James Watson Patriot Pride Field, because of this week’s heavy rain, was saturated during Friday night’s season-opening high school football game between the Eielson Ravens and host North Pole Patriots.
It rained for most of the game, causing a combined 15 fumbles — 10 for North Pole and five for Eielson — and water to fly off running backs’ cleats when they dashed up the swamp-like field.
The Ravens saw water fly off Will McManus cleats several times during Eielson’s 32-12 victory in the nonconference season opener,
“We are a very determined team this year,” McManus said after going through the postgame-handshake line between the teams.
The game also was the Buck Nystrom Memorial Game in honor of the late coach who guided Eielson for 25 years and North Pole for six years.
The head coaches, David DeVaughn, of Eielson, and Mike Hollett, of North Pole, each played for Nystrom, the second-winningest coach in Alaska high school history with a 150-88 record and two state titles.
Under Nystrom, Eielson won the state title in 1992 — when all the schools in the state played in one division — and North Pole captured the 2004 large schools state title. The large schools classification is now Division I.
McManus was a reserve fullback last year, when Eielson earned the Aurora Conference regular-season and playoff titles and hoisted the Division III state championship trophy.
It seemed Friday that the only reserve thing about the Eielson junior was his energy.
McManus churned out 27 carries for 172 yards and three touchdowns. Two of his touchdowns and 133 of his yards came in the second half.
McManus, understandably, commended Eielson’s overall effort rather than dwell on his contributions.
“The (offensive) line was doing great and we were making great calls on defense,” McManus said “We were just doing everything we need to do just to stop them.
“Our linebackers performed, our safeties performed, everybody performed on defense like we needed to.”
A 37-yard burst by McManus and a two-point conversion run by sophomore Brandon Polesky put the Ravens ahead 8-0 with 7:16 left in the first quarter.
Zoltan Holmly’s 77-yard kickoff burst stretched Eielson’s lead to 14-6 with 1:01 remaining in the first.
Eielson tacked on a safety with 10:29 left in the second quarter to help carry a 16-12 lead into halftime.
The Ravens bumped their lead to 24-12 with 1:19 left in the third after a 5-yard touchdown run by McManus and two-point conversion run by Polesky.
McManus eventually sealed the win with an 8-yard touchdown run and two-point conversion run with 1:08 left in the third quarter.
Freshman defensive back Demario Mesa registered two interceptions in the second half to help secure the win for the Ravens, who were ranked second among medium (Division II) and small (Division III) schools in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network Preseason Poll.
Isaiah Harding was stellar for North Pole on Friday, as the senior running back produced 101 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
“He’s a hard-nosed kid. He’s going to push himself,” Hollett said. “He’s a great kid to block for and I’m really excited. He’s a great kid, he’s an easy kid to root for, and he’s a great kid to coach.”
Friday also marked Hollett’s debut as a head coach of his alma mater, which also is a member of the Division II Railbelt Conference.
He saw the Patriots cut the Ravens’ lead to 8-6 after Harding’s 17-yard scamper up the middle of the field with 1:28 left in the first quarter. He also witnessed North Pole pull within four — 16-12 — after senior quarterback Chris Lovett connected with junior wide receiver Alex Garcia on a 37-yard strike with 3:23 left in the second quarter.
He also observed North Pole get hampered by three 15-yard penalties — including two personal fouls — in the third quarter.
“I think when you have those moments, whether you agree with those calls, or don’t agree with those calls, you’ve got to learn from them,” Hollett, a former Patriots offensive lineman and offensive line coach, said.
“We make mistakes. We make mistakes in the first quarter, the second quarter, the third quarter, and we’ve got to be able to be better than that.
He added, “We’ll be better.”
Contact News-Miner sports editor Danny Martin at 459-7586. Follow him on Twitter:@newsminersports.