The much anticipated National Bowl showdown between the Railbelt Conference champs, the Chugiak Mustangs and the Cook Inlet runner-ups, the Bartlett Golden Bears lived up to expectations.
With game time 7:00pm the sun setting and the brisk temperatures at the Anchorage Football Stadium, you could see the players breath and a layer of fog hung over the field almost like a blanket.
The first half action felt like the fans were watching a heavyweight prize fight with each team standing toe to toe trading punches. It didn’t take long before the Mustangs landed the first one, a touchdown by Derryk Snell at 10:26 started the back and forth scoring spree.
The Golden Bears marched down the field with relative ease and countered with their first TD of the night tying the game 7-7 — and so it went, back and forth during the first half. When the first half ended almost an hour and twenty minutes later, the score was tied 28-28. Mustang senior linebacker, Derryk Snell scored all the first half touchdowns for the Mustangs with an impressive display of running skill, picking his way through the Golden Bear defense. Equally impressive was Bartlett senior fullback Jontay Edwards who scored three of the Golden Bear TD’s in the first half.
The Mustangs kicked off to the Golden Bears to start the second half, with the ball on the Golden Bear 35 yard line. The first play from scrimmage, Edwards broke tackles, weaved his way through the Mustang defense and took it all the way for a 65 yard touchdown run. That started what appeared to be a continuation of the first half. The Mustangs countered on the next possession, with a touchdown from Austin Harr making the score 35-35.
The defense from both teams seemed as though they could not stop the fire power of the opposing offense. Bartlett countered again, picking up large chunks of yardage and first downs at will. At 7:41 of the third, Bartlett scored and the two-point conversion was good, making the score 35-43. Not to be outdone, Hunter Harr scored on the next possession with the with the quarterback keeper. The PAT (Point after touchdown) was good, and the Mustangs trailed 42-43.
The slug fest continued, with the teams trading touchdowns. Snell scored again for the Mustangs and the third quarter ended, Mustangs 50, Bartlett 51.
As expected, it would all come down in the fourth quarter. Bartlett knotted another TD at 10:34 and converted another two extra points making it 50-59. After the Mustangs took possession, a penalty pushed the Mustangs back deep in their end. Chugiak failed to convert on a fourth down and four yards to go. The Golden Bears took over on downs. Golden Bears scored again, converting the two extra points now making it 50-67 with 5:30 on the clock.
It didn’t take long for the Mustangs to march steadily up field. On a beautiful pass from Hunter Harr to Snell, the Mustangs put more points on the scoreboard with 4:06 remaining. The two-point conversion failed, it’s now 56-67.
The Mustangs attempted an onside kick, the Golden Bears recovered the ball in good field position. Bartlett picked up several critical first downs and Edwards scored again and with two-point conversion good, the score was 56-75.
With 1:58 remaining, Mustangs took possession of the ball on their own 35 yard line. Hunter Harr picked apart the Bartlett defense, gaining first downs along the way. Harr passed to a wide open Ramal Maad in the end zone for the Mustangs final touchdown. The failed two-point conversion made it 62-75.
LAST DITCH EFFORT
With 50 seconds remaining, the Mustangs did an onside kick and successfully recovered the ball giving Mustangs hope. The next play from scrimmage, Harr desperately looking for an open receiver, threw an interception ending the Mustangs hopes for a comeback. The Golden Bears took a knee on the following snap, ending the game.
The mood the Mustang sideline was heavy. Much like the fog that covered the field. There were tears and hugs, epically from the seniors, knowing this was their last game. Mustang Head Coach Roger Spackman gathered the players on their end of the field and talked to them following the game. It was emotional. It was sincere. It was heartfelt. But, it still couldn’t remove the sting of a loss knowing what might have been.
I spoke with Coach Spackman after the game, “Well, it was one of the wildest games I’ve ever been associated with, that’s for sure. Never guessed we would give up 75 points. We tried everything we could think of, adjustments and changes, it just didn’t work. We were hoping for one stop in the second half, we just never got it.” As for the way the team played, Spackman could not of been more proud. “The kids played hard and stayed in till the end.”
Mustang Derryk Snell and Golden Bear Jontay Edwards were awarded ASAA players of the game.
Mustangs finished an impressive season 9-1.
Daniel Shepard is a freelance photojournalist and regular contributor for the ECHO News. He lives and owns a photography business in Eagle River. To learn more about Dan Shepard Photography, visit dan-shepardphotography.com. To reach Dan, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.