Now this finally looked like fall. Yellow speckling through the trees. Football. And rain.
Homer defeated host Nikiski 50-18 Friday in a contest that had the imprint of a hot, dry, wildfire smoke of an autumn written all over it.
This is Week 3 of the season, but both the Mariners and the Bulldogs had Week 2 games canceled due to an extended wildfire season.
This week, Nikiski was supposed to play Valdez, while Homer was slated to play Monroe, but the Swan Lake Fire forced the Peninsula Conference opponents, who will play their league game against each other in Week 7, to get together Friday.
Predictably, sloppy football ensued, with Homer racking up 10 penalties for 101 yards and Nikiski taking 10 infractions for 50 yards.
“The guys are getting squirrelly from practicing in half a gym and watching film,” Homer coach Justin Zank said after improving to 1-1 overall. “There’re only so many days in a week you can lift.”
Nikiski coach Paul Nelson also said Friday was the first time his squad had seen rain this season. The Bulldogs fumbled five times, losing three, while the Mariners put the ball on the turf seven times, losing possession twice.
Despite falling to 0-2 overall with the frustrating loss, Nelson said the game was a valuable building block for his team.
“I’ll take this over a canceled game anytime,” he said.
The Bulldogs jumped out to a quick 12-0 lead. On the opening drive of the game, Homer quarterback Anthony Kalugin was sacked and fumbled, with Nikiski’s Hamilton Cox recovering on the Homer 13-yard line. Koleman McCaughey ran the Bulldogs’ first play from scrimmage in for a touchdown.
Later in the first quarter, Sam Berry scored his second defensive touchdown of the season when he picked off Kalugin and raced 60 yards for a 12-0 lead.
“We just weren’t awake in the first quarter,” Kalugin, a senior, said. “In the second quarter we woke up.”
Actually, Homer started rustling late in the first quarter, when Kalugin capped off a four-play, 49-yard drive with a 20-yard touchdown.
Zank said Nikiski was doing a good job getting to the outside and stopping Homer’s speed option. So Zank started running inside with sophomore Kamden Doughty and things immediately opened up for the offense.
Doughty would finish with 61 yards and a score on 16 carries, but having that threat freed up Kalugin to have a big game. On the ground, the senior rushed 15 times for 118 yards and three touchdowns. Through the air, he was 6 for 15 for 153 yards and three scores. Two of those strikes went to freshman Carter Tenison, while the other was to Josh Bradshaw.
For good measure, Kalugin snared an interception on defense, which he returned 49 yards to the Nikiski 1. Gabe Dash also had an interception for Homer.
After falling in that 12-0 hole, Homer scored the next 50 points to take control. The Mariners had 241 yards rushing and 153 passing, while Nikiski rushed for 101 and passed for 30.
“The defense gave up two scores, and after that they shut them down,” Zank said. “The offense putting up 50 points doesn’t hurt. I’m proud of the offense. It’s starting to come together.”
The display of offensive weapons Friday left Kalugin confident.
“If we’re playing like we can, I believe we can take state,” he said.
The one down side for Homer was the ejection of Jonny Gregoire for two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties. Zank is not sure if the lineman will miss more games.
In the third quarter, Berry gashed the Mariners for a 45-yard scoring run. Nikiski followed with 12-play, 48-yard drive that stalled on the Homer 15 after that. But between the hot start and the solid finish, Nelson found a lot to fix.
“We had that great drive at the end of the third quarter,” Nelson said. “That makes it even more frustrating because it shows we have the ability.”
The coach said senior Mason Payne got on the field for the first time this season and had a big impact at outside linebacker and wingback. Senior quarterback Noah Litke left the game in the second half with a possible concussion.
Nikiski hosts Barrow at 2 p.m. Saturday, while Homer hosts Houston at 6 p.m. Friday.
Mariners 50, Bulldogs 18
Homer 6 22 22 0 — 50
Nikiski 12 0 6 0 — 18
Nik — McCaughey 13 run (run failed), 9:57.
Nik — Berry 60 interception return (run failed), 2:35.
Hom — A. Kalugin 20 run (run failed), 0:39.
Hom — A. Kalugin 1 run (A. Kalugin run), 8:18.
Hom — Tenison 35 pass from A. Kalugin (Murachev run), 4:38.
Hom — Tenison 70 pass from A. Kalugin (run failed), 1:57.
Hom — Doughty 1 run (pass failed), 7:59.
Hom — Bradshaw pass from A. Kalugin (M. Reutov pass from Kalugin), 5:17.
Hom — A. Kalugin 1 run (Doughty run), 3:29.
Nik — Berry 45 run (run failed), 3:09.
First downs 12 5
Rushes-yards 44-241 28-84
Passing yards 153 30
Comp-att-int 6-15-1 2-12-2
Return yards 64 60
Punts 1-32.0 4-18.3
Fumbles-lost 7-2 5-3
Penalties 10-101 10-50
Rushing — Homer: Murachev 8-23, A. Kalugin 15-118, Manwiller 1-0, Doughty 16-61, Bradshaw 4-39. Nikiski: McCaughey 14-43, Berry 6-56, Litke 4-(-14), M. Payne 1-0, Handley 1-0, Eiter 2-(-1).
Passing — Homer: A. Kalugin 6-15-1—153; Nikiski: Litke 1-8-2—14, Eiter 1-4-0—16.