Little was going well for the East T-birds midway through the fourth quarter Saturday afternoon. Their dominating first half of football seemed a distant memory. The momentum was all Bartlett's, the rival Golden Bears owned a one-point lead and the T-birds were teetering.
And then they rediscovered the potent offense and resilient defense that sustained them in the first half but had vanished after the break.
East delivered a six-play, 51-yard scoring drive, then stopped Bartlett's final possession on downs and took a knee three times to earn a 27-20 Cook Inlet Conference victory at Bartlett's homecoming, and gain possession of the East Side Boot for the first time since 2012.
"We made the jump from a young team to a veteran team today," said East coach Jeff Trotter.
At stake was the East Side Boot, a coveted trophy the rivals have contested since 2002. The Boot honors the memory of East all-state defensive end Aanooali "Auno" Filoialli, who was killed in a car accident that year, and Filoialli's bronzed cleat sits atop the trophy. Also on the line was potential playoff seeding — No. 4-ranked East (5-1), the defending Division I state champion, improved to 3-0 in the CIC, and No. 3-ranked Bartlett (3-3) slipped to 2-1 in conference.
"Auno was on our mind," said East multi-threat Allen Ala. "And it's a pleasure to play in remembrance of him. The Boot has been gone too long from East."
East owns a 9-7 lead in games for the East Side Boot.
East trailed 20-19 when it got the ball with six-plus minutes to go. Sophomore Kalani Medeiros capped a six-play, 51-yard drive by dragging a tackler into the end zone from 13 yards out with 4:24 to play.
Medeiros, like a smart running back, credited his linemen after gaining a team-high 94 yards on 21 carries.
"I love it," he said. "It's like the greatest thing when the linemen make a hole big enough to drive a truck through."
Sio Sefo's two-point conversion rush following Medeiro's go-ahead score gave East a 27-20 cushion. Two Bartlett encroachment penalties and a 5-yard face-mask penalty aided East's advance.
The Golden Bears then reeled off 13 plays during their subsequent possession — that included a Jontay Edwards first-down run on fourth-and-3 — before Zai Malia-Hughes' fourth-down pass from the East 39 fell incomplete and basically closed the game.
The televised game, played before a crowd of more than 1,000, proved one-sided by turns.
East put together three monster drives in the first half to earn a 19-6 lead. The T-birds marched 56 yards on 12 plays that covered 4:47 on the game's opening drive and earned a 7-0 lead on Nate Gionson's 7-yard run. That drive included a first-down conversion on fourth-and-5 and another on fourth-and 3.
After Bartlett's three-and-out, East rolled 86 yards on 12 more plays and chewed 6:18 off the clock. Facing fourth-and-9 at the Bartlett 10, quarterback Kapono Medeiros scored on a bootleg for a 13-0 lead.
Next came Bartlett's biggest play of the game, and just about the only smudge on East's first half. Hunter Cargill swept around left end and broke multiple tackles for a twisting, turning 42-yard gem that cut East's lead to 13-6.
Soon enough, though, it was more of the same from East. The T-birds rolled 57 yards on 13 plays — and devoured 7:45 of clock — to take a 19-6 lead. After Bartlett's defense stopped three successive snaps at their own 1 — all three East plays were run out of the shotgun — East quarterback Jasun Duston moved under center and scored on a 1-yard sneak.
East in the first half ran 39 plays to Bartlett's 12 and owned a lopsided time of possession, 19:50 to 4:10.
All that flipped in the second half, when Bartlett ran 41 plays to East's 15 and owned a possession advantage of 15:11 to 8:49.
Bartlett rolled 68 yards on 12 plays with the initial possession of the second half, and Cargill scored on a 12-yard run. On the Golden Bears' next possession, they racked a 16-play, 75-yard drive capped by Edwards' 2-yard run on fourth-and-goal. That was Edwards' second fourth-down conversion on the drive.
Edwards led all rushers with 23 carries for 106 yards, and Cargill generated 80 yards on 16 carries.
Still, Bartlett hampered itself with eight penalties for 45 yards compared to East's four infractions for 20 yards.
"Penalties — we had a lot, they didn't," said Bartlett co-coach Daniel Esparza. "We took a little while to get started on offense, and they didn't. Credit to East. They played well."
East running back Armand Eppenger was injured on his second carry of the game and finished with four carries. But Kalani Medeiros helped pick up the slack, and Julian Baker (seven carries, 37 yards), Ala (three carries, 33 yards), Sefo (two carries, 31 yards) and Gionson (seven carries, 22 yards) chipped in too.
"Luckily, we have a stable of backs," Trotter said.
And the T-birds have an impact player in Ala, a defensive end who registered at least a couple of tackles for negative yardage and also kept an East drive alive in the second half with a 10-yard gain on a fake punt.
"The kids feed off him," Trotter said. "He uses his speed to his advantage. Sometimes he runs himself out of plays, but he makes plays."
East 7 12 0 8 — 27
Bartlett 0 6 6 8 — 20
East — Gionson 7 run (Ala kick), 7:13.
East — Kapono Medeiros 11 run (kick failed), 10:59.
Bartlett — Cargill 42 run (kick blocked), 8:49.
East — Duston 1 run (run failed), 1:04.
Bartlett — Cargill 12 run (run failed), 6:37.
Bartlett — Edwards 2 run (Lear run), 6:24.
East — Kalani Medeiros (Sefo run), 4:24.
RUSHING — East: Kalani Medeiros 21-94, Baker 7-37, Ala 3-33, Sefo 2-31, Gionson 6-22, Epenger 4-14, Kapono Medeiros 3-9, Mamae 1-8, Duston 5-0. Bartlett: Edwards 23-106, Cargill 16-80, Malia-Hughes 4-25, Fudge 3-18, Suon 1-3.
PASSING — East: Kapono Medeiros 1-1-0–38, Duston 0-1-0–0. Bartlett: Malia-Hughes 3-6-0–33.
RECEIVING — East: Turvey 1-38. Bartlett: Couse 2-24, Tellef 1-8.
East 27, Bartlett 20
Service 31, Dimond 27
West 42, South 9
Palmer 35, Eagle River 8
Soldotna 44, Kodiak 7
Lathrop 49, Wasilla 7
Monroe Catholic 15, Seward 0
Homer 38, Nikiski 0
Barrow 19, Eielson 6
Chugiak 48, Kenai 0
Houston 36, Valdez 0
Thunder Mountain 35, North Pole 12
Colony 10, West Valley 7
Juneau 35, Ketchikan 14
Redington 20, Voznesenka 8