Like any good linebacker, relied upon to be in the thick of things from start to finish, East High senior Hale Siulua helped push teammates to a dominant performance on their home turf Saturday afternoon.
Then, moments after the Thunderbirds' completed a 33-15 dismantling of top-ranked and previously unbeaten Bartlett, Siulua literally pushed an injured teammate through the postgame handshake line.
The scene — sophomore Georgie Mageo sitting in a wheelchair, his injured left leg immobilized, with Siulua behind him making sure the wheels rolled — put a fitting end to what is traditionally an emotional day between the two schools from the same side of town.
Second-ranked East remained perfect against Alaska opponents with the nonconference win and claimed the East Side Boot for the second straight season. East and Bartlett compete annually for "The Boot," a traveling trophy created in memory of Aanooalii "Auno" Filoailii, the former East all-state defensive linemen who died in a car accident in the summer of 2002.
"There's a real tradition with this game and you learn it about early on, junior high or maybe even sooner," Siulua said. "It means more than a final score or a place in the standings. Those guys over there, they're our cousins, our family.
"It's a special day."
That's why Siulua saw to it that Mageo, who left the game early in the first half and sat in a wheelchair in full uniform until the end, was part of the handshake line and midfield presentation of "The Boot."
"(Mageo) is only a sophomore, but he's already a monster," Siulua said. "Once he went down, the game got a little more emotional and we played the rest of it for him as well."
Siulua, Georgia Mageo, Aiden Williams, Kymani Vaivai, Colton Herman, Eli Turvey and what seemed like countless other East defenders bombarded Bartlett from the onset.
Alaska's only undefeated team until Saturday, the Golden Bears entered the day averaging 59.6 points and 574 rushing yards per game. East (5-1 overall) held them to nine points in the competitive portion of the game and 215 yards of total offense, all on the ground.
The Thunderbirds also forced and recovered four Bartlett fumbles.
"Clearly, East's defense was spectacular and we suffered through one of those days in life," Bartlett co-coach John Jessen said. "One step forward, three steps back. One step forward, four steps back — penalties, fumbles, all that sort of stuff.
"East had a great day, we had a bad day."
The Thunderbirds' day couldn't have started much better.
After stopping Bartlett (5-1) on its opening drive, East lined up at its own 34-yard line. Herman, a senior receiver and defensive back, ran a jet sweep to his left, tiptoed along the Thunderbirds' sideline, turned upfield and blasted off for a 66-yard scoring run.
East led 7-0 at 8 minutes, 41 seconds of the first quarter.
"We may have caught them off guard," said Herman, who rushed for 100 yards on seven carries. "Looking at the way my blocks set up, I just had to find a way to stay inbounds. A great start like that helped us show that we were ready to compete."
Jason Jenn-Lundfelt (6-yard run), Shamir Staten (3-yard run, 64-yard run) and Turvey (38-yard pass from Kapono Medeiros) accounted for East's other touchdowns. Staten finished with 115 yards on 12 carries to help the T-birds pile up 348 yards of total offense.
Bartlett's scoring plays came via an Elijah Lear 1-yard run, Romare Ulrich's blocked punt for a safety and Hunter Cargill's 7-yard run as time expired. Cargill finished with 102 rushing yards on 12 carries and Lear added 84 yards on 30 touches.
But many of those yards came late. East held the Golden Bears to 99 total yards in the opening two quarters.
"We've felt like we've shown we have one of the top defenses," East coach Jeff Trotter said. "We've also been helped by running the same system on both sides of the ball for about four years.
"The kids don't know how to do anything different."