Using a balanced offensive attack and three Anthony Lorenzo interceptions, the Nikiski Bulldogs beat the Houston Hawks 26-6 Saturday in Nikiski in Great Land Conference play.
Nikiski jumped all over Houston early. After forcing the Hawks to punt on their first possession, the Bulldogs ran six straight rushing plays, carrying the ball down the the Houston 15-yard line. The Hawks called timeout, but the move only gave Nikiski time to cook up its first passing play of the game, a 15-yard strike from quarterback Zack Womack to wide receiver Jeremiah Taylor for the game's opening score.
Taylor added the extra point to make the score 7-0.
Houston then made its first crucial blunder of the game when quarterback Taylor Richey threw his second pass of the game directly into the arms of Bulldogs defensive end Louie Oliva. Oliva took the pass back 60 yards to the end zone, but an illegal block brought the ball back to the Houston 35-yard line.
With Houston reeling from the turnover, Nikiski took advantage with a bit of misdirection. The Bulldogs pulled a nifty inside reverse play to wide receiver Miles Jorgensen that left the Hawks grasping at air. Jorgensen took the handoff 35 yards into the end zone, giving Nikiski its second touchdown in 79 seconds.
Houston then fumbled on its very next play from scrimmage, and it looked as if the Bulldogs were on their way to an easy victory. But Houston's defense stood firm, and forced Womack into throwing an interception to Victor Waag.
The Hawks seemed to gain new life after the defensive stand, driving down to the Nikiski 9-yard line behind 36 rushing yards from Richey. However, Lorenzo again dashed Houston's hopes when he stepped in front of Richey's pass attempt at the 7-yard line.
The 5-foot-9 senior intercepted three passes on the day. After the game, he gave credit to the Nikiski coaching staff for enabling him to simply be in the right places at the right times Saturday.
"Our coaches are pretty good at getting us ready to play," Lorenzo said.
Head coach Ned Clooten said he was proud of the way his defensive unit stepped up whenever Houston threatened to score.
"I was pleased with our team defense, especially in the red zone," Clooten said.
After the interception, Nikiski put together its most impressive drive of the day, going 93 yards on 11 plays over five minutes. The drive was capped off by a 13-yard touchdown run by senior running back Billy Anderson. Anderson contributed 32 all-purpose yards to the drive, rushing for 22 and catching a 10-yard pass. Afterward, he said Nikiski's game plan was to keep Houston guessing where the ball was going to go.
"We wanted to have a good balance between the pass and the run," Anderson said.
Houston coach Mat Bredberg said the Bulldogs didn't surprise him with their offensive attack but that didn't keep the Bulldogs from moving the football.
"They did what we said they were going to do," Bredberg said. "We had someone almost tackling them every time."
Houston finally got on the scoreboard just before the end of the first half, when Richey broke several tackles at the line of scrimmage before bouncing to the outside and getting free for a 12-yard touchdown run.
The senior quarterback was Houston's most dangerous player Saturday, racking up 121 rushing yards on the afternoon. It came as no surprise to Clooten, who said he knew the elusive Richey would be a challenge to stop.
"We knew he'd be slippery," Clooten said.
Richey's score made the game 19-6 at the end of the half, and after stopping Nikiski's first drive of the second half, it looked as if Houston might mount a comeback. The Hawks drove inside Nikiski territory on all three of their second-half possessions, but turnovers on two of those possessions ended any chance Houston had of getting back into the game.
"We killed ourselves," Bredberg said.
Anderson added his second touchdown of the game with just over a minute left in the game to provide Nikiski with its margin of victory. The win gave the Bulldogs not only a win in their homecoming game, but also clinched a berth in the small-schools playoffs.
Nikiski defensive star Lorenzo said the win was an important one both for the standings as well as Nikiski's state of mind heading into the final stages of the season.
"It was a big conference game, and it gives us a lot of confidence also," he said.
Nikiski is now 5-2 on the season and 4-1 in the Great Land Conference. The Bulldogs will travel to Sitka next week before traveling to either Kenai or Soldotna in the first round of the playoffs in two weeks.
Bulldogs 26, Hawks 6
Nikiski 13 6 0 7 26
Houston 0 6 0 0 6
Nik Taylor 15 pass from Womack (Taylor kick) 5:58
Nik Jorgensen 35 run (kick failed) 4:39
Nik Anderson 13 run (pass failed) 5:24
Hou Richey 12 run (run failed) :17
Nik Anderson 5 run (Taylor kick) 1:02
First downs 15 13
Rushes-yards 42-199 37-205
Passing yards 149 38
Return yards 35 3
Passing 8-15-2 3-10-3
Punts-avg 0-0 1-13
Fumbles-lost 1-0 3-2
Penalties-yards 7-53 8-50
Rushing Nikiski: Anderson 22-96, Mazurek 11-50, Jorgensen 3-33, Womack 5-17, Taylor 1-3. Houston Richey 21-121, Waag 6-40, Kappler 6-33, Martinson 4-11.
Passing Nikiski: Womack 8-14-1-149, Jorgensen 0-1-1-0. Houston: Richey 3-8-2-38, Martinson 0-2-1-0.
Receiving Nikiski: Taylor 4-95, Oliva 2-33, Jorgensen 1-11, Anderson 1-10. Houston: Collins 2-25, Colton 1-13.
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