Wolves, Mustangs set to tangle
Chugiak’s Duncan Shackelford knows what to expect when Eagle River comes calling.
“They’ve got some kids who can flat get it going,” Shackelford said after his team went to 1-0 in its season opener against South on Aug. 13.
Eagle River, too, will be prepared. Friday’s matchup at 7 p.m. at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium has been on the Wolves’ minds for months.
“It’s what we’ve been thinking about all summer,” wide receiver Danton Evilsizer said after Eagle River lost its season opener 41-16 to Soldotna.
In addition to blazing speed brought by Kelechi Madubuko and company, Shackelford said he knows the Wolves would like nothing more than to knock off their rivals from north of the river.
“Eagle River will come out next week and give us their best game,” he said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
Last season, Chugiak won a hard-fought 27-14 victory over the Wolves at Anchorage Football Stadium in a game that was up for grabs late after a Malcolm Bell touchdown run cut Chugiak’s lead to 20-14 with just over six minutes to play. Bell also had a 96-yard kickoff return touchdown and caught five passes, while Madubuko scrambled nine times for a team-high 83 yards on the ground.
Bell’s strong return game continued against Soldotna. He returned a kickoff for 71 yards, nearly breaking free for a touchdown. Madubuko added a 73-yard punt return for a score and caught a 64-yard touchdown pass from Peter Kott.
Chugiak can counter Eagle River’s explosiveness with bulk up front and speed in the defensive backfield, but cornerback Deven Ferriss said he’s still expecting to have his hands full.
“Any game against Eagle River you know is going to be a battle,” Ferriss said.
Missed blocks and fatigue in the second half led to the Stars’ Week 1 victory, Eagle River head coach Kenny Ray said.
“Defensively, we played decent ball,” he said. “Offensively, we didn’t block.”
The team learned valuable lessons in the loss, Bell said.
“It was an eye opener for us,” he said. “By next game, we’ll have it together.”
The Wolves will go right back into their one-game-at-a-time mentality this week at practice, Ray said.
Greg Ghramm had 284 yards and three touchdowns for Chugiak in last year’s game. That won’t happen this year. The Mustangs used seven ball carriers (Jake Wenzl, Dane Prince, Dylan Timberlake, Justin Schneider, Justin Benzel, Wayde Snell and Travis Craig) and an opportunistic defense to wear down the Wolverines in their Week 1 triumph, and Wenzl said the Mustangs plan the same multi-back attack against the Wolves.
“We’re just going to play the way we play,” Wenzl said.
Playing the entire 48 minutes will be crucial for success, Madubuko said.
“We just have to play four quarters,” he said. “Give maximum effort for the whole game.”
Bell said Eagle River can’t get caught up in emotion, either.
“We have to play it down by down,” he said.
Staying disciplined is essential, Bell said. Eagle River committed 17 penalties for 131 yards against Soldotna.
Shackelford said he planned to be especially tough on his team in the week leading up to the game.
“Our saying this year is hard work starts Monday,” he said.
Shackelford said Chugiak can’t afford a letdown after opening the season with a big win.
“We need to be 2-0 in the conference, that’s the bottom line,” he said.
Despite the magnitude of Friday’s contest, Eagle River wants more than just one good performance against Chugiak this season.
“It’s a big game, but we can’t base our season around it,” Madubuko said. “We’ll have to focus on every game.”
Bell said the team’s goals include more than winning just one big game this season.
“We want to accomplish something better this year,” Bell said.