The Bartlett Golden Bears, a young team that lost 37 seniors from last year’s team, got a monster game from one of this season’s seniors Saturday to punch their ticket to the postseason.
The Golden Bears took a 58-35 Senior Day victory over the Wasilla Warriors behind a five-touchdown day from running back Elijah Lilio.
The win moved Bartlett to 2-1 in the Railbelt Conference, ensuring it a place in the Division I playoffs despite opening the season with four straight losses.
“With our year we’ve had, we clinched a playoff berth today so we’re excited about that and I’m happy with these kids and the way they persevered,” Bartlett coach John Jessen said.
"... This team wasn’t as good as we thought it could be at the beginning of the year but we have just steadily gotten better every week.”
Lilio was relentless running the ball with a hard-nosed style he attributes to his Samoan culture and rugby background.
He rushed for more than 300 yards and scored his touchdowns from short and long-distance. His final score game from 52 yards with about five minutes left in the game to put his team up by two possessions and finally put the game away.
“This was a team effort,” Lilio said. “I couldn’t get those touchdowns if it wasn’t for my linemen and my halfbacks blocking for me.”
He broke multiple tackles on nearly every run, he rarely went down after first contact or behind the line of scrimmage, he routinely ran over defenders to pick up extra yards and he delivered multiple stiff-arms that sent would-be tacklers to the turf.
“That’s Samoan style,” he said. “Back in the island that’s all we know how to do is to lower the shoulder and take hits. I played rugby in the summer and that is one of my favorite sports so that’s how I know how to lower the shoulder, it’s all from rugby.”
“He ran like a stud,” said Jessen. “Our offensive line blocked well and he ran well. He really finishes runs as good as any guy I’ve ever coached.”
Bartlett’s defense allowed its share of big plays but came up with quite a few of its own, including a pair of interceptions and a fumble recovery on a botched pitch from Wasilla quarterback Byson Malave in the second half.
The Golden Bears (2-5 overall) had a terrific goal-line stand in the final minutes when the Warriors drove all the way to half-yard line but were left inches short of pay dirt.
Wasilla fell to 3-4 on the season, with all four of its losses coming in conference play. However, the Warriors are showing improvement under first-year head coach Ken Ottinger, who offense was explosive and kept Wasilla in the game until Bartlett pulled away late.
“Even though we’re 0-4 in the conference, it’s a different program,” he said. “It’s a different year, we played with everybody and we stepped up.”
A year ago, he noted, Bartlett beat Wasilla 63-0. Saturday was a different story.
“We were there in the fourth quarter and had a chance, so it’s a big difference from last year,” Ottinger said.
Malave threw for more than 200 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for a 4-yard touchdown. Receiver Phillip Bezhenar hauled in four passes for 127 yards, including a 95-yard catch-and-run to open the second half and make it a one-possession game. He also recorded an interception on defense.
“We had some spurts, we had some penalties that pushed us back a couple times, but last year we put up zero (and) this year we put up 35, so we’re moving in the right direction,” Ottinger said.
Barrow 36, Redington 18
Bartlett 58, Wasilla 35
Lathrop 64, Palmer 21
Nikiski 26, Homer 22
Soldotna 81, Eagle River 7
Colony 28, Juneau 20
East 45, Dimond 0
Eielson defeats Seward by forfeit
Houston 65, Ketchikan 0
Kodiak 14, Kenai 7
South 39, Chugiak 14
West 37, Service 14
West Valley 46, North Pole 13