When fans arrived at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park for Friday night's high school football game between the East Anchorage Thunderbirds and the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears, the talk was about East's duo of quarterback Derek Laws and wide receiver Casey Flair, the state's leaders at their respective positions last year.
But when fans left after Juneau's 42-18 victory in the Cook Inlet Football Conference opener for both teams, the talk was all about the Crimson Bear pair of C.J. Keys and Brian Felix, who combined for five touchdowns and 436 yards of offense as Juneau ended an eight-game losing streak against CIFC teams dating back to the 2001 season.
"My blockers were my players of the game," said Keys, who recorded 219 yards of total offense - 92 yards rushing, 57 yards receiving and 60 yards in returns - while scoring three touchdowns. "That was too much fun."
"We knew this would be a test for us, (that) we'd see whether we have what it takes," said Felix, who rushed for 217 yards on 14 carries and scored two touchdowns. "All of us were having fun."
Keys and Felix also were two of Juneau's three main defensive backs (kicker Richard Isett was the other DB) as the Crimson Bears kept the Laws-Flair combination quiet until the fourth quarter, when the game was already decided.
Laws threw for 255 yards and two touchdowns in the game, while Flair had seven catches for 142 yards and a score. But East only had two pass completions for 32 yards in the first half, and 136 yards passing through three quarters. Ryan Stickler, who ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns last week in East's 28-17 victory over Colony, was held to 44 yards rushing by Juneau.
Juneau (2-0 overall, 1-0 CIFC) dominated the T-Birds (1-1 overall, 0-1 CIFC), who were ranked No. 3 in the state last week on the Web site AlaskaPreps.com. The Crimson Bears had been ranked last in the Web site's CIFC preseason standings, although Juneau moved up from 12th to ninth in the state rankings after last weekend's 64-0 nonconference victory over Ketchikan.
Several of the Crimson Bears clipped and saved the preseason CIFC rankings for motivation - even though few Juneau players knew the Web site is run by Elmore Laws, Derek Laws' father.
"Tonight we earned some respect, and now they're going to start gunning for us," said Juneau fullback-linebacker Nick West, who scored on a two-point conversion and, on defense, recovered a fumble and intercepted a pass. "I love being with these guys; they never quit. This was a total team effort."
Friday's game was played in a drenching squall, and when the two teams combined for just one first down in the opening quarter it appeared the weather and defenses were going to create a low-scoring game.
That changed on the first play of the second quarter, when Keys broke off left tackle for a 33-yard touchdown run. Later in the quarter, Felix made a 64-yard touchdown run to give Juneau a 14-0 halftime lead.
Juneau's running game struggled on the first three series as coaches kept fullback Toni Talamai out of the game because of a sprained ankle suffered against Ketchikan. But Talamai convinced them he could play after the third series, and Juneau's offense picked up a notch. Talamai served as lead blocker on both scoring plays in the first half.
"It was the left side of the line - Jake Ritter, Jesse Vaughn and Alika Bradley - and then Toni and Nick West were giving us some great lead blocks," Felix said. "Toni, he's an intense guy and it rubs off on us."
"I feel a lot better now," Talamai said. "We played as a team and won as a team. No team can overlook us now."
While Juneau's offense began to move in the second quarter, Juneau's defense held throughout the first half as linemen Charlie Moline, Ritter, Kyle Miller and linebacker Ryan West kept constant pressure on Laws. The only time East threatened, late in the half, Juneau's Inoke Topui recovered a fumble by East running back Ryan Stickler on the 2-yard-line.
"Getting that first score was a big momentum boost for us," Keys said.
"That got us jazzed," said Moline, who sacked Laws twice on successive plays in the second quarter to kill an East drive. "We were up pretty good. The coaches did a great job scouting."
The Crimson Bears kept up the pressure in the second half, as Felix broke off another long scoring run on the first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. He followed Talamai and Nick West through East's line for a 76-yard touchdown run, with Keys making a nice shadow block late in the run to shepherd Felix into the end zone.
Two plays later, East fumbled and Nick West recovered. Juneau drove to the 5-yard-line before turning the ball over on downs, but the defense held again and Keys returned Laws' punt to the 1-yard-line before he was pushed out of bounds. Topui scored on the next play and Juneau led 28-0.
East finally got its offense moving late in the third quarter as Laws connected with Sonny Lavea on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 3:21 left. But Juneau answered with 48 seconds left in the quarter when quarterback Mark Shilling hit Keys with a 57-yard touchdown pass for a 35-6 lead.
The Thunderbirds opened the fourth quarter with a Laws-to-Flair 53-yard touchdown pass, and Juneau lost a fumble two plays later. East didn't capitalize on the turnover, but the T-Birds did score again with 7:45 left in the game as Stickler ran it in from the 9 to make it 35-18 Juneau.
The Crimson Bears recovered the onside kick, and three plays later Keys scored on a 50-yard run off left tackle to close out the game's scoring. Two plays later Nick West intercepted a pass by Laws, and Juneau was able to run out the clock.
"It got a little shaky at the end," Felix said. "They platoon and we don't, so we were trying to keep everybody fresh at the end. But what I liked was whenever they'd score, we'd answer."
Juneau's domination of East extended to the junior varsity level, as the Crimson Bears won 52-14. Tom Topui scored six touchdowns, including one on an 80-yard kickoff return, as he compiled 302 yards of total offense and 222 yards rushing. Ryan Fagerstrom made four interceptions, returning two for touchdowns.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CRIMSON BEARS 42,
Friday night's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
EAST ANCHORAGE 0 0 6 12 - 18
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 0 14 21 7 - 42
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 33 run (kick failed, bad snap), 11:50.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 64 run (N. West pass from M. Shilling), 3:46.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 76 run (Isett kick), 11:41.
Juneau-Douglas - I. Topui 1 run (Isett kick), 6:36.
East Anchorage - Lavea pass from Laws (kick failed, wide left), 3:21.
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 57 pass from M. Shilling (Isett kick), 0:48.
East Anchorage - Flair 53 pass from Laws (run failed), 11:51.
East Anchorage - Stickler 9 run (run failed), 7:45.
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 50 run (Isett kick), 6:15.
First downs 11 6
Rushes-yards 34-70 43-358
Passing yards 255 59
Return yards 87 96
Comp-att-int 13-27-1 2-9-0
Sacked-yards lost 3-23 0-0
Punts-ave 5-46.6 4-28.3
Fumbles-lost 7-2 3-1
Penalties-yards 10-83 11-78
RUSHING - East Anchorage: Stickler 13-44, Gabourel 4-13, Laws 14-9, Madrid 1-4, Joy 1-2, Lavea 1-(-3). Juneau-Douglas: Felix 14-217, Keys 3-92, I. Topui 15-45, Talamai 2-8, M. Shilling 3-2, N. West 2-1, Kohan 4-(-7).
PASSING - East Anchorage: Laws 13-27-1 - 255. Juneau-Douglas: M. Shilling 2-8-0 - 59, Kohan 0-1-0 - 0.
RECEIVING - East Anchorage: Flair 7-142, Lavea 2-53, Knutsen 3-49, Stickler 1-11. Juneau-Douglas: Keys 1-57, N. West 1-2.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - East Anchorage: None. Juneau-Douglas: Isett 45 (wide right).