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Thunderbirds seize a playoff spot

Doyle Woody
Deven Ferriss of Chugiak, left, clutches Jakeil Bell of East, who eventually breaks free for a long gain during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Joshua Capers of Chugiak finds running room against East during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
East quarterback Jesse Vanilau sees the pocket collapse during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jarred Laws of East fights for yardage against Chugiak during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Deven Ferriss of Chugiak, left, clutches Jakeil Bell of East, who eventually breaks free for a long gain during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jarred Laws of East, center, celebrates after a long touchdown run to push the Thunderbirds lead to 12-0 over Chugiak during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Tyler Rohde of Chugiak returns an East kickoff for the lone Mustangs touchdown during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Jakeil Bell of East, right, eludes Matt Oldenkamp of Chugiak during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Diego Su'a-Te'o of East hangs onto a pass as Tyler Rohde, left, and Dakota Benzel of Chugiak close in during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Chugiak quarterback David Mayhew is brought down by East defenders after a long gain during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
David Mayhew of Chugiak fires a pass to Tyler Rohde during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Tyler Rohde of Chugiak hauls in a tough catch against the back of East defender Jacob Blunt during first-half action Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News
Joshua Capers of Chugiak is stopped short of the goal line on the final play of the first half to preserve a 26-7 lead for East Friday evening September 28, 2012 at Chugiak.
ERIK HILL / Anchorage Daily News

With the Cook Inlet Conference's final remaining playoff berth at stake Friday night, visiting East throttled Chugiak by virtue of identity theft, 38-7.

The Thunderbirds beat the Mustangs at their own game -- ball control and time of possession.

East (5-3, 4-3 CIC) possessed the ball for nearly 30 of the 48 minutes played, outgained Chugiak by a margin of more than 3 to 1, and unleashed drives that withered the hosts at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.

The victory secured East the CIC's No. 4 postseason seed in the large-school playoffs -- Service owns the conference's No. 1 seed, followed by South and West -- and advanced it to a quarterfinal next week at No. 1-ranked Palmer, the Railbelt Conference champion.

East's win eliminated Chugiak (2-6, 2-5 CIC) from playoff contention and squashed the playoff hopes of Dimond entering its Saturday night game against South to wrap the CIC regular season. Even if Dimond upset South and matched East's 4-3 CIC record, East owns the tie-breaker with Dimond, courtesy of its 21-0 win over the Lynx.

To get to the postseason for the second straight year under second-year coach Jeff Trotter, the T-birds won their final three conference games, each of which realistically posed an elimination game.

"We're coming together at the right time,'' said East receiver Jarred Laws, who tuned up the Mustangs with three touchdown receptions. "We have to keep this up in the playoffs and, hopefully, go somewhere.''

While Chugiak has long favored a running game that grinds on opponents and keeps the ball from them, East followed that same formula. It opened the scoring with a first-quarter drive of 16 plays that covered 91 yards and drained 7:39 from the clock. Even a T-bird second-half drive that did not result in points took another 6:48 off the clock.

East rushed for 264 yards and passed for 185 to accumulate 449 yards total offense to Chugiak's 142.

"We wanted to suck the clock,'' Trotter said. "We've gotten a lot more confident in our ground game.''

Diego Su'a T'eo turned 10 rushes into 85 yards and a touchdown. Jakeil Bell covered 77 yards on just seven carries and Osa Atiifale scored on two short runs.

The T-birds also frequently got the ball into the hands of their most dangerous player in Laws. He caught eight passes for 137 yards. Among his three touchdown receptions were a short pass he latched onto before he weaved through the secondary for a 48-yard touchdown in the first half. Also, he caught Jesse Vanilau's perfectly lofted 37-yard strike in stride for a touchdown in a second half played in driving rain.

Those eight catches doubled Laws' previous single-game high this season, his three touchdowns were one shy of matching his season total entering the game and his 137 yards marked a season high. Laws also covered 21 yards on a reverse.

Vanilau completed 12 of 17 passes for 171 yards.

Chugiak, which trailed 26-7 at half and is not built for big comebacks, couldn't muster much offense. Its only touchdown came on Tyler Rohde's 72-yard kickoff return in the second quarter. East's only obvious weakness came on special teams -- the Mustangs delivered 242 return yards.

Seemingly every player on East's defense made a big play. Manu Malama recovered a fumble and blocked a field goal attempt. Tyrone Sui killed a Chugiak drive in the red zone, Tusa Tanuvasa and Tarini Tosi racked sacks, and Bell and Laws broke up passes.

After each team fumbled away the ball on its first possession, East reeled off that 91-yard drive, which culminated with Vanilau's 9-yard slant to Laws. After a Chugiak fake field goal failed, Laws four plays later scored on his catch-and-run to give the T-birds, who never trailed, a 12-0 lead.

"I couldn't be happier with the way we came out,'' Trotter said. "Other than special teams, we were good on both sides of the ball. They were ready to go.''

Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

East 6 20 6 6 -- 38

Chugiak 0 7 0 0 -- 7

First Quarter

East -- Laws 9 pass from Vanilau (kick blocked), 1:52.

Second Quarter

East -- Laws 48 pass from Vanilau (kick blocked), 10:41.

Chugiak -- Rohde 72 kickoff return (Wilson kick), 10:39.

East -- Atiifale 4 run (Su'a Te'o run), 7:42.

East -- Atiifale 5 run (run failed), 1:41

Third Quarter

East -- Laws 37 pass from Vanilau (kick blocked), 2:13.

Fourth Quarter

East -- Su'a Te'o 24 run (kick failed), 3:17.

East Chugiak

First downs 21 11

Rushes-yards 44-264 30-106

Passing yards 185 36

Return yards 70 242

Passes 13-18-0 5-14-0

Punts 1-32.0 1-40.0

Fumbles-lost 3-1 4-4

Penalties-yards 9-72 6-50

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING -- East: Su'a T'eo 10-85, Bell 7-77, Jones 5-30, Laws 1-21, Atiifale 5-21, Vanilau 8-20, No. 15 1-6, Lealao 3-4, Cottee 1-0, Siaulaiga 3-0. Chugiak: Mayhew 4-41, Capers 8-38, Timberlake 7-17, Prince 4-9, Benzel 2-2, Forbush 4-2, Hefner 1-(-3).

PASSING -- East: Vanilau 12-17-0--185, Atiifale 1-1-0--14. Chugiak: Mayhew 5-14-0--36.

RECEIVING -- East: Laws 8-137, Su'a T'eo 2-19, Luafulu 2-18, Bell 1-13. Chugiak: Rohde 2-10, Forbush 2-5, Oldenkamp 1-21.

Photos: East 38 Chugiak 7
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News