I told everyone I felt like I was in Seward today. We always seem to get something like this when we go there."
Soldotna handled the conditions a little better than the Bulldogs in the early going Nikiski fumbled six times and lost three of those while the Stars were able to cover up their four fumbles in the game.
The Bulldogs tried an onside kick to open the game, but the Stars were successful in recovering the ball, and started their opening drive which lasted one play, a 55-yard touchdown run by Mike Reed from the Nikiski 45-yard line.
The Stars' next score came early in the second quarter after Soldotna pounced on a Nikiski fumble on the Bulldogs' 45-yard line. A 33-yard run by Jacob Howarth put the Stars in the red zone, and after the Bulldogs stuffed a pair of running plays, Soldotna quarterback Aleks Pfaffe connected with Bryce Gardner for a 16-yard score.
The Bulldogs lost the handle on the ball on the first play of the next drive and the Stars once again took advantage as Reed capped the 44-yard drive with a 34-yard touchdown run with 8:06 left in the half.
The Stars put one more score on the board in the first half after a short Nikiski punt set Soldotna up on the Bulldogs' 46. On third-and-10, Pfaffe completed a 32-yard pass to Kelly Seggerman. The catch was all the more impressive because, in addition to the elements, the Nikiski defender was dragging Seggerman down by his face mask as he caught the throw. The extra penalty yardage put the ball on the 7, and Pfaffe scampered out around the left side to cover the final distance with 5:32 left in the half.
"I really enjoy playing Nikiski," said Soldotna coach Sarge Truesdell. "I have such a high level of respect for their coaching staff, and for their kids.
"... Both sides showed a lot of heart. It was a fun game. We came out on the winning end, which makes it even more fun."
Clooten said his team didn't look sharp in the first half, but was pleased with the improvement he saw in the second half of play.
"In the second half, it was nice to see a group of guys having fun playing football, no matter what the scoreboard said," Clooten said.
Soldotna was able to take advantage of one more Nikiski fumble to start the third quarter as Bulldogs punter Israel Blatchford wasn't able to get a kick off after the snap got away from him at the Nikiski 22-yard line. Marvin Tate scored on a 5-yard run and Anthony Griglione added the extra point for a 32-0 lead.
The Bulldogs did start moving the ball in the second half, and after losing the ball to end a drive on the Soldotna 4-yard line early in the fourth quarter, Nikiski finally was able to punch one in with 4:57 left in the game as Justin Tumbaga scored on a 7-yard run.
Nikiski quarterback Zech Hemphill said the late touchdown was a confidence boost for the Bulldogs.
"It shows us we can go against anybody (and score)," Hemphill said.
While the Bulldogs have only Great Land Conference opponents left on their schedule, starting with perennial power Eielson next week, Hemphill said games against Homer and Soldotna would help the Bulldogs should they clinch a playoff berth.
"They're showing us what we need to work on," Hemphill said.
Truesdell said his team was mostly working on getting healthy with Skyview on the schedule for next week.
"I have three or four kids that barely touched the field," Truesdell said. "We're pretty beat up, so we were able to work on our health, and we were able to get a lot of young kids in this game."
Stars 32, Bulldogs 6
Soldotna 6 19 7 0 32
Nikiski 0 0 0 6 6
Sol Reed 55 run (kick failed), 11:48
Sol Gardner 16 pass from Pfaffe (run failed), 10:15
Sol Reed 34 run (run failed), 8:06
Sol Pfaffe 11 run (Griglione kick), 5:32
Sol Tate 5 run (Griglione kick), 8:30
Nik Tumbaga 7 run (run failed), 4:57
First downs 11 8
Rushes-yards 25-259 35-129
Passing yards 64 4
Return yards 0 19
Passing 5-10-0 2-5-0
Punts-avg 3-33.3 4-29.8
Fumbles-lost 4-0 6-3
Penalties-yards 7-51 4-32
Rushing Soldotna: Reed 11-141, Pfaffe 5-26, Gardner 9-30, Tate 3-10, Howarth 5-35, Hatt 4-11, Griglione 3-5, Grubb 1-1. Nikiski: Tumbaga 15-98, McCaughey 5-13, Hemphill 10-17, Fagan 1-7, Blatchford 3-(-5), Smith 1-(-1).
Passing Soldotna: Pfaffe 2-7-051, Tachick 3-3-013. Nikiski: Hemphill 2-4-04, Smith 0-1-00.
Receiving Soldotna: Grubb 2-10, Griglione 1-3, Seggerman 1-32, Gardner 1-16. Nikiski: McCaughey 1-6, Fagan 1-(-2).
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