If this is how the season ends for the Chugiak High football team, the Mustangs can say they went out with dignity and honor -- and administered a second-half beat-down of playoffs-bound East.
Chugiak, which can only gain a postseason berth if the state sanctioning body reverses an eligibility issue that cost the Mustangs two Cook Inlet Conference wins, closed the regular season Saturday afternoon by tagging East for three second-half touchdowns in a 24-7 CIC victory at Anchorage Football Stadium.
And the Mustangs did it with discipline and class -- zero turnovers and a mere two penalties (a holding and a false start).
"Their ability to focus on each other, that's what became the difference,'' said Chugiak coach Duncan Shackelford. "That tells me these guys understand they're playing for something more than themselves.
"That's been invigorating, that they learned the lessons of being good young men, having character and integrity.''
Since the Mustangs forfeited three wins -- two against CIC opponents and another against nonconference Colony -- for using an ineligible player, they have won both their games. They beat West and East, both of which are headed to the playoffs.
The Alaska School Activities Association's board of directors is scheduled to meet Monday to consider Chugiak's appeal of its forfeits.
Chugiak running back Justin Schneider, who rushed for a game-high 102 yards on 21 carries and scored the third-quarter, go-ahead touchdown on a 2-yard plunge, said he and his teammates believed they needed to finish the regular season by playing clean, honest and hard.
"We feel like we don't have any choice,'' he said. "As seniors, we know this could be it, whatever the circumstances. We know we might not get back on the field.''
East, meanwhile, didn't exactly generate momentum heading into the state large-schools quarterfinals. First-year coach Jeff Trotter, who has transformed a program that won just one game in each of the previous two seasons, said he warned his players all week not to lose focus just because the Thunderbirds owned a playoff berth.
"Just trying to keep them up,'' Trotter said. "No one wants to go into the playoffs off a loss. Hopefully, this will motivate them, that it's not just another game and no one is going to just lay down for them.''
Trailing 7-3 at halftime after Chugiak's Chase Wilson kicked a 30-yard field goal in the first quarter and East countered with quarterback Jesse Vanilau's 6-yard run in the second quarter, the Mustangs owned the second half.
Vanilau's touchdown had capped a 16-play, 80-yard drive that swallowed 8 minutes, 37 seconds off the clock. The Mustangs in the third quarter showed the T-birds what it's like to be on the wrong side of that equation -- exhausting. The T-birds' front-line defense was visibly gassed during two long Chugiak drives.
Chugiak marched 65 yards on 13 plays that ate up 5:51, with Schneider scoring to gain the Mustangs a 10-7 lead. Two possessions later, the Mustangs covered 64 yards in 10 plays and 5:17, with Ryan Harris (14 carries, 59 yards) scoring on a 2-yard run.
On those two drives, the majority of Chugiak's running plays went over the right side in its "36'' series of plays. Shackelford said senior right tackle Kody Trombley requested the Mustangs run to his side, and that was good enough for the coach.
"Our power against their power, and we beat 'em,'' Schneider said.
No argument from Trotter.
"We got rolled,'' he said.
On East's first snap from scrimmage after Harris' touchdown, Chugiak's Luke Plumb smoked Vanilau on a blind-side sack that jarred the ball loose. Chugiak sophomore Kenny Pegues, who also starts at center, returned the fumble 13 yards for a 24-7 Chugiak lead.
"Coach told us we had to make a statement, and we did,'' Pegues said.
And that left Shackelford, who coached Dimond to state titles in 2000 and 2001, to make a statement about his current team.
"I've been on some very good football teams -- those two championship teams at Dimond were special, and I'll never forget those guys,'' Shackelford said. "But these kids showed me truly what young men can overcome.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Chugiak 3 0 7 14 -- 24
East 0 7 0 0 -- 7
Chugiak -- FG 30 Wilson, 5:53.
East -- Vanilau 6 run (Hahn kick),5:32.
Chugiak -- Schneider 2 run (Wilson kick), 3:39.
Chugiak -- Harris 2 run (Wilson kick), 3:30.
Chugiak -- Pegues 13 fumble return (Wilson kick), 3:16.
First downs 14 10
Rushes-yards 49-183 25-77
Passing yards 28 159
Return yards 96 97
Passes 2-6-0 11-24-3
Punts 2-27.5 4-31.5
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 2-15 9-60
RUSHING -- Chugiak: Schneider 21-102, Harris 14-59, Wenzl 8-15, Snell 2-9, Nicholson 3-(-1), Rohde 1-(-3). East: Vanilau 7-29, Atifale 8-20, Gardner 5-11, Rowles 2-8, DeLoria 2-5, Bachman 1-4.
PASSING -- Chugiak: Wenzl 2-6-0--28. East: Vanilau 11-23-2--159, Laws 0-1-1--0.
RECEIVING -- Chugiak: Craig 1-30, Schneider 1-(-2). East: Laws 4-63, Atifale 3-19, Rowles 2-48, DeKalb 1-25, Gardner 1-4.
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News