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East escapes with share of title

Among the interceptions, the penalties and just the all-around poor execution, the East Leopards didn't play Thursday like a team seeking a piece of a region championship.

They got it anyway thanks in large part to Billy Takai's big run.

The senior tailback zig-zagged his way 81 yards late in the fourth quarter to help set up the game-clinching touchdown as East held off West 18-7 in the 108th installment of the long-standing rivalry.

"Billy is a very, very electric player, and there are times when he comes up in the clutch," East coach Aaron Whitehead said.

Takai finished the game with only four carries, but he made the most of them with 104 yards. His 81-yard scamper to the 2-yard line came with 2:20 remaining in the game, and one player later East quarterback Eric Bohling punched it in extending the Leopards' lead to 18-7.

The victory ensured East of finishing in a three-way tie for the Region 6 championship with Highland and Cottonwood, who were also winners Thursday. The principals of all three schools will flip coins today at 10 a.m. to determine state-tournament seeding.

"We were fortunate to get out of here with a victory, and now it's up to the fate of the principals to see who flips the coin which way," Whitehead said.

With the loss, West enters the playoffs as the No. 4 seed from Region 6.

If either team plans on succeeding in the playoffs it must do a better job capitalizing on opportunities than it did Thursday. In the first half alone, East threw a pair of interceptions deep in West territory, whereas West mismanaged the clock in the waning seconds of the first half and failed to get a field-goal attempt off — much like California against Oregon State last weekend — as East led 6-0 at the half.

It didn't take West long to turn things around in the third quarter. On the Panthers' first possession they marched 66 yards on eight plays to go ahead 7-6 as Daniel Ray connected with Chase Taylor on a 17-yard touchdown strike.

Just when it seemed West had seized momentum, East responded with its own scoring drive aided by a pair of third-down conversions. The first was courtesy of a West offside penalty, but the second was a 29-yard reception by Chris Toronto down to the 11-yard line.

Two plays later Brock Sine scored on a five-yard run as East regained the lead 12-7 despite the failed two-point conversion.

West had decent field position on two separate fourth-quarter drives — thanks largely to Jacob Zambrano's third interception of the game — but the Panthers failed to capitalize and were forced to punt twice before Takai sealed the victory.

After the game, Whitehead was elated to announced East's offensive line didn't surrender a sack once this year.

"I think they're great, they just take everything serious and they take pride in what they do," said Whitehead.