A football game that includes more than 400 yards in punts doesn't sound riveting, but the Cook Inlet Conference showdown between Bartlett and South kept fans in their seats until late in the fourth quarter Saturday.
After the defending large-school state champion Wolverines sealed their 17-7 win, fans could be heard muttering things like "Hard-fought game, there," or "That Bartlett is gonna win some games this year."
Bartlett (0-2, 0-1 CIC) hasn't won a game since a meeting with Eagle River in 2011. South (2-0, 2-0 CIC) is used to winning games, having made the state title game in the past two seasons. So, Saturday's meeting came with a sort of David-vs.-Goliath feel.
With the score tied 7-7 in the third quarter, South's Nick Ottum provided the game's biggest offensive play when he caught a slant pass from quarterback Alec Valdez and ran untouched up the middle of the field for a 64-yard score to put South up 14-7 with 3:35 to play in the third.
"Momentum was really not going our way, and then coach called my number," Ottum said. "Just before, we noticed that the slant was wide open. We did it again and it worked."
The Wolverines maintained their touchdown lead into the middle of the fourth quarter and were driving into Bartlett territory when they committed their only turnover. A simple pitch play to the right went awry at the Bartlett 40, where Ethan Falaniko fell on the ball to give the Golden Bears hope.
Falaniko said he thought his team was going to pull it out at that point, but two straight incompletions and a holding penalty set the Golden Bears back and forced them to punt. It was a familiar scene in a game that was ruled by two impressive defenses.
"I thought we played extraordinary on defense," said Bartlett coach Daniel Esparza. "We gotta find a way to score some points. Our defense can't go out and have a hero-effort like that and our offense just not respond."
Bartlett's only touchdown came in part due to its defense and in part due to a South gaffe. The Wolverines, leading 7-0, were pinned deep in their own territory and forced to punt. The snap to the punter was low and when he stooped to pick up the ball, he placed his knee on the ground, inadvertently downing the ball at the South 5-yard line.
Bartlett capitalized with three straight running plays, two by quarterback Zyrelle Jones, followed by a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Kyree Honore to knot the score at 7-7 with 5:46 to play in the third.
Though South was stifled by Bartlett on many possessions, the Wolverines still managed to accrue 316 yards, 229 of which came on the ground. They looked every bit the powerhouse they have been in the past two seasons, using a relentless hurry-up offense that included carries by eight different players and a fast, furious defense that makes every yard hard to come by.
The Wolverines nailed down the win with a 30-yard field goal from Eyob Imlach in the final minute and ended the game with an interception by Justice Augafa.
"I think this team could be better than any team we've had before," Ottum said. "We just gotta keep working and I think we'll get there."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
South \t0 \t7 \t7 \t3 -- 17
Bartlett \t0 \t0 \t7 \t0 -- 7
South -- Valdez 11 run (Imlach kick), 11:46.
Bartlett -- Honore 1 run (Belgarde kick), 5:46.
South -- Ottum 64 pass from Valdez (Imlach kick), 3:35.
South -- FG 30 Imlach, 1:00.
First downs 15 11
Rushes-yards 50-229 31-47
Passing yards 87 120
Return yards 18 45
Passes 6-15-0 13-27-2
Punts 7-25.9 7-36.1
Fumbles-lost 2-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 9-70 12-95
RUSHING --South: Valdez 15-52; Stephan 11-50; West 5-38; J. Augafa 7-30; Hoover 8-24; Belgarde 1-26; Maisey 1-5; Morman 2-4. Bartlett: Honore 9-27; Jones 17-16; Falaniko 1-6; Kenney 2-0; Atafua 1-0; Irving 1-4.
PASSING -- South: Valdez 6-15-0--87; Bartlett: Jones 11-27-2--120.
RECEIVING -- South: Augafa 3-17; Ottum 1-64 West 1-4; Stephan 1-2; Bartlett: Irving 7-93; Belgarde 3-25; Hoffman 1-2.
By JEREMY PETERS