Winning Cook Inlet Conference football games has never been easy for Eagle River. So when the Wolves gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns to Bartlett on Saturday and still managed to preserve a 31-25 home win, the finish produced high emotions.
"I mean, I was trying to hold back tears," Eagle River senior Jachi Madubuko said. "It was a very emotional moment when we were taking a knee and coach (Jason) Brewer was telling us how proud of us he was."
Eagle River (2-6, 1-6 CIC) and Bartlett (0-8, 0-7) both came into Saturday's game looking for their first league win, and the fight for a victory couldn't have ended more dramatically.
On third-and-goal at the Eagle River 6-yard line with 22 seconds remaining, Bartlett quarterback Zyrelle Jones scrambled to his right, sidestepped one defender and dove for the end zone. The football in his outstretched right hand fell short of the goal line by inches as he was dragged to the turf by two defenders.
With no timeouts and the clock ticking, Jones and the Golden Bears hurried back to the line of scrimmage, where Jones spiked the ball to stop the clock, not realizing it was fourth down. The spike gave the ball to Eagle River.
"We had some confusion," Bartlett coach Daniel Esparza said. "A few people told me they had signaled first down. I have 20-20 vision with my contacts in, and they're in, and I saw them signal first down."
The signal to spike the ball was relayed to Jones from the sideline. After he did, Eagle River only needed one running play from their own 1-yard line to run out the clock.
Jones, a sophomore playing his first season of varsity football, called it a learning experience and said he can't wait to get back on the field next season. The 6-foot-4, 200 pound quarterback threw for a game-high 231 yards and led Bartlett in rushing with 36 yards and two rushing touchdowns.
Madubuko led all rushers with 139 yards on 12 carries, the bulk of which came on a 71-yard sprint down the right sideline for the third quarter's only touchdown. The big play put the Wolves on top 25-6, and the game appeared all but over.
Bartlett moved the ball into the red zone on each of its first two second-half possessions, only to turn the ball over on downs inside the Eagle River 10 each time.
But when Eagle River's Josh Oberlander fumbled the ball near midfield in the final minute of the third quarter, the Golden Bears took possession and took advantage of the opportunity when they capped a 51-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run from Dante Washington.
Oberlander fumbled again on Eagle River's next possession and Bartlett again took advantage, marching 42 yards and scoring on a 10-yard, fourth-down run by Jones to trim Eagle River's advantage to 25-18.
Eagle River's Isiah Banks returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to the Bartlett 31. On the next play, Corbin Duxbury made a spectacular one-handed catch on an Alani Collins pass over midfield and ran about 15 yards to complete the 31-yard score and put the Wolves back up 31-18.
"To come out here on our home turf and win on Senior Night means everything," Duxbury said. "It's amazing."
Bartlett put together one more scoring drive that ended with another fourth-down touchdown run from Jones. The 4-yard dash pulled Bartlett back within six points with 3:33 remaining.
Bartlett regained possession for its final drive with just 1:42 remaining, but the Wolves held on.
"All the years coaching, this is the proudest I've ever been of a group of young men," Brewer said.
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
Bartlett 0 6 0 19 -- 25
Eagle River 6 13 6 6 -- 31
Eagle River -- Banks 92 kickoff return (pass fail), 7:08.
Eagle River -- Madubuko 12 run (pass fail), 11:32.
Eagle River -- Madubuko 4 run (Patin kick), 1:02.
Bartlett -- Torres 95 kickoff return (kick fail), :48.
Eagle River -- Madubuko 71 run (pass fail), 4:49.
Bartlett -- Washington 1 run (pass fail), 10:42.
Bartlett -- Jones 10 run (run fail), 7:08.
Eagle River -- Duxbury 31 pass from Collins (kick blocked), 5:14.
Bartlett -- Jones 4 run (Stalker kick), 3:33.
Bartlett Eagle River
First downs 21 17
Rushes-yards 36-100 37-220
Passing yards 231 110
Return yards 232 168
Passes 17-32-0 6-14-1
Punts 3-36.6 3-31.0
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 9-85 8-68
RUSHING -- Bartlett: Jones 15-36; Heckmann 9-22; Irving 4-21; Honore 3-10; Parker 1-4; Falaniko 2-3; Mahe 1-3; Washington 1-1. . Eagle River: Madubuko 12-139; Banks 2-33; Kott 11-27; Oberlander 7-18; Eiler 2-5; Collins 3-(-2).
PASSING -- Bartlett: Jones 17-32-0--221;. Eagle River: Collins 3-5-1--57; Kott 3-9-0--53.
RECEIVING -- Bartlett: Irving 5-90; Rowland 5-50; Hoffman 2-36; Heckmann 2-8; Mahe 1-25; Parker 1-6; Reynolds 1-6. Eagle River: Duxbury 5-89; Banks 1-21.