Clinging to a two-point lead at halftime Friday night, the Dimond Lynx repaired to their locker room, where their coach challenged them to be better.
"We talked in the locker room about, 'Where do you want to be?' " said Dimond coach Chris Borst. " 'Do you want to be fighting for first place?' We're young, but I'm trying not to let them use that as an excuse.''
The Lynx didn't require any excuses by the time the Cook Inlet Conference football game was finished at Dimond Alumni Field, where the evening ended with a gorgeous rainbow to the east and a brilliant yellow skyline from the setting sun to the west.
Dimond opened the second-half with a methodical scoring drive and owned the ball for nearly two-thirds of the final two quarters on the march to a 25-10 victory over Eagle River.
Dimond (2-1, 2-0 CIC) opened the second half by driving 74 yards in 11 plays that consumed 5 minutes, 22 seconds and culminated with Armani Tufaga's 1-yard touchdown run, which delivered an 18-10 lead.
Two possessions later, the Lynx drove 69 yards in eight plays, eating another 3:02 off the clock and getting a 17-yard touchdown run from Elijah Pili. Fono Savaiinaea's extra-point kick boosted Dimond's advantage to 25-10.
The Lynx also cut down on their mistakes in the second half, when they committed just three penalties for 30 yards after taking nine penalties for 66 yards of backsliding in the first half.
Granted, the Lynx haven't faced the best of the CIC yet -- their two victories have come over winless Chugiak (0-2, 0-1 CIC) and winless Eagle River (0-3, 0-3 CIC). Still, 2-0 in conference is 2-0 in conference.
And the type of drive the Lynx generated to start the second half is good for their collective psyche.
"It's uplifting,'' Tufaga said. "To get that momentum is what we need, and the key is scoring on those drives.''
The Lynx might well have scored three times on their four second-half possessions -- and their last possession was merely to run out the clock -- but they attempted a field goal, and missed it, on a third-and-goal from the Eagle River 10 during their second possession. The down marker on the sideline incorrectly indicated it was fourth down.
In any event, Dimond prospered with a backfield by committee -- 11 different Lynx carried the ball, and five of them each accounted for 38 yards or more.
Pili carried nine times for 76 yards, Tufaga parlayed 10 carries in 47 yards, Jin Chong bulldozed his way to 45 yards on eight carries, Chandler Barrett racked 41 yards on four carries and quarterback Samuel Liaga furnished 38 yards on seven carries. Liaga cranked off an electric 33-yard Houdini job in the fourth quarter, escaping the grasp of a tackler 10 yards deep in the backfield and rocketing up the right sideline.
Dimond generated 203 of its 255 yards total offense in the second half.
"We came out less intense on defense in the second half,'' said Eagle River linebacker Ed Hall. "They were running the same plays. (We need to be) focusing and having everybody doing their jobs.''
Hall helped Eagle River get off to a strong start.
After Eagle River's Jachi Madubuko and David Tobin snuffed Dimond's opening drive by stopping Pili short of a first down on fourth-and-goal from the Wolves' 6, Hall bolted 96 yards for a touchdown on Eagle River's next play from scrimmage.
But Dimond pushed ahead in the second quarter. Barrett dashed for a 35-yard touchdown on his first touch of the night to cut Eagle River's lead to 7-6. After the kickoff, Eagle River quarterback Alani Collins threw behind Paul Duclos in the right flat, which allowed Tufaga to swoop in and return his interception 50 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought I was gonna fall,'' said Tufaga, who caught a toe in the artificial turf just as he made the pick. "I kept stumbling.''
Eagle River's Jordan Patin cut Dimond's lead to 12-10 just before halftime with a 27-yard field goal.
On this night, though, the Lynx didn't stumble when it mattered.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
Eagle River 7 3 0 0 -- 10
Dimond 0 12 6 7 -- 25
Eagle River -- Hall 96 run (Patin kick), 7:47.
Dimond -- Barrett 35 run (kick failed) 8:04
Dimond -- Tufaga 50 interception return (kick failed), 7:46
Eagle River -- Oberlander 27 FG, :20.
Dimond -- Tufaga 1 run (kick failed(), 6:38.
Dimond -- Pili 17 run (Savaiinaea kick), 7:29.
Eagle River Dimond
First downs 6 15
Rushes-yards 30-143 53-241
Passing yards 30 14
Return yards 71 124
Passes 4-8-1 2-5-1
Punts 1-35.0 1-37.0
Fumbles-lost 5-3 4-0
Penalties-yards 9-73 12-96
RUSHING -- Eagle River: Hall 11-117, Oberlander 5-17, Madubuko 2-9, Eiler 1-4, Collins 11-(-4). Dimond: Pili 9-72, Tufaga 10-47, Chong 8-45, Barrett 4-41, Sa. Liaga 7-38, Tunuvasa 3-14, Unga 1-11, Jaworski 1-10, St. Liaga 2-6; Scott 2-(-6), Team 1-(-21).
PASSING -- Eagle River: Collins 3-7-1--38, Patin 1-1-0(-8). Dimond: Sa. Liaga 2-5-1--14.
RECEIVING -- Eagle River: Hall 2-28, Duxbury 1-10, Oberlander 1-(-8). Dimond: Tufaga 1-10, Pili 1-4.Photos: Service High vs. East High football
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News