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Sunday, September 30, 2007

'The Boot' trumps playoffs for T-bird

RIVALRY: East junior wants trophy that represents bragging rights over Bartlett more than earning a postseason spot.

While talk in football circles this week has largely revolved around the postseason, East's Jordan Ulukivaiola had another topic on his agenda.

Although the fifth-ranked T-birds face a must-win situation tonight at Anchorage Football Stadium against Bartlett in a game that will advance one of the teams into the playoffs, playing for a state title wasn't on the mind of this junior running back/linebacker.

Ulukivaiola's primary thought at Wednesday's practice was preserving "The East-side Boot" for the fifth straight season.

"Everyone's talking about playoffs," he said. "Sure, we win, we're in. But I really don't care if we're in the playoffs. All I want is The Boot."

The trophy East and Bartlett play for -- a memorial to Aanooalii "Auno" Filoialii, the former T-bird defensive lineman who was killed in an automobile accident in summer 2002 -- is enough motivation for Ulukivaiola to help East keep the hardware at home.

And for eighth-year East coach Roger Spackman to hear Ulukivaiola summon memories of Filoialii more than the T-birds' shot at the playoffs was not surprising. Spackman said Ulukivaiola is one of the only guys remaining on the team who once knew Filoialii.

Spackman put "The Boot" on display at AFS for Wednesday's practice. He placed the trophy, which has Filoialii's old Nike turf shoe mounted on top, on the home-side bench.

"I used to play pick-up football with him when I was nine," said Ulukivaiola, who was resting on the bench, peering down at the trophy as it glistened in the afternoon sun. "Man, that was a long time ago."

Spackman said he wanted his players to see "The Boot" for two reasons -- to pay respect to Filoialii, and to remember the significance of tonight's game.

"It's a must win," he said. "If Bartlett wins then we'll both have the same record and they beat us head-to-head."

If Bartlett (4-3 overall, 3-3 Cook Inlet Conference) wins, it still will not secure a playoff berth unless South (5-2, 4-2) also beats Dimond (4-3, 3-3). If East (4-3, 4-2) wins, it's headed to the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

Ulukivaiola took last week off to nurse an injured foot suffered against West. A pair of mammoth West defenders crushed his right foot, he said, on two different plays. But he said the foot is good enough to go.

Spackman said Ulukivaiola will start on defense, which needs to stop the conference's top rusher, Jamal Hale. Ulukivaiola is also East's second-leading rusher behind quarterback Andy Wilson.

"Bartlett is a perfect time for him to come back," Wilson said. "It's the biggest game of the year."

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