Anchorage — East managed to avoid a winless football season Saturday, taking down Eagle River 34-8 in the final Cook Inlet Conference game of the season for each team.
The T-birds took advantage of some early turnovers and used nine ball carriers to nearly double Eagle River's rushing total on a cool, overcast day at Eagle River High.
"We've actually been improving the last three or four weeks in a row, so to actually get the payoff is good for them, especially our seniors," said East coach Jeff Trotter.
East, which made the state playoffs each of the last two seasons, finished at 1-7 overall and 1-6 in the CIC. Eagle River accumulated the same record, with its only win coming against Dimond in Week 3. Saturday's win gives East the advantage in a tiebreaker for seventh place, dropping Eagle River to eighth in an eight-team league.
"The season was good overall, just small mistakes here and there with the games," said Eagle River quarterback Peter Kott. "We can play with these boys and we put a lot of work into it, so at the end of the season, it hurts."
East got on the board first Saturday when Matt Schnellbaecher scooped up a Kott fumble and returned it 35 yards less than five minutes into the first quarter. The fumble was the first of seven for the Wolves, four of which resulted in turnovers.
"That was lucky, because our offense came out flat," Trotter said. "Our defense set the tone most of the day. We really shut it down when we needed to."
The start of the second quarter didn't go much better for Eagle River, which fumbled a snap to give East a first-and-goal situation from the 8. Eagle River had just gained two first downs and appeared to be gathering steam in the running game when the snap sailed over Kott's head and negated all the positive yardage and then some.
East made the Wolves pay for the blunder, extending the lead to 14-0 two plays later on a short run from Blake Henderson with 9:33 to play in the first half. The T-birds made it 21-0 just before the half on a 3-yard run from quarterback Clayton Washburn.
Eagle River was a little out of sync because of injuries to some starting linemen in recent weeks, Kott said, which contributed to a lack of ball security.
"That's a tough group," Trotter said of the Wolves. "They've had some injuries and I know they're not playing with the same group that they had when they beat Dimond."
Eagle River bounced back to score a touchdown late in the third quarter -- Collin Metzel hauled in a 29-yard touchdown pass from Alani Collins. Metzel also converted a two-point conversion run to cut East's lead to 21-8.
Odds of an Eagle River comeback improved when the Wolves intercepted a pass from Washburn near midfield to end East's ensuing possession, but Kott threw a pick three plays later.
East cemented the win with two fourth-quarter touchdowns. The T-birds led 28-8 after Isaac Terry recovered a teammate's fumble in the end zone and scored their last touchdown on a 30-yard sprint up the left side by Chase Hawk.
"This team kept getting better, even without the wins coming, so that was impressive to me," Trotter said. "That was a tight-knit group. They were such good teammates to each other, so it was pretty bothersome not to see them have success with that."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
East -- Schnellbaecher 35 fumble return (Andrew kick), 7:12
East -- Henderson 2 run (Andrew kick), 9:33
East -- Washburn 3 run (Andrew kick), 1:33
Eagle River -- Metzel 29 pass from Collins (Andrew kick), 2:39
East -- Terry fumble recovery in end zone (Andrew kick), 7:50
East -- Hawk 30 run (pass fail), 6:50
RUSHING -- East: Washburn 11-45; Hawk 4-35; Schnellbaecher 7-33; Talo 5-28; Thompson 3-18; Lealao 10-17; Atonoa 3-17; Henderson 2-3; Lindquist 1-2.
Eagle River: Hall 15-73; Kott 10-30; L. Banks 1-1; Collins 5-1.
PASSING -- East: Washburn 2-8-1--17. Eagle River: Kott 3-8-1--10; Collins 3-4-0--40.
RECEIVING -- East: Berry 2-17. Eagle River: Metzel 4-43; Evans 1-5; I. Banks 1-2.