Wyatt Dunlap had a big hand in the Eielson Ravens reaching the small-schools football semifinals.
The sophomore linebacker's pass deflection in the end zone was just as critical as the two touchdown runs by quarterback Pat Brown in Eielson's 12-6 victory over the Skyview Panthers in Saturday afternoon's small-schools state quarterfinal at Buck Nystrom Field on Eielson Air Force Base.
The Ravens advanced to the semifinal round for the first time since 2008, and Eielson will play at the Anchorage Football Stadium at either at 4 p.m. Friday or 4:30 p.m. Saturday against the Soldotna Stars, last year's state runner-up.
"This means a lot to us. You look at the crowd and see everybody crying ... it's nice," said Ravens senior running back Howard Smith, who rushed 26 times for 86 to give him 1,078 for the season, during a postgame celebration.
Dunlap's pass coverage meant a lot, too, to the 6-3 Ravens.
With 10:12 left in the final quarter, the Panthers of Soldotna got the ball to the Ravens 1-yard line with after a 7-yard charge up the middle from Skyview senior running back Vlad Ferderer, who finished with a game-high 110 yards on 14 carries.
Eielson's goal-line defense stopped Ferderer at the 1 on third down and Skyview was whistled for a false start on fourth down. The Panthers, at the 6, decided to try to reach the end zone again and quarterback Jordan Jones threw to a diving Nick Symonds in the middle of the end zone.
Dunlap dove in front of the Panthers senior and extended his left hand to break up the pass, denying Symonds a second touchdown Saturday.
"It was cover 3 and I saw the guy come deep. I was blocking it, I saw the slant and I was just making the play on the ball,'' Dunlap said. "It was beautiful."
The Ravens were coming off season-ending losses at Soldotna and Greatland Conference rival Nikiski, and a huge part of Eielson's postseason preparation was shoring up its defensive secondary, particularly for Jones.
The Skyview junior entered the playoff with 1,642 yards passing, 24 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
On Saturday, he completed 12 of 29 passes for 178 yards with one interception, and a 39-yard strike to a wide-open Symonds for the game's first score.
Eielson, though, gradually raised its pressure on Jones and in the fourth quarter, it caused him to throw three straight incompletions on his last attempts.
His final pass, with fourth down and 13 at the Eielson 38 with 1:25 left, sailed high past wide receiver Richard Reynolds, who was streaking down the right sideline and had a step on Dunlap. Shortly after the play, a frustrated Reynolds pounded his fist into the grass behind the right corner of the end zone while a jubilant Dunlap raised his arms while running back to the Ravens sideline.
"They started getting to us a little bit more and started getting the pass rush,'' Skyview head coach Eric Pomerleau, whose team ended the year at 6-3. "We had some chances but we just couldn't connect, and they were changing their coverages and they did a really nice job defensively scheming."
Ravens head coach David DeVaughn said the pass coverage developed from Eielson's base defense.
"We were rolling people to put people in different places to kind of confuse them a bit,'' DeVaughn said. "The guys bought it into this week and they really learned their assignments. They executed excellently, except for the first broken coverage."
The Ravens were in zone coverage when Jones found Symonds alone with 9:44 left in the first quarter for a 6-0 lead.
"That was miscommunication,'' said Brown, who also played in the defensive secondary.
Brown's feet spoke volumes to send Eielson to Anchorage this coming weekend.
Cornerback Sam Borrego intercepted Jones' pass for Symonds at the Eielson 38 on a first-down play from the 43 with 5:44 left in the second quarter.
Five minutes and 14 plays later, Brown faked a handoff to Howard Smith at the Skyview 5 and bolted up the middle into the end zone. The senior provided the game-winner on a 9-yard scamper with 2:24 left in the third quarter.
"Everyone was doing their assignments, all 11 guys were busting their butts. I'm proud of our guys, I'm proud of everyone of us," said Brown, who finished 20 carries for 105 yards.
Brown also completed two of three passes for 26 yards and was intercepted by Skyview's Albert White in the first quarter.
RAVENS 12, PANTHERS 6
Skyview 6 0 0 0 -- 6
Eielson 0 6 6 0 -- 12
Skyview--Symonds 39 pass from Jones (kick failed), 9:44.
Eielson--Brown 5 run (kick failed), :44.4.
Eielson--Brown 9 run (run failed), 2:24.
First Downs 10 11
Rushes-Yards 19-117 51-235
Comp-Att-Int 12-29-1 2-3-1
Passing yards 178 26
Return yards 50 58
Punts-Avg 4-29.5 5-25.8
Fumbles-Lost 4-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 8-52 5-30
RUSHING-- Skyview: Federer 15-113, Jones 3-3, Diaz 1-1. Eielson: Brown 20-105, H. Smith 26-86, Ellsworth 4-40, Dunlap 1-4.
PASSING--Skyview: Jones 12-29-1-178. Eielson: Brown 2-3-1-26.
RECEIVING--Skyview: Symonds 4-93, Reynolds 4-46, White 3-23, McNamara 1-16. Eielson: Z. Ellingson 1-14, Delauder 1-12.
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