The Bartlett Golden Bears got the job done on both sides of the ball against the reigning state champion South Wolverines in a 34-24 upset victory to advance to the final round of the Anchorage School District playoffs next weekend.
Bartlett’s players and coaching staff were fired up for the semifinal bout, because they heard all week that the Wolverine were saying “it’s just Bartlett.” On Saturday afternoon, it was all Bartlett from start to finish.
“All game long we were saying ‘It’s just Bartlett,’ and we proved what Bartlett does,” said Golden Bears senior Ajay Gordan.
The Golden Bears, the No. 4 seed in the tournament, will play for the ASD city championship next Saturday against top-seeded East, which defeated third-seeded West 34-0 in Saturday’s other semifinal game. South is the No. 2 seed.
The Golden Bears (4-2) established their running game early to dominate offensively, and on defense they forced four turnovers and capitalized on mistakes by South (4-2).
Two-way players Gordan and fellow senior Michael Elias both scored on offense and came up with turnovers on defense.
Gordan caught three passes for 58 yards and a pair of touchdowns and intercepted South senior quarterback Jackson Harmon twice on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter.
His first touchdown came when Bartlett quarterback Reason Timberlake threw a 34-yard pass off play action after 12 straight runs. His second came on the first play of the fourth quarter when Timberlake rolled to the right for a 9-yard strike.
Elias rushed for 91 yards on 10 carries and was elated to play a significant role in beating South for the first time in his career.
“It feels super great to beat this team,” he said. “We’ve lost to them three years in a row. My C-team year, my JV (year) and last year by a blowout.”
Elias rarely came off the field and scored his first touchdown on a 37-yard interception return in the second quarter on a play he read perfectly and undercut to put the Golden Bears up 22-0.
“I’ve been watching film on them. They like those little short routes and when I saw my opportunity I jumped on that right quick,” he said.
The Wolverines cut Bartlett’s lead to 10 points, 28-18, with a little more than 10 minutes to play in the final quarter of play when a botched onside kick attempt set up Bartlett almost at midfield.
It only took one play for the Golden Bears to find the end zone and extend their lead to three possessions again. Elias erupted through a wide-open hole his offensive line opened up to spring him for a 59-yard sprint.
“Every game so far, that dude has been a staple of out team,” said Bartlett coach Chance Matsuoka. “He’s reliable offensively and defensively and (is) kind of a machine. He doesn’t get a lot of breaks.”
South started junior Slade Schuster at quarterback, but after he struggled to lead any sustained drives and threw the ball Elias returned for a touchdown, Harmon took over on the Wolverines' last drive before halftime.
Harmon began the season as South’s starting quarterback but suffered a hamstring and calf injury that had sidelined him for a couple games. He led the Wolverines on a six-play drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by running back Loke Lese, making the score 22-6 at the half.
The spark carried over to the second half as the Wolverines tried to mount a comeback. Harmon threw for two touchdowns in the third quarter and punched the ball across the goal line late in the fourth from 1 yard out.
It was likely the final game of the season for the Wolverines. There’s a third-place game scheduled for next weekend against the West Eagles, but coach Walter Harmon said the Wolverines might not play in it because of a rash of injuries and concerns over unnecessary exposure to the COVID-19 virus. Two weeks ago, South beat West 40-6.
“I don’t think we’re going to play,” said Harmon. “We’re held together by twine and baling wire. We’ve managed to lose about three kids every week and we’re trying to make-shift things every time we come out. I don’t know if we’re going to be prepared to play anything next week.”
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