East High quarterback Kyler Johnson threw for three touchdowns and ran for two Saturday afternoon to propel the Thunderbirds past Bartlett 32-20.
With the victory, the Thunderbirds held onto the East Side Boot, the coveted trophy at stake in the annual rivalry game between Anchorage’s two east-side schools.
The teams have played for the Boot since 2002, the year East all-state defensive end Aanooali “Auno” Filoialli was killed in a car accident. Filoialli’s bronzed cleat sits atop the trophy.
“The kids know that it’s bigger than a football game,” East coach Jeff Trotter said. “The rivalry is one thing, but really it’s about life and how short it can be.”
East improved to 6-1 overall and 5-1 in the Cook Inlet Conference with one week left in the regular season. Bartlett dropped to 3-4, 2-4.
Though he didn’t make it into the end zone, Elijah Reed rushed for 120 yards to keep the Thunderbirds moving all game long.
He ripped off several runs for chunks of yardage and flipped the field on a pair of long plays in the second half. The first was a 40-yard run on East’s first possession and the second was a 64-yard catch-and-run on the next drive.
“I just try to finish them as strong as I can and get as much yards as I can,” Reed said.
East jumped to a 13-0 halftime lead behind the potent combination of Johnson and receiver Deuce Zimmerman.
They hooked up for both touchdowns, the first on 15-yard pass in the first quarter and the second on a 4-yard jump ball that Zimmerman came down with it despite being draped by two defenders.
East was facing 4th-and-15 when Johnson threw his first touchdown pass. It was initially deflected before it was hauled in by Zimmerman in the back of the end zone.
“I had to make a play so I just threw it up and Deuce of course came down with it,” Johnson said.
Johnson twice turned 4th-and-long plays into touchdowns. The second time, it was 4th-and-11 with 83 seconds left in the game when he tossed a 16-yard scoring strike to Buster Stubbs.
“Kyler is a good athlete and he definitely makes some magic our there sometimes,” Trotter said. “It’s tough to account for him and defenses (have) to know that even if they got receivers locked down, they still have to account for him.”
East expanded its lead to 26-0 in the third quarter on two touchdown runs by Johnson before Bartlett finally found the end zone on Manu Auelua-Salele’s 10-yard run.
The Golden Bears battled to the bitter end with two touchdown runs by Niko Alailefaleula late in the fourth quarter, with a recovered onside kick sandwiched in-between.
“They saved a lot of pride and dignity in that second half and I’m super proud of them,” Bartlett coach Chance Matsuoka said.
Bartlett came into the game thin on both sides of the ball, including at quarterback. The Golden Bears were down three quarterbacks coming into the game and lost a fourth early in the game.
Alailefaleula, usually a running back, played quarterback for the remainder of the game.
“We were just pulling guys from wherever, had no subs at running back, so they were playing both ways,” said Matsuoka.
Matsuoka said the Bartlett-East rivalry is enriched by bonds between players who line up against each other. Some kids are either related or neighbors.
“This game has always been intense but it’s always been a good intensity,” he said. “We come together after the game and the east-side schools are united win or lose.”