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Bartlett opens new stadium in style

Matt Tunseth
Matt Tunseth / Alaska Dispatch News

If Bartlett’s football team keeps chewing up the turf like it did Saturday afternoon, the school’s new field might not last long.

The Golden Bears piled up 308 rushing yards on 66 carries to run over Chugiak 31-20 in the first football game played at the school’s new stadium.

“Bartlett’s been playing football for 45 years, so for us to have this field is pretty special,” said Bartlett co-head coach John Jessen. “It’s kind of a tribute to everybody that’s played Bartlett football.”

The victory kept the Golden Bears undefeated this season (2-0 Cook Inlet Conference, 3-0 overall).

The afternoon featured a pregame field dedication complete with speeches from local dignitaries and capped by the Bartlett cheerleaders leading the large home crowd in a rousing round of “Go Bears!” chants. There was also a hint of the South Pacific, as the smell of fresh musubi and fried chicken wafted through the air, the concession stand advertising fresh “Island Flavah” under a bright late summer sun.

Bartlett principal Dan Gallego said the new athletic complex -- there’s also an adjacent baseball/softball field -- will help unite the school and surrounding neighborhoods in Northeast Anchorage. 

“This just brings the whole community together,” he said.

Once the game began, the two teams traded blows like heavyweight fighters, with both squads content to hammer away on the ground as they combined for a whopping 108 rushing attempts. Bartlett’s Ethan Falaniko finished with a hard-earned 183 yards on 33 carries, while his Chugiak counterpart Kenny Lee racked up a team-high 115 yards on 15 carries. Falaniko also had two touchdowns for the Golden Bears while filling in for starter Vince Lobendahn, who sat out the game due to a disciplinary issue.

Falaniko said the team had to fight to keep its composure under difficult circumstances.

“Poise, that’s what we’re all about,” he said.

Bartlett’s defense set the tone early when Archie Lemana hammered Lee on the game’s first play from scrimmage, blasting the ball away and getting the fumble recovery in one devastating motion. The Golden Bears capitalized on the short field, getting a four-play, 32-yard drive that culminated in a 1-yard Falaniko touchdown run that made it 7-0.

Chugiak answered on its next possession, marching 80 yards on nine plays and scoring on a 27-yard Vander Lekites scamper on a counter play with 8:01 left in the first quarter.

Bartlett nearly added to its lead late in the second quarter, but a goal-line stand briefly appeared to have turned the tide in Chugiak’s favor when the Mustangs’ Blake Johnson recovered a Dana Atafua fumble on the Chugiak 5-yard line.

That play would actually prove to be a turning point in Bartlett’s favor when, two plays later, Mustangs quarterback Ben Stewart fell down in his own end zone while dropping back to pass, giving Bartlett a safety and a 9-7 lead.

Chugiak’s ensuing free kick hit a Bartlett front-line player, who was able to recover the ball at the Mustangs’ 29. The Golden Bears capitalized with a 24-yard scoring pass from Tala Sappa to Kasiah Luaofo on the Golden Bears’ only pass attempt to take a 17-7 lead into halftime.

The Mustangs cut the lead to 17-14 midway through the third quarter on Tevin Cormier’s 8-yard run around the outside.

Bartlett scored on its next possession to again increase its cushion to 10 points heading into the fourth quarter, getting a 30-yard touchdown run from Jordan Pace, who was aided by a stellar kick-out block by tackle Brandon Fungchenpen.

The Golden Bears added some insurance on the third play of the fourth quarter when they took a 31-14 lead on Falaniko’s second bruising touchdown run of the day, a 4-yard rumble that came one play after a crucial 13-yard carry on fourth-and-2 by Pace.

Falaniko said the 33 carries was the most he’s had in a game, but the soft-spoken honors student (he carries a 4.0 GPA) shied away from taking the credit after the game.

“It’s just fun to do the best I can and help the team,” said the 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior.

Forced into passing mode because of the big deficit, Chugiak was able to add a late touchdown through the air when Stewart hit Derryck Snell with an 8-yard pass in the corner of the end zone with just 2:55 left. The Mustangs’ onside kick was unsuccessful, allowing the Golden Bears to run out the clock and send the home fans happily to the exits.

Jessen said he was happy to pick up a conference win, but noted that his team still has a lot of work to do if it wants to compete for a playoff berth and make a run in the postseason.

“It puts us in the driver’s seat, but we’ve still got to get a lot better,” he said.

Mustangs coach Roger Spackman said he was proud of the way his undersized team battled against a big Bartlett squad that features 18 players listed at 220 pounds or more.

“We’re just smaller than everybody we go against,” said Spackman, whose team fell to 1-2 overall and 0-2 in the CIC.

Spackman said the loss will help his team learn what it’ll take to compete with the best teams in the conference.

“They realize the level of play they have to compete at,” he said. “We’ve just gotta stick with the plan and keep working.”

Bartlett faces Service (2-1 overall, 1-1 CIC) next week in a crucial conference battle at 2 p.m. Saturday at Bartlett. Chugiak will host Dimond (2-1 overall, 1-1 CIC) next Friday at 7 p.m.

Game notes: Alaska State House members Rep. Gabrielle LeDoux, Rep. Bill Stoltze and Rep. Lance Pruitt attended the game, as did Anchorage School District superintendent Ed Graff, school board members Kathleen Plunkett and Pat Higgins and notable Anchorage sports boosters Don Winchester and Steve Nerland...Bartlett's new field still has a couple kinks to work out. The stadium is unlighted and has no press box. Also, only a high net separates the field's northernmost edge from Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson. The tight confines won't affect gameplay, but any extra point or field goal that clears the net isn't likely to be retrieved quickly, as an 8-foot, barbed-wire-topped fence stands between the stadium and one of the largest military bases in the United States.

Contact reporter Matt Tunseth at mtunseth@alaskadispatch.com or 257-4335

Chugiak            7   0   7   6 — 20

Bartlett 7   10   7   7 — 31

First Quarter

Bartlett — Falaniko 1 run (Carey kick), 10:48

Chugiak — Lekites 27 run (Tulare kick), 8:01

Second Quarter

Bartlett — Safety (Stewart fell in end zone), 4:57

Bartlett — Luaofo 24 pass from Sappa (Sappa run), 3:32

Third Quarter

Chugiak — Cormier 8 run (Tulare kick), 7:34

Fourth Quarter

Bartlett — Falaniko 4 run (Carey kick), 11:35

Chugiak — Snell 8 pass from Stewart (kick missed), 2:55

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — Chugiak: Lee 15-115, Lekites 11-81, Regina 3-26, Stewart 6-22, Cormier 1-8, Yougn 3-5, Harris 1-2, Williams 2-1. Bartlett: Falaniko 33-183, Pace 13-55, Atafua 6-43, Lega 4-15, Sappa 9-12, Luaofo 1-0.

PASSING — Chugiak: Stewart 12-22-1--127. Bartlett: Sappa 1-1-0--24.

RECEIVING — Chugiak: Quigley 4-37, Lekites 3-49, Snell 3-26, Lee 1-9, Williams 1-6. Bartlett: Luaofo 1-24.