The last time the Chugiak High football team beat rival Eagle River in the annual “Battle of the Bridge” game was in 2019 and Andrew Nielson was a freshman but not on varsity.
In his final time playing in its latest iteration, the senior kicker recorded more than half of the Mustangs’ points in a narrow 16-14 victory over the Wolves that went to the wire and came down to him making one last crucial kick.
“I just cleared my mind and made the kick like routine,” Nielson said. “Last year we got smoked but this year we came back and got them.”
“Got the monkey off our backs, finally,” Chugiak coach Ryan Landers said.
After leading for most of the game thanks to an opportunistic defense and clutch special teams play, Chugiak had surrendered the lead late with 58 seconds left in the game. After a solid return, it only took the Mustangs four plays and 51 seconds to set Nielson up for his fourth and final field goal attempt of the game.
“I knew if we got in range, Andrew would nail that thing,” Landers said.
With seven second left on the clock and despite a heavy rush by Eagle River’s special teams unit on the play, Nielson was able to nail the kick that felt like it was up in the air for a lifetime before just clearing the crossbar for the 37-yard game winner.
“He’s been so money all year,” Landers said. “We knew he could do it.”
Finding quality kickers capable of consistently making any attempt longer than an extra point is rare at the high school level not just in Alaska, but nationwide. Coaches often opt to leave their offenses on the field with the game on the line but Chugiak has a rich tradition of unearthing and developing high-level specialists with big legs and accuracy.
“We’ve had a pipeline of kickers and this guy has been on point all year, worked his tail off all summer, and that’s why we can rely on him,” Landers said.
Nielson went 3-for-4 on field goal attempts in the game with his lone miss coming on his first that Landers said was his first of the season, making it 12-of-13 for the year.
There was never a doubt in anyone on the team’s mind that his last kick wasn’t going to go through when it left his foot as many of his teammates began celebrating before the play was even over.
Nielson said to be able to secure a victory over the program’s rival where many of his friends and neighbors attend is a memory that he and teammates will carry with them for a lifetime.
“I can’t even describe it, it’s such a good feeling,” Nielson said. “Being in Eagle River and especially on their field, that’s a great feeling.”