In the annual clash for the East Side Boot, Bartlett's football team figuratively spent the first half Saturday night stumbling around like its shoes were on the wrong feet.
The Golden Bears coughed up five fumbles, two of which East recovered, and committed penalties at particularly painful times on the way to a scoreless stalemate at halftime.
Come the third quarter, though, Bartlett found its footing, smoothed its stride, ground East beneath its collective heel and cruised to a 28-0 Cook Inlet Conference victory at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Bartlett (2-0, 1-0 CIC) employed special-team excellence and running back Vincent Lobendahn's persistence and power -- four touchdown runs in less than 10 minutes -- to win its fifth consecutive game dating back to last season.
The monumental shift in fortunes between the teams began with something as seemingly simple as the opening kickoff of the second half. The next thing the Thunderbirds (0-2, 0-1 CIC) knew, the game had gone south on them.
Bartlett turned a recovered kickoff, stout defense, two long punt returns, a long fumble return and Lobendahn's labor -- he carried on 10 consecutive plays and 14 of 15 -- to score on four straight possessions.
"We got it done,'' said Lobendahn, a transfer from Texas. "Everything we worked for in the summer got us here.''
The Golden Bears retained possession of the East Side Boot, which its seniors accepted and raised after the game at midfield, where both teams gathered for the presentation. The teams have played for the trophy since 2002, when East all-state defensive lineman Aanooali "Auno'' Filoialli died in car accident. East leads the Boot series, 8-5.
Bartlett's Lorenzo Froehle, who also plays soccer, opened the second half with a big-time boot. His high, short kickoff to his right took a bounce 10 feet high, which allowed streaking teammate Dana Atafua to swoop in, leap and collect it at the East 27-yard line.
The kickoff wasn't an onside kick or a traditional deep kick, but something in-between.
"I don't know what you call it,'' Froehle said. "Bartlett Specialty, I guess you could call it.''
All Atafua, who was blazing downfield in coverage, knew was he recognized a chance to make a big play.
"I just hopped up and grabbed it,'' he said.
"He's so explosive because he's a busboy at Kava's (Pancake House),'' Bartlett co-coach John Jessen said of Atafua. "He's working on his fast-twitch muscles.''
Lobendahn, who carried 11 times for 66 yards in the first half, then became the workhorse. He carried five straight times and scored on a 2-yard run, and Kasila Carey's extra point furnished Bartlett a 7-0 lead.
On East's ensuing possession, Bartlett's Dimitri Torres knifed into the T-birds' backfield to drop Alani Collins for a 6-yard loss and a blitzing Christian Lega delivered a sack of East quarterback Clayton Washburn, all of which led to a punt.
Deionte Love returned the punt 32 yards to the East 16. Five more Lobendahn carries culminated in a 1-yard touchdown run.
Torres returned East's next punt 44 yards, and Lobendahn soon bulled his way to a 13-yard touchdown run.
"Special teams cost us the game,'' said East coach Jeff Trotter.
Bartlett's Ethan Falaniko returned an East fumble 40 yards on the next possession, and that set up Lobendahn's 6-yard scoring run.
Lobendahn, who rushed for 163 yards and five touchdowns in last week's season-opening 47-14 win over Lathrop in Fairbanks, covered 142 yards on 25 carries Saturday. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder is not subtle. Instead of dancing at the line, he finds a hole, lowers his pads, accelerates and either drives tacklers back or sheds them.
"Basically, all I've learned from the seventh grade up is to hit the hole hard and then make the cuts,'' Lobendahn said.
In short, he's a blue-collar back and, fittingly in this annual rivalry, the kind of guy who in another line of labor would wear boots.
Bartlett — Lobendahn 2 run (Carey kick), 10:34.
Bartlett — Lobendahn 1 run (Carey kick), 7:13.
Bartlett — Lobendahn 13 run (kick failed), 3:29.
Bartlett — Lobendahn 6 run (Pace conversion run), 1:07.
RUSHING — Bartlett: Lobendahn 25-142, Pace 6-76, Falaniko 10-46, Atafua 5-1, Sappa 11-(-12). East: Talo 17-61, Atanoa 6-18, Johnson 1-11, Washburn 8-8, Martin 3-7, Collins 4-(-5).
PASSING — Bartlett: Sappa 1-4-0—25. East: Washburn 7-13-0—85.
RECEIVING — Bartlett: Love 1-25. East: Berry 3-45, Johnson 1-24, Linderman 2-17, Martin 1 (-1).