East T-birds captain Austin Johnson injured his right foot Saturday and walked with a notable limp for most of the second half, but nothing would keep him off the field.
Not in his last East Side Boot game against Bartlett. And especially not with Senior Day coming down to the final play from inside the 3-yard line.
Johnson keyed East’s last-second goal-line stand after making an interception in the end zone on Bartlett’s only pass attempt all afternoon as the T-birds hung on for a 20-18 home win.
With 10 seconds left and no timeouts, the Golden Bears might have thought they could get in a quick pass attempt before feeding their bellwether back Makisi Poleo, who racked up 190 yards and three touchdowns.
But the T-birds didn’t give them a second chance after stopping Bartlett on the doorstep after blitzing the quarterback and forcing a poor throw that Johnson grabbed in traffic.
It was the defensive back’s fifth pick of the season, which is tied atop the Cook Inlet Conference.
Johnson also plays quarterback and ranks third in the league with 16 TD passes after throwing for a pair of scores Saturday in addition to his 135 yards of total offense.
East’s workhorse running back Saumani Atiifale racked up 136 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown with 5:42 remaining. The 5-foot-10, 240-pounder averaged 6.2 yards per carry and hit the hole like he was running downhill, dragging defenders on a few runs.
Final CIC Football Standings
Atiifale was responsible for 90 of East’s final 115 yards on offense as he handled the ball on 15 of the last 18 plays.
Meanwhile, Poleo the Punisher was doing his thing for Bartlett.
The 5-foot-9, 220-pounder averaged 8.6 yards per game and scored on runs of 6, 29 and 60 yards. At one point, he scored on back-to-back touches.
In the fourth quarter, moments after East had taken a 14-12 lead and while the T-birds’ cheerleaders were counting off the points, Poleo broke off a 60-yard scoring scamper to rain on the parade.
But East struck up the band on its ensuing drive behind a ground-and-pound rushing attack.
The T-birds marched 56 yards on five runs – an 18-yarder by Atiifale, a 14-yarder by Toa Somoa and three straight by Atiifale capped by his 7-yarder up the middle to make it 20-18.
Bartlett turned it over on downs only to get it back by forcing a three-and-out. Johnson was called on to punt from his team’s 44-yard line, bum boot and all. He blasted the ball and backed Bartlett return man Andre Jameson to his own 9.
That’s when the magic happened.
Jameson returned the punt 82 yards, going from 9-yard line to 9-yard line and putting the Golden Bears in the red zone with 24 seconds left.
Poleo’s 3-yard carry coupled with an East penalty put the ball inside the 3 with 10 seconds left. You know what happened after that.
The East Side Boot is an annual game that has been played between East and Bartlett in memory of former East all-state defensive lineman Aanooalii Filoialii, who was killed in an auto accident in the summer of 2002.
With Saturday’s win, East has claimed The Boot six times in the last seven years. Bartlett’s only win in that stretch came last year, 32-14 at home.
The Golden Bears seized control of this game early, taking advantage of a muffed punt return after Theo Mejia made the recovery at East’s 16-yard line.
Three plays later, Poleo hit pay dirt for a 6-0 lead. The Bartlett were close to going up two scores, but an 11-play drive stalled at the 12-yard line after East made a tackle for loss on 4th-and-short.
Both teams moved the ball after that, but neither could get one past the defense as they applied a bend-don’t-break approach.
The T-birds finally broke through at the end of the first half, capitalizing on a 12-play drive that ended with Johnson’s screen pass to Atiifale that went for a 10-yard score.
In the third quarter, Bartlett defensive lineman Naufahu Gaspar Folauholaofakife grabbed an interception and returned it 41 yards to the East 29 to set up Poleo’s second of three TD runs that put the Golden Bears ahead 12-6.
Johnson led East back on the next drive, finishing it off with a 7-yard TD pass to Andrew Tuitasina for a 14-12 lead.
The T-bird signal caller spread the ball around to seven different receivers and needed guys like Tuitasina and Muhammad Sabally to step up after star wideout Brandon Young missed the second half with an injury.
Tuitasina and Sabally combined for 54 of Johnson’s 105 yards through the air.
Bartlett 6 0 6 6 – 18
East 0 6 0 14 – 20
Bartlett – Poleo 6 run (kick missed)
East – Atiifale 10 pass from Johnson (PAT failed)
Bartlett – Poleo 29 run (run failed)
East – Tuitasina 7 pass from Johnson (Atiifale run)
Bartlett – Poleo 60 run (run failed)
East – Atiifale 7 run (run failed)