Fantastic field position helped top-ranked East High defuse second-ranked Dimond's second-half threat Saturday afternoon, when the T-birds celebrated the dedication of their artificial turf field and new scoreboard with a 40-20 Cook Inlet Conference victory.
After Dimond's Dylan Tufaga returned an interception 50 yards for a touchdown that slashed East's lead to 19-14 early in the second half, the T-birds defense and special teams three straight times gifted the offense with a short field.
The result: Three touchdowns, and a game that went from close to no-contest.
East (3-0, 1-0 CIC) stopped a Dimond (2-1, 0-1 CIC) fake punt to give its offense the ball on the Dimond 39-yard line. Five plays later, Josh Malnoske scored on a 5-yard run and Carson Reed converted the extra point — 26-14 East.
East's Pavii Tanuvasa delivered a third-down sack and Dak Paulsen's 16-yard punt return set up the offense at Dimond's 34. Seven plays later, Malnoske scored on a 4-yard run and Reed converted — 33-14 East.
Malnoske snagged an interception on Dimond's next snap from scrimmage and returned it 33 yards to the Dimond 8. David Collins ran East's first play from scrimmage into the end zone, and Reed did his thing — 40-14 East.
East's victory came on a brilliantly sunny day when the school honored its legacy of the 1980s. More than two dozen players from the teams that won three consecutive state titles (1985-87) and generated a 29-game winning streak, and their coach, Bruce Shearer, were honored at halftime.
East sophomore defensive back Colton Herman furnished two first-half interceptions and Allen Ala recorded a sack. The T-birds, who next week entertain four-time defending medium-school champion Soldotna, owner of a state-record, 42-game winning streak, limited Dimond's ground game to 41 yards on 27 carries.
Not that it was all defense for East.
Johnny Afuvai rushed 16 times for 123 yards and two touchdowns to complement Malnoske's 102 yards and two scores on 15 carries. The T-birds rushed for 280 yards and got field goals from 41 yards and 43 yards from Reed, who bombed that 41-yarder into a crossing headwind.
East center Noah Johnson, guards Casimir Levao and Kaleo Paleka, and tackles Auomanu Manu and Anthony Manu paved the way for the powerful Afuvai and quick Malnoske.
Dimond's Kyle Henrickson completed 16 of 24 passes for one touchdown. He threw across his body while running left and under pressure and Kato Ainu'u leaped between two defenders for a one-handed catch and a 13-yard touchdown. But the T-birds intercepted Henrickson three times.
Tufaga scored on a 12-yard run inside the last two minutes.
Dimond 0 7 7 6 20
East 10 9 7 14 40
East –– Afuvai 26 run (Reed kick), 7:06.
East — 41 FG Reed, 1:16.
Dimond — Ain'u' 13 pass from Henrickson (Lyons kick), 11:13.
East — Afuvai 53 run (kick blocked), 8:16.
East — 43 FG Reed, 1:27.
Dimond — Tufaga 50 interception return (Lyons kick), 8:25.
East — Malnoske 2 run (Reedy kick), :23.5.
East — Malnoske 4 run (Reed kick), 4:32.
East — Collins 8 run (Reed kick), 4:15.
Dimond — Tufaga 12 run (pass failed), 1:48.
RUSHING — Dimond: Tufaga 4-21, Ward 12-18, Henrickson 9-3, Ainu'u 1-0, Lozano 1-(-1). East: Afuvai 16-123, Malnoske 15-102, Washburn 5-27, Logoleo 5-13, Collins 1-8, Ala 1-4, Guerrero 1-(-1), Paulsen 1-(-4).
PASSING — Dimond: Henrickson 16-24-3–155, Tufaga 4-6-0–87. East: Washburn 3-6-0–26.
RECEIVING — Dimond: Ainu'u 5-56, Tufaga 4-30, Maisey 2-63, Knightes 2-27, Castro 2-24, Kwon 2-17, Carrigan 2-16, Ward 1-9. East: Williams 1-11, Logoleo 1-6, Reed 1-9.