East edges Eagle River

Homecoming game goes down to the wire


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Eagle River quarterback Peter Kott delivers the ball toward the end zone for a first-half touchdown to receiver Kelechi Madubuko during Eagle River’s 21-19 loss to East on Saturday, Sept. 17 at Eagle River.

STAR PHOTO BY MIKE NESPER

Eagle River’s first true home homecoming varsity football game Saturday, Sept. 17 did not disappoint.

The game — which East Anchorage won 21-19 — was up for grabs until the final seconds of the fourth quarter.

Trailing by two late in the game, the Wolves started from their own 25-yard line. Fourteen-yard runs by Danton Evilsizer and Peter Kott put Eagle River into East territory. After a 9-yard gain by Evilsizer, the drive stalled.

Evilsizer was stopped for no gain and Kott was hit for a 1-yard loss to bring up 4th down and 2 with 1:45 to play. The home crowd — witnessing the first CIC game played at Eagle River — reached a volume not heard all game. But a false start pushed the Wolves back 5 yards.

“It kind of shut us down,” sophomore Ed Hall said of the penalty.

Eagle River atoned for the infraction, and a 9-yard strike from Kott to Evilsizer moved the chains. After running for no gain, Kott took a 10-yard sack.

The Wolves had no timeouts remaining to stop the clock.

A short gain from Kott to Kelechi Madubuko put Eagle River in another 4th down situation as the clock continued to run.

With under 30 ticks to go, Kott found a wide open Javon Cross, but the junior receiver dropped the pass, turning the ball over on downs.

It took one East kneel down to run out the clock.

“I wish we could have come out on top,” Hall said. “If we could have just finished, it would have been good.”

Hall led all Eagle River rushers with 93 yards.

“He had a great game today,” Wolves head coach Kenny Ray said.

Playing at Eagle River fueled the Wolves from the first kickoff, Hall said.

“We were hyped,” he said. “We were ready to go.”

Ray agreed.

“They had a lot of emotion to start,” he said.

The Wolves, who dropped to 0-5 in the CIC and 0-6 overall, took their first drive into the red zone. But East’s Jarred Laws put an abrupt end to the potential scoring drive with an interception at the Thunderbirds’ own 5-yard line.

The turnover resulted in points — for Eagle River. Two plays after the pick, Josh Vanderlooven and Jachi Madubuko took East quarterback Jesse Vanilau down in the end zone for a safety. The Wolves sacked Vanilau five times — four in the first half — keeping him to just one rush for positive yards.

Eagle River overloaded the left and blitzed from both sides to get the safety, Vanderlooven said.

“We did what we practiced all week, and it was effective,” he said.

Eagle River fumbled away the ensuing East kickoff, but Sam Banks regained possession for the Wolves four plays later. The senior linebacker, who hasn’t played since Week 1 due to injury, picked Vanilau off at Eagle River’s 40-yard line.

The Wolves gave possession right back to East on the next play after Hall fumbled.

After two Vanilau incompletions and a sack by Jachi Madubuko, Eagle River took over on its own 27. Jordan Patin capped off the 11-play drive with a 41-yard field goal.

Eagle River’s defense again forced a three-and-out. And again, Vanderlooven came up huge. He blocked East’s punt, putting Eagle River on the Thunderbirds’ 2-yard line.

Kott hit Kelechi Madubuko in the end zone three plays later with a 5-yard pass to give Eagle River a 12-0 lead with 7:30 to play in the first half.

East responded with an 11-play, 80-yard scoring drive to cut the lead to 6 at halftime — Eagle River’s first lead this season after two quarters of play.

Brody DeLoria, who finished with 72 yards and two touchdowns, took a 1-yard run in for the score.

DeLoria kept the drive alive by converting a 4th down and 1. He followed with a 20-yard gain. Once inside the 10, three straight DeLoria runs gave East its first points of the game.

DeLoria capped off an 88-yard drive with a 12-yard run to give East its first lead of the game with 33.5 seconds to play in the third quarter.

Prior to the touchdown, Eagle River stopped East on a 4th and long, however, a face mask penalty gave the T-Birds a first down, and DeLoria scored on the next snap.

Kott hit a diving Jeavonte Dunn over the middle from 8 yards out to regain the lead for Eagle River — four plays after recovering an East fumble — with 8:05 to play in fourth.

East scored on its next possession to take the lead right back. Osa Atifale Jr. escaped for a 20-yard score with 5:05 to play to put East up 21-19.

The Wolves’ next matchup is against Service, who is undefeated in conference play, at Chugiak’s Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium on Friday, Sept. 23 at 7 p.m.

Following the loss, Ray had nothing but positive comments to say about his squad.

“These kids played their hearts out,” he said. “These kids ain’t got nothing to be ashamed of. We got in the trenches and stayed at it.”

Vanderlooven and Hall both said playing at home was special.

“I wouldn’t want to play anywhere else than Eagle River,” Vanderlooven said. “Win, lose or draw, it was a great feeling.”

 

Contact Mike Nesper at 694-2727 or mike.nesper@alaskastar.com

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