Quarterback Ben Stewart, running back Kenney Lee and wide receiver Derryk Snell are Chugiak's most productive and dangerous offensive football players, which is why a scene on the sidelines two weeks ago at East High was so disconcerting for the Mustangs and their faithful.
Stewart was out with a concussion and dressed in street clothes. Lee, who aggravated an ankle injury on the first series of that loss to the T-birds, switched into sweatpants at halftime. The seniors stood on the sideline in the second half and watched paramedics strap Snell, a sophomore, to a backboard. Snell was transported to a hospital as a precaution following a wicked collision that left him with a shoulder "stinger'' and numbness in his neck area.
Fast forward to Friday night, when Chugiak turned health into wealth, and knocked off visiting Bartlett, 40-20, in a state large-school quarterfinal at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium
Stewart ran for one touchdown, and threw for 219 yards and two touchdowns. Lee rushed for 62 yards and two touchdowns on 11 carries. And Snell caught six passes for 144 yards and a touchdown, and sealed victory with two big plays late, one on offense and one on defense.
"Health – that's so critical,'' Stewart said. "When you have players who are out there most of the time and then they aren't out there, it messes up a lot of things.
"But, the pieces all go back together when you're healthy.''
After beating fellow Cook Inlet Conference team Bartlett for the second time this season – Chugiak won the regular-season clash, 36-35 – the Mustangs (6-3) advanced to a semifinal next week against CIC opponent Dimond (6-3), a 34-26 winner at Colony in a quarterfinal Friday. Dimond beat Chugiak, 40-32, in the regular season.
Chugiak prospered Friday with a crisp offense and an attacking defense that produced four turnovers, and it also cashed in on favorable first-half field position. Mustangs coach Roger Spackman called it his team's best performance of the season.
Bartlett (6-3), meanwhile, played with its star running back, 2,000-yard rusher Ethan Falaniko, hampered by an ankle injury. He rushed for 52 yards and a touchdown, but his 13 carries were only about half his usual workload.
"It was hard to adjust for that, realistically,'' said Golden Bears co-coach John Jessen.
Jordan Pace picked up some of the slack with 25 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown, and Markus Sagatu delivered 74 yards and a touchdown on 12 carries. Yet there was no replacing Falaniko, the CIC's Offensive Player of the Year.
Chugiak parlayed excellent field position and big plays into a 27-7 lead at halftime. Though the Mustangs possessed the ball for less than eight of the 24 minutes in the first half, they used a touchdown runs from Stewart, a 30-yard scoring strike from Stewart to Jakub Kindred and two short touchdown runs from Lee to build their cushion.
Chugiak ran just 21 plays in the first half, but gained an average of 10 yards per play.
"Bartlett's a good team, and you've just got to come out and punch them in the mouth,'' Stewart said. "They're bigger, faster and stronger in most phases of the game. We just showed grit.''
While Bartlett gained nearly 400 yards of offense, Chugiak defenders like Noah Harris, Merrick Johnson and Peter Mrugala consistently made big plays. And Kindred and Bryant White, like Snell, each snagged an interception. Plus, kicker Sean Silk delivered touchbacks on three of his seven kickoffs, and drilled three more to the Bartlett 3-yard line or deeper.
White also furnished the Mustangs a dimension of speed out of the backfield with four rushes for a team-high 78 yards.
Still, Chugiak faced a third-and-10 from its own 3-yard line while holding a 34-20 lead with 2:00 left. Stewart hit Snell for a deep catch that the sophomore turned into a 75-yard run-and-catch that preceded Tevin Cormier's game-sealing touchdown run in the final minute.
"Ben trusts me, and the coaches do, so I've got to go up and get the ball,'' Snell said.
Snell snatched his interception on Bartlett's ensuing possession, which allowed Stewart to take a knee to end the game.
"We never really stopped them all night,'' Jessen said.
Bartlett 7 0 7 6 -- 20
Chugiak 13 14 7 6 -- 40
Chugiak – Stewart 10 run (run failed), 9:58.
Bartlett – E. Falaniko 9 run (Carey kick), 2:57.
Chugiak – Kindred 30 pass from Stewart (Morey kick), 1:07.
Chugiak – Lee 4 run (Morey kick), 8:29.
Chugiak – Lee 2 run (Morey kick), 3:28.
Bartlett – Sagatu 5 run (Carey kick), 3:31.
Chugiak – Snell 6 pass from Stewart (Morey kick), 53.3.
Bartlett – Pace 1 run (kick blocked), 10:49.
Chugiak – Cormier 2 run (kick failed), 40.3.
RUSHING – Bartlett: Pace 25-129, Sagatu 12-74, E. Falaniko 13-52, S. Falaniko 8-52, Egoak 3-(-16). Chugiak: White 4-78, Lee 11-62, Cormier 8-35, Snell 1-5, Faamatuainu 4-8, Stewart 11-12.
PASSING – Bartlett: Egoak 7-17-3--89. Chugiak: Stewart 8-15-0--219.
RECEIVING – Bartlett: Malietufo-Iauofo 4-59, Lauofo 2-21, Colley 1-10. Chugiak: Snell 6-144, Kindred 2-75.