Five miles isn’t a long way apart — unless you’re talking trophy cases.
Chugiak made the quick drive south across the Eagle River bridge Saturday and returned to Birchwood Loop with a shiny metal box of redemption after reclaiming the Battle of the Bridge trophy from Eagle River with a 35-8 nonconference football win at the Wolves’ Den.
“We’re not surprised, honestly, but for it to happen really does mean a lot to us,” said Chugiak’s Jacob Oshesky after he and his teammates avenged last season’s first-ever loss in the series, which dates back to 2006.
Though games early in the series were noncompetitive, those lately have been anything but and Oshesky said the Mustangs had no intention of letting the trophy remain on the Wolves’ side of the river for another year.
“We knew we were going to have to show up to play,” he said.
Chugiak galloped away late on a sunny Saturday afternoon thanks to a gritty ground game that produced 336 yards and four scores, including three by running back Tyler Huffer. The senior captain had the only score of the first half, a 5-yard run that made it 6-0 Chugiak heading into the break.
Huffer gave Chugiak some breathing room early in the second half by breaking several tackles before weaving through the Wolves’ secondary for a 50-yard score.
The Wolves appeared to be mounting a comeback when sophomore quarterback Nathaniel Guderian found a streaking RJ Flagg for a 55-yard strike and Cashiez Reaves ran in the conversion to make it 13-8 with 11:43 to play.
But the dam began to break when Oshesky broke to the outside and turned on the jets for an 80-yard stunner, and it collapsed completely after Guderian fumbled three plays later deep in his own end. On the next play, Chugiak sophomore quarterback Harvey Pullen found Logan Mathieu for an 18-yard touchdown pass and just like that it was 28-8.
“Hats off to our guys, we kept our composure,” said Chugiak coach Ryan Landers, whose team improved to 10-2 all-time against the Wolves. Chugiak’s only losses in the series are last year’s 34-21 defeat and a forfeit in 2011.
Huffer capped a bruising and brilliant afternoon with a 19-yard run with two minutes to play. The 5-foot-11, 176-pound wrecking ball averaged nearly eight yards a carry for the Mustangs, who piled up 336 rushing yards on 42 attempts. Oshesky finished with 77 yards on two carries, while Austin Harr added 71 yards on nine attempts.
Each team turned the ball over twice. Josh Tripp had an interception and fumble recovery for the Eagle River defense; Kolton Carlson had an interception for the Mustangs, who also got a fumble recovery from Kehmuel Watson.
Eagle River coach Brad Myers said the Division II Wolves simply ran out of gas down the stretch.
“Depth made a difference,” he said.
The loss doesn’t end Eagle River’s season — the Wolves (4-4) will travel to Fairbanks next week for the Division II state semifinals against Lathrop.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for Chugiak (6-2), which will host a Division I quarterfinal game Friday at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium against either the No. 3 or No. 4 team from the Cook Inlet Conference, and Landers said he’s happy to have some momentum heading into the playoffs.
“Friday night lights, that’s what you play for.”