High School Sports

East High dominates Juneau for triumphant win in Division I state football championship game

The Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School Thunderbirds won the Division I high school football state championship on Friday night with a commanding 30-17 triumph over the Juneau Huskies.

With the victory, they were able to capture their fourth title in the last six years by avenging their lone loss of the regular season.

“Unfortunately, every year it seems like we need a little kick in the butt,” said East High coach Jeff Trotter. “We’ve had a lot of success, and sometimes I think the expectation is that you’re just going to get it just because we show up. Teams don’t care. They all want the same thing, they’re shooting for that same trophy and if you don’t come out and respect them, they’re going to get you.”

East traveled to the state’s capital city in early September riding high on a three-game winning streak to start the season, but returned home humbled after a 39-28 defeat.

“I feel what fueled us today was that loss against this team that we played six weeks back,” East junior Punimatagi Pa’u said. “That’s what fueled us to be better and that’s why we won state.”

Championship ride home!

Posted by East High Football on Friday, October 22, 2021

The stunning result was the wake-up call East High needed to propel players down the stretch on their championship run.

“It was game-changing for our season,” senior quarterback Kyler Johnson said. “We needed it because we went in there thinking we were all that, and when we came out, we’ve been different ever since.”

[Championship caps off a season of adversity for the East High Thunderbirds]

Although the title game took place on neutral ground, it might as well have been a home game for the Thunderbirds. Their fans filled the parking lot, flooded the stands and lined the fence at Service High School. Chants of “EAST SIDE THUNDERBIRDS!” and “WHOSE HOUSE? OUR HOUSE!” reverberated through the stadium.

East fed off that energy and leaned on a punishing rushing attack all night long. The Thunderbird offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage and imposed its will on the Huskies from start to finish.

“I said I’m going old school because we used to run 75 to 80% of the time, and that was just what we were known for,” Trotter said. “I said, ‘I think you’re going to see the old us and if we can, we’ll toss in a few passes.’ ”

Despite not having senior running back Elijah Reed — one of the team’s best players — fully available due to an ankle sprain he suffered in the semifinal round, they were still able to steamroll the Huskies’ defense. With the CIC Offensive Player of the Year mostly watching the game from the sideline, East relied on a platoon of rushers to fill the void.

Senior Amosa Sou led the team in rushing with 63 yards. Sophomore Andrew Montenegro finished second with 59 yards and was named one of the players of the game. And Pa’u scored the Thunderbirds’ first 14 points of the game with a pair of 1-yard first-half touchdowns with a two-point conversion sandwiched in between.

“Just like in the Colony game, I stepped up when Reed was hurt from a concussion,” Pa’u said. “I feel like anyone would’ve done that in this team, and they did. They got first down after first down.”

Johnson was named the player of the game for East after he notched two second-half rushing touchdowns and left everything he had on the field. After the final seconds ticked off the clock, he sat down on the ground and stared at the scoreboard in jubilation before being bombarded by his teammates as they rushed the field to celebrate.

“Four years ago, I couldn’t imagine myself in this position,” Johnson said. “It’s just an honor to play with these guys, and I just did what I had to do to help my team win.”

Johnson scored on pair of scrambles from 10 yards and 1 yard out. The first was followed by a third straight two-point conversion and extended East’s lead to three scores in the third quarter. The second pretty much put the game out of reach five minutes later, even after the team’s only unsuccessful two-point conversion attempt of the game.

“Coach just wanted to win and do whatever he could to get the most points we could on the board,” said Johnson.

Juneau put up its first points of the game early in the second quarter to cut the Thunderbirds’ lead to one point, at 8-7, with 9 1/2 minutes of play until halftime. The scoring play involved a 36-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Noah Chambers to his fellow senior James Connally, who got behind the East defense and was wide open for the score.

The Huskies missed a pair of short field goals in the first half and continued to fight even when victory seemed largely out of reach before the start of the fourth quarter. Juneau converted a field goal in the third quarter thanks to a bounce off the crossbar and scored a touchdown with just over five minutes left in the game.