Second-half surge sends Whalers into state finals
The Barrow Whalers are headed to football's version of the "Promised Land."
Sparked by three second-half touchdowns and a dominating defense performance, the Whalers powered their way to a thrilling 21-6 victory over Nikiski on the "Smurf Turf" at Cathy Parker Field. The Whalers reeled off their fifth straight victory and earned the right to advance to the Division III state title game this Saturday in Palmer.
The Whaler defense, which has yielded just 41 points in their last five games, throttled Nikiski early in the showdown. Barrow forced the Bulldogs into a couple of miscues during the first two quarters of play, dragging down Nikiski's quarterback in the end zone in the second quarter to enable the Whalers to go into the half with a 2-0 lead.
Ben Heather helped the Whalers get their offense in gear in the third. The BHS standout stretched Barrow's lead midway through the first 12 minutes of the second half by breaking free on a 10-yard scamper.
The first of Heather's two second-half touchdowns put the Whalers up 9-7.
The Peninsula Conference runner-up, Nikiski answered Barrow's challenge later in the fourth, scoring on a 60-yard pass from Michael Eiter to Brock Sarks.
Heather delivered the key blow to the Bulldogs' postseason dreams late in the third by reeling off a 20-yard scoring romp. The Whalers carried a 16-6 lead into the final frame.
Travis Adams cemented the Whalers' berth in the state finals in the fourth by scrambling for a 20-yard touchdown.
Adams has guided Barrow to a 5-0 record since stepping into the quarterback role.
The win over Nikiski gives the Whalers their fifth-ever trip to the postseason, and the team's first since 2015 when they dropped a 41-18 decision to Nikiski in the semifinals of the Small School division of the Alaska School Activities Association playoffs. Barrow also advanced to the playoffs in 2008, 2009, 2013 and 2014.
The win sets up a rematch with the Homer Mariners, one of only two teams to defeat the Whalers in the regular season. Homer dealt a 26-14 setback in the season-opener.
The Mariners, fresh off a 33-21 win over Eielson, head into the state finals at 8-1 overall. The 2017 Division III state football championship game starts at 11:30 a.m. Oct. 14 in Palmer.