Saturday's Cook Inlet Conference football showdown between Chugiak and Eagle River was all about the running game.
Each team rushed for more than 300 yards and turned in numerous big plays at Eagle River High School, but early turnovers and penalties put Eagle River in a hole it couldn't climb out of and the Mustangs prevailed 44-28.
The Wolves' homecoming game was already charged with emotion due to the geographic rivalry between the schools and because each team is fighting for one of five CIC playoff berths. But there was an extra reason for tears to flow on the Eagle River sideline after the game.
Eagle River coach Jason Brewer found out on Monday that he will be deploying somewhere overseas with his National Guard unit on Sunday. He'll be gone a minimum of six weeks and a maximum of a year.
The entire Chugiak team lined up and shook Brewer's hand and thanked him for his service before leaving the field.
"He is a class act," said Chugiak coach Duncan Shackelford. "He is a great football coach and Alaska football will be less, because he's not in there. My hat's off to him."
Saturday's win was Chugiak's seventh in eight meetings with Eagle River. Eagle River's only win came by forfeit in 2011.
The Mustangs (4-2, 3-2 CIC) greatly improved their chances of making the playoffs, but have not clinched a spot. Eagle River (1-5, 1-4 CIC) needs to win its final two games to have any shot at reaching the postseason.
The offensive tone was set early, with Eagle River striking for a touchdown on its first drive on Alani Collins' 7-yard run. The Wolves led 8-0 after Collins converted a two-point conversion pass to Keegan Willaford, but it didn't take long for the Mustangs to steal the momentum.
Chugiak capped its first drive with a 1-yard touchdown run from quarterback Ben Stewart, and Tevin Cormier intercepted a pass on Eagle River's ensuing possession to give the Mustangs the ball at the Eagle River 26-yard line. Two minutes later, Chugiak took a 14-8 lead on a 2-yard touchdown run from Gabe Mingledorff.
Chugiak started piling on in the second quarter, converting an Eagle River fumble into a another short touchdown run from Stewart and going up 27-8 on a 45-yard run from Stewart, the longest scoring run of the sophomore's career.
"It felt pretty good, but I should probably work on my speed a little bit," said Stewart, who was almost run down at the end of the play.
Each team produced two rushers with more than 100 yards. Mingledorff led all rushers with 161 yards and Stewart finished with 117.
Eagle River's Ed Hall bulled his way to 142 yards and Peter Kott ran for 107. Despite the early mistakes, Eagle River kept coming at Chugiak and scored twice on runs by Hall in the fourth quarter.
"Our kids are resilient," Brewer said. "They fought and fought, and I have no doubt in our leadership."
Chugiak 14 13 10 7 -- 44
Eagle River 8 6 0 14 -- 28
Eagle River -- Collins 7 run (Willaford pass from Collins), 7:15
Chugiak -- Stewart 1 run (Tulare kick), 5:57
Chugiak -- Mingledorff 2 run (Tulare kick), 3:23
Chugiak -- Stewart 1 run (Tulare kick), 7:59;
Chugiak -- Stewart 45 run (kick fail), 5:17
Eagle River -- Metzel 63 pass from Kott (pass fail), 0:00
Chugiak -- Tulare 20 field goal, 6:58
Chugiak -- Mingledorff 3 run (Tulare kick), 3:25
Eagle River -- Hall 7 run (run fail), 10:33
Chugiak -- Mingledorff 62 run (Tulare kick), 9:01
Eagle River -- Hall 1 run (Collins pass from Kott), 2:35
Chugiak Eagle River
First Downs 19 18
Rushes- yards 50-310 47-324
Passing yards 18 150
Return yards 36 95
Passes 1-3-0 11-29-2
Punts 3-25.3 1-29.0
Fumbles-lost 5-2 2-1
Penalties- yards 10-82 14-100
Rushing -- Chugiak: Mingledorff 20-161; Stewart 11-117; Quigley 5-45; Forbush 10-28; Williams 2-11; Bensel 1-(-3); Lee 1-(-4). Eagle River: Hall 27-142; Kott 12-107; Collins 4-28; I. Banks 2-27; Evans 1-15; L. Banks 1-5;
Passing -- Chugiak: Stewart 1-3-0--18. Eagle River: Kott 8-22-1--124; Collins 3-7-1--26.
Receiving -- Chugiak: Williams 1-18. Eagle River: Collins 4-22; Metzel 2-83; Hall 1-12; Leroy Banks 1-25; Isiah Banks 1-13; Kott 1-1.