East scored on six straight possessions to defeat Kenai Central 42-7 on Friday night in season-opening nonconference action at Ed Hollier Field in Kenai.
The Kardinals are the defending medium-schools state champion, while East was eliminated in the big-schools quarterfinals last year.
Kenai Central coach John Marquez said the Kards had just three players Friday who also played in the state championship — Grayden Mendenhall, Duncan Brewer and Brad Smithwick.
East coach Jeff Trotter said the Thunderbirds returned about four starters on both sides of the ball. He added that East plays so many players in each game that number of starters returning is a statistic without a lot of meaning.
Marquez said he knew that opening up against an experienced, big-schools team would be tough for his inexperienced bunch. He said that if the Kards had played a perfect game, they still would have lost 28-14 or 28-10.
"We were overmatched going in," he said. "We knew that."
While the Kards didn't have a perfect game, they did have a perfect start. J'von O'Neal intercepted East quarterback Jesse Vanilau on the first play of the game.
However, Kenai's offense had two pre-snap penalties and had to punt the ball back. The Kards would gain just 106 yards and make seven first downs in the game.
Trotter said his squad gave up the least points in the Cook Inlet Conference last season.
"We're pretty stout on defense," he said. "This was a good start."
Marquez did not expect to gash the Thunderbirds for big plays, but he did want his team to be able to possess the ball more.
"We can't have those pre-snap penalties," he said. "We also should be able to get 3 or 4 yards on every play. That will be a focus at offensive practice this week.
"Our offense has to be able to keep the ball."
Marquez said the offense also was hurt by an early ankle injury to running back Mendenhall, who had limited carries the rest of the game due to trouble cutting.
East lost a fumble to end its second possession, but then the floodgates opened. The Thunderbirds scored touchdowns on their next six possessions to take a 35-0 lead at halftime and a 42-0 lead with 8:00 left in the third quarter.
Vanilau, receiver Jarred Laws and running back Osa Atiifale did the damage for East.
Vanilau, a returner, passed for 143 yards, rushed for two touchdowns and threw for another touchdown. Laws, a returning all-state player, had three catches for 100 yards, including a touchdown. Atiifale rushed nine times for 109 yards.
East's other scores came from Jakeil Bell, Etsone Mulu and Ed Jones.
On its scoring drives, East converted four third downs of more than 5 yards and one fourth-and-one.
Marquez said those are the plays a team like Kenai has to make on defense if it is going to stay with a team like East.
"Some of them were missed coverages, some were missed tackles," Marquez said. "If you don't wrap up against a team like East, this is what happens."
Marquez said the bright spot is that his team did not quit playing. The coach was particularly happy with quarterback Andrew Barcus, who never left the field.
With 9:42 left in the game, Mendenhall recovered a fumble at East's 20-yard line.
The Thunderbirds put in their No. 1 defense to try and preserve the shutout.
Kenai put together a seven-play drive that culminated when Brewer plunged into the end zone from the 1-yard line on a fourth-and-goal.
"This is a group that believes in one another," Marquez said. "They believe in the concept of team."
Thunderbird 42, Kardinals 7
Eas — Bell 5 run (Gingras kick), 1:20
Eas — Mulu 6 run (Gingras kick), 9:45
Eas — Jones 1 run (Gingras kick), 5:55
Eas — Laws 46 pass from Vanilau (Gingras kick), 3:29
Eas — Vanilau 10 run (Gingras kick), 0:39
Eas — Vanilau 43 run (Gingras kick), 8:00
Ken — Brewer 1 run (Wagoner kick), 3:51
Rushing — East: Atiifale 9-109, Vanilau 3-57, Bell 3-11, Lealao 4-20, Mulu 3-7, Jones 4-4, Cottee 2-5, Wolfe 3-(-1). Kenai: Mendenhall 7-31, Barcus 13-28, Daniels 15-36, Wagoner 3-2, Brewer 1-3.
Passing — East: Vanilau 5-10-1—143. Kenai: Barcus 1-4-1—10.
Receiving — East: Laws 3-100, Blunt 1-35, Luafulu 1-8. Kenai: Wagoner 1-10.