Soldotna's Anthony Griglione throws a pass over Skyview's Billy Duncan in the third quarter Saturday at Skyview.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
Just call Tyler Payment king.
The senior linebacker and running back celebrated Nikiski’s homecoming festivities in grand style Friday evening, scoring three touchdowns and recording 22 tackles in a 46-15 Great Land Conference triumph over Valdez. And to top if off, at halftime he was crowned homecoming king alongside senior queen Adora Lee.
“It’s win out or go home,” Payment said of the Bulldogs’ mentality down the stretch. “If we do not win, we won’t make the playoffs. This week and next, we have to win.”
Nikiski (4-3), which concludes the regular season at Seward, moved to 3-1 in the league, staying tied with Eielson which it defeated earlier in the loss column. Houston remains unbeaten in the league but has yet to play Eielson.
And Payment wasn’t alone in sharing the on-field royalty. Sophomore Beau Calderwood bolted through the Buccaneers (2-5, 0-4 Great Land) for 256 yards on 28 carries, scoring touchdown runs of 1 and 3 yards.
Soldotna's Christos Asimakopoulos (21) and Spencer Tachick (22) bring down Skyview's Gregory Bosick in the third quarter Saturday at Skyview.
Photo by M. Scott Moon
“For being a sophomore, he’s quite the back,” Payment said of Calderwood, who was 7 yards shy of his six-game season total. “Aw man, all I can say, is once he hits the weight room, look out.”
For both Payment and Calderwood, a feisty bunch of Bulldogs controlled the line of scrimmage throughout freeing both Payment to roam and make tackles from his middle linebacker spot, and Calderwood to dash in and around gaping holes on offense.
“The blocking was awesome,” Calderwood said. “The holes were big perfect!”
Senior left guard Elliott Tuttle, junior tackles Dustin Couch (left) and Jaramiah Hundley (right), junior right guard Logan Denison, junior center Hunter Gallien and junior tight end Josh Vance bulldozed the way for their backfield mates to pile up 357 yards rushing and pass protected for 91 more.
Payment finished with 68 ground yards and found the end zone from 18 and 5 yards out. Senior Kenny Fagan added a 28-yard scoring run. Senior quarterback Corey Smith plunged for a 1-yard TD and threw a scoring pass of 9 yards to Payment.
Payment said head coach Ned Clooten was straightforward with his halftime speech declaring the Bulldogs flat while clinging to a 21-15 lead. Nikiski responded with four touchdowns in its next four possessions, and didn’t allow a point nor commit a penalty or turnover after intermission.
Hundley, Gallien, Tuttle and Couch Nikiski’s front four defensively were instrumental in Bucs’ senior Andrew Buckau being limited to 68 yards on 25 carries. Couch added seven tackles while Tuttle, senior Steven Hyatt and Fagan had five each.
Senior Aaron Sterling recovered a fumble and forced a fumble that junior Teagun Coreson recovered; and Calderwood picked off a pass.
Valdez junior quarterback Adam Failing threw for 141 yards, completing 10 of 26 passes. Sophomore James Rogers had a fine all-around game, catching four passes for 71 yards on offense while on defense gaining a fumble recovery, interception and making six tackles.
Senior Jamie Goudreau had an interception and six tackles and Buckau and junior lineman Nate Rogers had six tackles each.
“I felt good about our approach,” Calderwood said. “I knew we’d do well today.”
Calderwood set a tone by running for 102 yards in the first quarter on just eight carries. His runs of 40 and 10 yards, sprinkled with a 12-yard keeper by Smith and Smith’s 9-yard completion to Calderwood, fueled an opening drive of 80 yards in eight snaps for an 8-0 lead.
Sophomore Evan Holloway (three catches, 53 yards) converted a third down with a 20-yard reception from Smith, and Calderwood added a 26-yard dash to set up Payment’s TD catch and a 15-0 lead with 5:40 to go in the first period.
Miscues by Nikiski aided both Valdez touchdowns. The first was a muffed punt setting up a 36-yard scoring drive capped by Failing’s 19-yard toss to James Rogers. The second was a 45-yard interception return by Goudreau to set up Buckau’s 2-yard run and 2-point conversion run for a deadlock at 15 with 6:52 left in the opening half.
The Bulldogs answered immediately, running Calderwood and Payment four times each while covering 56 yards in less than four minutes, going ahead 21-15 on Calderwood’s 3-yard run.
Nikiski’s four-possession explosion for 25 points exhausted the clock inside six minutes. The Bulldogs had scoring drives of five, seven, seven, and four plays covering 52, 52, 94 and 54 yards, respectively.
Calderwood preceded Payment’s 18-yard TD run with runs of 8, 4, 12 and 10 yards. Holloway’s 25-yard reception and a penalty on Valdez that wiped out a turnover set up Smith’s scoring run.
Fagan’s run came after Calderwood’s interception and dramatic runs of 13 and 33 yards; and Payment’s own 38-yard sprint to the left nearly got him in the end zone before he settled for the 5-yard scoring run.
Meanwhile, the Bulldogs didn’t allow a first down for the first 10 minutes of the third period and twice stopped head coach Lee Cockerham’s Bucs after they crossed midfield.
“You wouldn’t think of them as the best in the state,” Payment said of his defensive line, “but, I’ll step out there and say they are. They’re tenacious and quick into the offensive line. And then I’m free to make tackles.”
Bulldogs 46, Buccaneers 15
Valdez 7 8 0 0 15
Nikiski 15 6 13 12 46
First downs 15 24
Rushes-yards 36-98 42-357
Passing yards 141 91
Return yards 41 47
Passes 10-27-1 7-15-2
Punts 5-30.0 1-25
Fumbles-lost 2-2 1-1
Penalties-yards 10-62 2-10
N Calderwood 1 run (Fagan pass from Smith), 9:05.
N Payment 9 pass from Smith (Holiday kick), 5:40.
V J. Rogers 19 pass from Failing (J. Rogers kick), 1:32.
V Buckau 2 run (Buckau run), 6:52.
N Calderwood 3 run (pass failed), 3:00.
N Payment 18 run (pass failed), 7:51.
N Smith 1 run (Holiday kick), 2:32.
N Fagan 28 run (kick failed), 10:13.
N Payment 5 run (kick failed), 5:06.
RUSHING Valdez: Failing 8-15, Hedberg 1-11, Buckau 25-68, McHone 1-2, Starbuck 1-4; Nikiski: Calderwood 28-256, Smith 4-12, Bennett 1-(-7), Payment 9-68, Fagan 1-28.
PASSING Valdez: Failing 10-26-1, 141 yards; Buckau 0-1-0, 0 yards; Nikiski: Smith 7-15-2, 91 yards.
RECEIVING Valdez: J. Rogers 4-71, Delozier 2-23, Buckau 2-22, Starbuck 1-16, Goudreau 1-9; Nikiski: Holloway 3-53, Vance 1-24, Payment 2-15, Calderwood 1-9.
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