When it came to musing about which football team would snap West High's three-year winning streak in the Cook Inlet Conference, East High did not rank as a likely suspect.
Frankly, the Thunderbirds barely ranked as a team of interest in such a discussion. Winning just one game in each of the last two seasons did nothing to peg them as contenders to bring down the defending state large-schools champion.
Any maybe that's why the T-Birds seemed as incredulous as they were euphoric in the aftermath of their jaw-dropping 28-9 victory over the Eagles at Anchorage Football Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
East defensive lineman Jeremiah Ieremia proved almost literally at a loss for words to explain how he and his crew mounted such a monumental upset.
"I don't know,'' he said. "We just did it.''
He shrugged his padded shoulders and grinned.
"I'm stunned,'' he said. "We're just trying to prove the whole world wrong. We're going from the bottom to the top.''
East's victory halted West's streak of 15 consecutive conference victories, which dated back to late September 2008. The Eagles won their final CIC game of 2008 and then, when Tim Davis took over as head coach, they won all seven of their conference games in both 2009 and 2010. Davis is 20-2 at West, and his only previous loss was in a nonconference game -- North Pole beat the Eagles in the first round of the 2009 state playoffs.
While first-year East coach Jeff Trotter cautioned the victory was merely one game in an eight-game regular season, he knows the upset served as salve for players in a program that has struggled of late.
"These kids needed that positive feeling,'' Trotter said. "As long as we keep progressing, I think we can turn this around. I'm really happy for the kids.''
The T-Birds (1-1 overall, 1-0 CIC) grounded the Eagles (1-1, 0-1 CIC) by striking for two touchdown passes from quarterback Jesse Vanilau to Jarred Laws in the opening six minutes and getting stubborn play from a defense that never allowed West quarterback Conor Feckley to get comfortable.
After forcing a three-and-out series from West on the game's opening possession, East marched 53 yards in six plays to seize a 7-0 lead. Vanilau, playing in place of season-opening starter Jeffrey Turner, who suffered a concussion last weekend, lofted a 29-yard scoring pass to Laws.
West endured another three-and-out, and when punter Tom Troxel bobbled the snap, he was reduced to kicking at the bouncing football. That 4-yard punt set up East on West's 33-yard-line. On the first play from scrimmage, Vanilua drilled a touchdown pass over the middle to a sliding Laws for a 14-0 lead and considerable momentum.
"It boosted our confidence and led to this,'' Vanilau said after the game, pointing to his smiling teammates.
East's defense kept West wobbling. The T-birds dropped the Eagles for losses on 11 plays. They harried Feckley -- it seemed like every East defensive lineman or linebacker had a role in at least one sack on the afternoon. And they rarely allowed West a hint of offensive rhythm. The Eagles converted just four times on 15 third-down opportunities.
Still, West cut the deficit to 14-3 on Troxel's 33-yard field goal in the second quarter and sliced it to 14-9 when Feckley whistled a 78-yard bomb to Lamarr Brown late in the third quarter.
Yet East's grinding running game and superior field position allowed it to keep pressure on the Eagles and restore its cushion. Plus, East's defense limited Feckley, who uncharacteristically missed several open receivers, to just 12 of 33 passing for 198 yards.
After East took over on West's 35 early in the fourth quarter, running back Diego Su'a-Te'o carried the ball on three of four plays -- he gained 28 yards in that stretch -- and scored on a 1-yard run to give East a 21-9 lead. Two possessions later, East got the ball on West's 45 and Su'a-Te'o racked a 25-yard scoring run to balloon the advantage to 28-9.
East was left to experience something it has rarely savored in recent years -- Vanilau taking a knee on the last play of the game.
And Laws, whose 17th birthday proved memorable, said he and his teammates finally had something tangible to show for the confidence they felt going into the game.
"This is huge for our program,'' he said. "You can't talk. You have to prove it. And we did.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
West 0 3 6 0 -- 9
East 14 0 0 14 -- 28
East -- Laws 29 pass from Vanilau (Hahn kick), 8:01.
East -- Laws 33 pass from Vanilau (Hahn kick), 6:10.
West -- FG 33 Troxel, 1:48.
West -- Brown 78 pass from Feckley (kick failed), 2:49.
East -- Su'a-Te'o 1 run (Hahn kick), 8:51.
East -- Su'a-Te'o 25 run (Kressly kick), 3:17
First downs 13 17
Rushes-yards 33-94 49-221
Passing yards 198 70
Return yards 102 24
Passes 12-33-0 5-10-0
Punts 4-17.5 4-29.0
Fumbles-lost 3-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 6-63 8-70
RUSHING -- West: Sailele 11-48, Tulimasealii 9-41, Feckley 12-5. East: Gardner 9-88, Su'a-Te'o 12-73, Rowles 10-59, Bell 2-15, Irby 2-13, Bachman 3-(-5), Kressly 1-(-11), Vanilau 10-(-11).
PASSING -- West: Feckley 12-33-0--198. East: Vanilau 5-10-0--70.
RECEIVING -- West: Dion 5-61, Vandervort 4-46, Lawrence 2-13, Brown 1-78. East: Laws 2-62, Su'a-Te'o 2-8, DeLoria 1-0.