A successful debut

Mustangs show off new look with big CIC win


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Chugiak linebacker Justin Benzel pounces on South quarterback Zachary Lujan during the Mustangs’ 21-18 Cook Inlet Conference win at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium on Saturday, Aug. 13. Benzel had three quarterback sacks in the game to lead a Chugiak defense that also forced three turnovers, including a 95-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Deven Ferriss.

STAR PHOTO BY MATT TUNSETH

Chugiak’s fall debut was a smashing success Saturday night as the new-look Mustangs fashioned a 21-18 Cook Inlet Conference football win over South at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium.

“This year we’ve got a few more weapons,” said Mustangs coach Duncan Shackelford, who rotated a half-dozen running backs into the game.

Dylan Timberlake and Wayde Snell had rushing touchdowns for the Mustangs, who also got a 95-yard interception return from Deven Ferriss to seal the victory.

“It’s a great way to start the season,” said Ferriss, whose “pick six” gave Chugiak a 21-12 lead with just over six minutes to go. “Now we’ve just got to build on it.”

Senior captain Travis Craig led Chugiak (1-0 CIC, 1-0 overall) with 47 rushing yards on two carries – the first of which was a 46-yard scamper on the team’s second play from scrimmage that came off a perfectly-timed option pitch from quarterback Jake Wenzl. Craig’s run set up sophomore Dylan Timberlake, who rumbled into the end zone from 16 yards out to open the scoring. Dane Prince’s conversion pass to Luke Plumb then made it 8-0 with 6:50 left in the quarter.

Justin Schneider added 24 yards on 13 carries for Chugiak, which also got positive rushing yards from Wenzl, Prince, Snell and Justin Benzel.

“We had a lot of running backs coming in and out,” Wenzl said.

Chugiak’s new-look offense also produced some passing highlights, as Wenzl connected on four long passes, including two to junior Tyler Rohde.

The share-the-wealth approach is a departure from the past couple years, when feature backs ate up most of the carries in Chugiak’s power running attack. But instead of relying on one single player, Shackelford said he likes the idea of having several solid backs to choose from.

“It’s nice having a full stable of horses,” said Shackelford. “That was a bad cliché, wasn’t it?”

Cliché or not, Chugiak’s paddock is indeed packed this season. A total of 10 different players gained positive yards in the game, and Shackelford said even more could have.

“I’ve got a couple of young backs who didn’t even touch the ball tonight,” said Shackelford, whose team also debuted new uniforms in the season-opener.

The new look still features the old color scheme – black and blue – and Chugiak’s defense did plenty to strike fear into the Wolverines. The Mustangs sacked Lujan six times, forced three turnovers and saw a defensive star emerge in the form of Justin Benzel, who notched three sacks.

“I wonder why he played jayvee as a sophomore,” Shackelford said.

Shackelford said both Benzels – the other twin, Dakota, started on the line – were key to the solid defensive effort.

“He and Dakota both did great for us,” he said.

Justin Benzel said his strategy for getting to the quarterback was simple.

“I just put my head down and tried my best,” he said.

Steven Puterbaugh added a sack and fumble recovery for Chugiak’s defensive front, which was in Lujan’s face all night long.

Though many of Chugiak’s faces are new, Ferriss said the team is made of up a good mix of seasoned veterans and newcomers who all came up through Chugiak’s system together.

“We’ve been together for a couple years now,” Ferriss said.

South (0-1 CIC, 0-1 overall) cut Chugiak’s lead to 8-6 on a Dante Williams touchdown run (the conversion failed) later in the first quarter, and Chugiak countered with a 2-yard Snell run to make it 15-6 to end the first.

The Wolverines struck back with a 37-yard pass from Lujan to David Alston to make it 15-12 at halftime.

A scoreless third quarter was followed by a wild fourth highlighted by two big returns — and another that wasn’t.

Ferriss started the fireworks with his electrifying interception return. With the Wolverines facing a crucial fourth-and-eight on the Chugiak 16, Lujan dropped back to pass and faced almost immediate pressure. Just as Chugiak’s Luke Plumb was closing in, Lujan fired in the direction of Alston — and found Ferriss instead.

“I just saw it and broke on it and then tried to beat everybody down the field,” Ferriss said.

Not a contest, as the speedster went straight for the sidelines and was never challenged.

“I knew he was quick, but man is that kid quick,” Shackelford said of his junior cornerback. “He was pulling away.”

Chugiak got a big break on the ensuing kickoff return when Williams’ 75-yard return for a touchdown was negated by a South hold.

Undaunted by Ferriss’ pick, Lujan led his team down the field once again, pushing the Wolverines to the Chugiak 12 before Craig decided it was his turn to play Deion Sanders. Craig picked Lujan off near the Chugiak own goal line and nearly took another one to the house, returning the interception all the way to the South 15.

“This is the quickest team I’ve ever coached at Chugiak,” Shackelford said.

Lujan finished with 241 passing yards, and South coach John Lewis said he didn’t regret his team’s pass-first approach.

“When you have a quarterback and a passing game, you sling it,” he said.

South got the ball back once more, and this time Lujan finally got lucky, hoisting a touchdown pass through the outstretched arms of Justin Benzel with just :00.6 seconds left on the clock. Benzel said the earlier two interception returns may have been on his mind as the ball slipped through his fingers.

“My hands were there. I think I was just focused more on running than catching it,” he said.

South’s onside kick try was unsuccessful, and Wenzl took a knee to finish things off.

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