ANCHORAGE Robert Blackwell shot forward to make the tackle as if he had the collective weight of the East Anchorage High School football team pushing him from behind. Minutes earlier, that weight looked like it was tied to the senior defensive backs waist.
After struggling against the Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears through most of the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon at Anchorage Football Stadium, the East defensive unit stiffened in the final two series of the game. And Blackwells tackle of Juneaus Chris Connally, at Easts 40-yard line on a desperation hook-and-ladder play as time expired, preserved the Thunderbirds 30-29 Cook Inlet Football Conference victory.
Easts victory in its CIFC opener matched its league win total for each of the last three seasons and raised its overall record to 2-0 this season. The Thunderbirds, who went 2-6 overall last year, have five more cracks for league win No. 2. The game was the season-opener for Juneau.
Being 2-0 and being where we are is a very big deal, Blackwell said. Were starting off as a sound team, pretty much a brand new team.
But before East could keep its unbeaten status intact, the Thunderbirds needed to defend a few last passes from Juneau junior quarterback Brett Fairchild, whose two fourth-quarter touchdown passes to Connally brought the Crimson Bears back from a 30-14 deficit.
Connally had one of the best games Hutch (Juneau offensive coordinator Mike Hutcherson) and I could remember one of our kids having, Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said after the Crimson Bears returned to Juneau.
East sparked by the electrifying speed and moves of junior Antoine McLeod scored 13 unanswered third-quarter points to grab that 30-14 lead entering the final quarter. McLeod, who also rushed for a touchdown in the first quarter, opened the second half with a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, and he added a 61-yard scoring jaunt later in the quarter.
The Crimson Bears (0-1 overall and 0-1 CIFC) lacked consistency on offense all afternoon. Juneaus line had problems holding off Easts defense in the first half, giving up a safety on a sack in the end zone by Willi Pili and another touchdown when Pili blitzed into the backfield, stole the ball from Fairchild and ran it into the end zone. Plus, Juneau lost at least three players to on-field injuries, including top running backs Drennan (separated shoulder, out at least one game) and Sione Tupou (sprained ankle, doubtful for this weekend).
Weve got to work on our running game, and weve got to protect our quarterback better and work on special teams, Richey said. Other than one fine play by McLeod, our defense pretty much held them.
Still, Fairchild and Connally piloted a fourth-quarter comeback for Juneau, which never stopped battling.
Fairchild, the CIFCs lone returning starting quarterback from last season, laced a 35-yard scoring pass to Connally early in the fourth quarter. Five minutes later, Connally blazed down the left sideline, sprinted past Blackwell on the corner and caught Fairchilds pass to complete an 80-yard scoring play.
The Crimson Bears clawed to within three points (30-27), and Blackwell felt the scratch marks.
Its kind of tough, Blackwell said. You know they are going to pass the ball and its all going to be on you. The whole game is on you. We just had to pull together as a defense and shut them down.
East head coach Roger Spackman elected to give Juneau two points with a safety in the final %minute. Tom Marriage, Easts quarterback/kicker/punter, ran out of the back of the end zone with 21 seconds remaining to make the score 30-29. After being backed up five yards by a penalty, Marriage then booted the free kick nearly 60 yards, and Juneau set up for its last drive at its own 36-yard line.
Juneau threw an incomplete pass, then Blackwell read the hook-and-ladder play, made the tackle and redeemed himself for getting beaten on the earlier bomb.
McLeod racked up 117 yards rushing and scored two rushing touchdowns. He also totaled 143 return yards. He is just another weapon in Easts arsenal, which has produced seven offensive touchdowns from five different players in its first two games.
Juneau outgained East 338-231 on offense, and Fairchild passed for 206 yards. Connally caught seven of those passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns, plus he threw a 39-yard touchdown pass to Drennan in the first quarter.
Fairchild also threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Justin Rose with less than two minutes in the first half, answering a 17-point East run and closing the halftime score to 17-14.
I thought that helped bring us back up, but then came the kick-off incident, Rose said. That guy (McLeod) ran around a few guys and we had a breakdown on the thing. But I honestly thought we were going to get it. We just had two mistakes (the kickoff return and the Pili touchdown) that cost us big.
East will have a chance to keep its momentum going when it clashes with CIFC front-runner Dimond next week at Dimond. For its home opener (at 7 p.m. this Friday) on its newly resurfaced Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park Juneau hosts Chugiak, a 33-13 loser to Dimond Friday.
CRIMSON BEARS 29
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 7 7 0 15 29
EAST ANCHORAGE 9 8 13 0 30
Juneau-Douglas Drennan 39 pass from Connally (Ritter kick), 7:08.
East Anchorage McLeod 44 run (Marriage kick), 5:31.
East Anchorage Safety, W. Pili tackles Bre. Fairchild in end zone, 5:04.
East Anchorage W. Pili 22 fumble return (Brown pass from Marriage), 10:47.
Juneau-Douglas Rose 11 pass from Bre. Fairchild (Ritter kick), 1:55.
East Anchorage McLeod 98 kickoff return (Ritter kick), 11:42.
East Anchorage McLeod 61 run (Marriage kick), 3:01.
Juneau-Douglas Connally 35 pass from Bre. Fairchild (pass failed), 10:14.
Juneau-Douglas Connally 80 pass from Bre. Fairchild (Ritter kick), 3:47.
Juneau-Douglas Safety, Marriage runs out of back of end zone, 0:21.
First downs 12 10
Rushes-yards 36-93 26-135
Passing yards 245 96
Return yards 119 225
Comp-att-int 15-35-1 7-19-1
Punts-ave 4-39.0 7-32.8
Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-1
Penalties-yards 5-32 8-83
RUSHING Juneau-Douglas: Drennan 7-48, Tupou 8-24, Connally 5-15, Cameron 4-9, Bri. Fairchild 1-5, Rose 1-0, Bre. Fairchild 10-(-8). East Anchorage: McLeod 14-117, W. Pili 7-17, Miller 1-17, Ivie 1-2, Nakasone 1-0, Marriage 2-(-18).
PASSING Juneau-Douglas: Bre. Fairchild 14-33-1 206, Connally 1-2-0 39. East Anchorage: Marriage 7-19-1 96.
RECEIVING Juneau-Douglas: Connally 7-160, Rose 4-34, Drennan 2-42, Dutton 1-9, Schenker 1-4. East Anchorage: Blackwell 2-36, Brown 2-29, Moss 2-15, Miller 1-16.
MISSED FIELD GOALS None.