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High School Sports

It’s East versus West for Alaska’s Division I state football championship

  • Author: Matt Nevala
  • Updated: 4 days ago
  • Published 4 days ago

The East Side and the West Side have a date in midtown Anchorage to decide the Division I state football championship.

East — the city's second high school — overpowered Colony in the First National Bowl semifinals Saturday at East High. The top-ranked Thunderbirds ran the ball 61 times while cruising past the third-ranked Knights, 34-14, to remain unbeaten against Alaska opponents.

Meanwhile, West — the city's first high school — jumped out early at Bartlett and held on in a game that kicked off at the same time as East-Colony. The unranked Eagles stunned the second-ranked Golden Bears, 39-35, erasing the sting of a  regular-season loss and a loss in last season's D-I title tilt.

"We made a commitment defensively and that made a big difference," West coach Tim Davis said. "Our offensive line played outstanding and (running back) Niko Fa'amasino was a beast."

Davis said Fa'amasino scored two touchdowns in the victory.

In the continuation of a rivalry that dates back to 1961, East and West will meet for the championship Friday at Anchorage Football Stadium. Kickoff is 7 p.m.

The Thunderbirds lead the all-time series 40-32 and last faced the Eagles in the postseason when East won the 2016 crown with a 13-7 victory.

East (9-1 overall record) scored a 27-7 regular-season victory over West (6-4) in a Sept. 22 game at West.

East’s Orson Fitiausi is driven out of bounds by Colony’s Ryan Murphy after breaking free from Julian McPhail and Ridge Raval at East High on Saturday. (Bob Hallinen / ADN)

"You're going to likely see some contrasting styles," East coach Jeff Trotter said after his squad took care of Colony. "We're going to rely on the power running game and West may pass the ball a bit more.

"We'll see what happens. It should be fun."

In Saturday's semifinal, East wasted little time setting a dominant tone.

Thunderbirds senior Colton Herman, the Cook Inlet Conference's offensive player of the year, returned the opening kickoff 56 yards to set up shop at Colony's 44-yard line. Trotter and his staff called Herman's number on the first play from scrimmage, a jet sweep running right.

Herman smartly read his blockers, including excellent work from senior backfield mate and lead blocker Earl Apineru, to score 21 seconds into the game.

Shamir Staten (46-yard run) and Orson Fitiausi (8-yard run) also scored first-half touchdowns for the Thunderbirds. Hale Siulua scored on a 1-yard run in the third quarter and kicker Albert Timo nailed a pair of field goals in the fourth.

All told, 13 East players carried the ball at least once. Fitiausi finished with a team-high 65 yards on 10 carries and Herman totaled 61 on four carries.

Apineru enjoyed his single touch with about three minutes to go in the second quarter, gaining 4 yards. But the 5-foot-10, 210-pounder, who Trotter calls a "glorified guard," is just as happy joining the offensive line in clearing the way for East's bevy of backs.

"The line does its job and lays the foundation," Apineru said. "In a way, I'm like the cherry on top of that foundation.

"At the end of the day, when we're all doing things right, in my mind, it's like I've scored 20 touchdowns, 30 touchdowns. I've been part of so much of that scoring and the guys who actually do score always show us appreciation. It doesn't matter who it is. We're all happy for one another."

East led 21-0 at 7 minutes, 27 seconds of the second quarter. Herman's early touchdown resulted in the were the first points allowed by the Knights in more than 13 quarters dating back to a 42-7 win over Wasilla on Sept. 14.

Colony managed 109 yards of total offense to East's 322. The Thunderbirds sacked quarterback Eric Christy three times and stopped the Knights for no gain or a loss of yardage nine times.

Colony senior Julian McPhail dazzled with an 85-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. His big play followed Fitiausi's second-quarter touchdown.

"All I wanted to do was try to give my team a spark," McPhail said. "As clearly, we didn't start this game off the way we wanted.

"Those East running backs, all of them are studs. We just weren't able to do the things we needed to do to stop them."

McPhail, who was named the Chugach Conference's utility player and kick returner of the year, acknowledged that the Knights did something special this season. They finished 8-2 and advanced past the postseason's opening round for the first time since 2010. They snapped a five-game playoff-losing skid with their 47-0 home win over South in the quarterfinals.

"Moments like these don't come around often," McPhail said. "We should all cherish it."

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