With the Voznesenka Cougars fielding an 11-man football team for the team’s first official season, Head Coach Justin Zank has repeatedly said his goal was to make the team competitive. Saturday’s homecoming game showed that Zank and the Cougars have hit the mark with a 28-point shutout that left the Seward Seahawks empty-handed.
“It was very exciting for all of us, being Cougar football’s first homecoming,” said Zank.
Saturday’s game was the Cougars’ third Great Land Conference game. In an Aug. 24 battle in Barrow, the Whalers won 46-6. In the Cougars’ Aug. 30 game against the Valdez Buccaneers, the Voznesenka team left the field with a 42-28 victory, in spite of numerous penalties and lost yardage.
“Given our first two games, giving up 74 combined points, I was happy to get a shutout,” said Zank of Saturday’s win against the Seahawks. “Seward was able to move the ball on us, but we were able to create turnovers. I think that was the difference in the ball game.”
Among the highlights were two interception returns for touchdowns by Voznesenka’s quarterback Avraam Kalugin, with an impressive 60 yards on the first return and 50 yards on the second.
“Also, Kosta Reutov’s touchdown catch in double coverage was pretty impressive, as well as his two interceptions,” said Zank.
Dennis Martishev stacked up 7.5 tackles, two fumble recoveries and 10 carries for 64 yards.
Early in the first quarter, the Cougars scored their first touchdown when Kalugin threw a 24-yard pass to Reutov. An interception and 60 yard return by Kalugin and a two-point conversion by Mavrick Ivanov boosted the score to 14-0 at the end of the quarter.
Kalugin scored another touchdown in the second quarter, topped by another two-point conversion by Ivanov.
In the third quarter, an interception and 50-yard return by Kalugin brought the score to 28-0, which is where it remained until the end of the game.
“Our offense needs some work, specifically our O-line. We were only able to muster 118 yards on the ground,” said Zank. “But our special teams and defense pulled out the win for us Saturday.”
Seward’s strong defense penned in the Cougars, with Voznesenka’s starting tailback, Ivanov, held to 0 yards rushing and Kalugin held to 65 on the ground.
“They were successful in shutting down our passing attack and really limiting our ground game,” said Zank of the Seahawks’ game. “Seward was able to get penetration on our O-line all day. They had some big athletic boys.”
The Cougars have two more games left in the season. Today they take on Nikiski at Nikiski; Sept. 25 they play Monroe Catholic in Fairbanks. Zank is working on strategy that will see the Cougars through their first full season of play.
“We have been working on discipline,” said Zank. “We were able to limit our false starts, but still accrued 11 penalties in the game. I would like to have that number down to five or less.
He anticipated Saturday’s game against the Nikiski Bulldogs “is going to be a big job. They are on a roll right now and they have three backs that move the ball. … Those boys are big, much bigger than us.”
In last weekend’s game against the Valdez Buccaneers, the Bulldogs claimed a 57-6 victory.
“We are going to have a tough time slowing down that Nikiski defense,” said Zank. “While their offense has been chugging along, their defense has been on fire. In order to be successful against Nikiski, we will have to find a way to produce yards on the ground. That is going to be a tough task.”
McKibben Jackinsky can be reached at mckibben.