FAIRBANKS—The Eielson Ravens took advantage of artificial turf a few blocks from their high school to help them prepare for the site of today’s small schools state championship football game.
The unbeaten Ravens (8-0) face the 7-2 Nikiski Bulldogs at 3:30 p.m. today on the field-turf surface of Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium at Chugiak High School near Anchorage.
The Ravens practiced Thursday afternoon on the indoor field in the Baker Field House Fitness and Sports Center on Eielson Air Force Base. It was Eielson’s last practice in Interior Alaska this season before they headed Friday to Chugiak, where they got a workout at Huffer Stadium.
“They (Ravens) definitely feel that it the speeds the game up a bit, and you don’t have as many footing issues,” Eielson head coach David DeVaughn said during a telephone interview Thursday. “We’re definitely looking forward to seeing how that can improve our game, definitely with our speed.”
The Ravens have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers this season in sophomore Anthony Griffith and senior Tyler Ellsworth. Griffith enters the state final with 84 carries for 1,368 yards and 24 touchdowns, with 22 by rushing. Ellsworth has 1,119 yards from 107 carries and he’s contributed 11 touchdowns.
“It was beneficial,” Ellsworth, during a phone interview, said of Thursday’s practice indoors. “It (artificial turf) makes everything feel a whole lot faster than it is.”
Today’s title game will be one of the few times that the Ravens have played on artificial turf. Barrow’s Cathy Parker Field is the only stadium in the Greatland Conference with a non-grass surface, and the only other times Eielson has been on artificial turf was at the Anchorage Football Stadium for state championship games.
Eielson is playing in its sixth state championship game and vying for its first title since 1992, when all of the football-playing schools in Alaska competed in one division. The Ravens were single-division state runners-up in 1991 and 1993, and small schools state runners-up in 2003 and 2005.
Regardless of today’s outcome in Chugiak, DeVaughn sees the 2012 edition of the Ravens as “a special group of kids.”
“We started two-a-days with 17 guys and we were fortunate enough to pick up four more guys when school started,” DeVaughn said. “This group of guys has done the most with the least, and they’ve played with their hearts and they’ve played with a passion for the game.”
There was a lot of passion and offense the first time Eielson and Nikiski met this season in a Greatland Conference game on Sept. 8. Eielson won 57-48 in the contest that featured 1,316 yards in combined total offense by the teams, including 704 yards rushing by Eielson, with Griffith accounting for 389 on 15 carries with five touchdowns.
“It was just really two good offenses that couldn’t be stopped by the defenses,” Ellsworth said.
The Ravens watched a tape of the game to help prepare for today’s title game.
“We’re weren’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination,” DeVaughn said. “We’ve been doing some things (in practice) to minimize our mistakes. We need to tackle a little bit better and we need to make sure we are in the right position to make plays.”
DeVaughn wouldn’t be surprised if the today’s game resembles the high-scoring contest in September, or turns into a low-scoring experience.
“I hope we’re not giving up that many points and I hope we fixed some of those things for sure. I’m sure they’re thinking the same thing,” DeVaughn said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s not a high-scoring affair, or it could be a repeat.”
“One thing you hope for as coaches is you put your best out there and your kids give everything they’ve got,” DeVaughn added.
The previously unbeaten Palmer Moose lost 25-7 to the South Anchorage Wolverines in a large schools state semifinal on Friday night in Chugiak. Palmer, the Railbelt Conference champion, ended the season at 9-1.
South plays for the state title on Oct. 20 at Huffer Stadium against the winner of today’s other semifinal between Service and West Anchorage, which defeated North Pole 48-20 in a quarterfinal on Oct. 6 at Patriot Pride Field. Also today in Chugiak, Soldotna meets Homer for the medium schools state title.
Contact staff writer Danny Martin at 459-7586.