West High, the defending large schools state football champion that routinely lit up the scoreboard last season, on Saturday afternoon signaled its offense could be similarly explosive this season -- the Eagles racked up 480 yards total offense in their debut.
The defense, though, looked like a work in progress, surrendering 450 yards to North Pole.
Even so, and despite 18 penalties for 169 yards of back-stepping, West raced to a big early lead and then held off the Patriots for a 44-28 nonconference victory at Anchorage Football Stadium.
West junior quarterback Conor Feckley, who threw for 2,242 yards and 19 touchdowns in engineering the Eagles' 11-0 run a year ago, on Saturday completed 16 of 25 passes for 303 yards and four touchdowns.
But after jumping to a 24-0 lead less than halfway through the second quarter and padding their lead to 37-7 in the third quarter, the Eagles became increasingly fatigued and sloppy. North Pole junior quarterback Moo Rogers pounced -- he exploited them for some of his best work and finished with 186 yards rushing and three touchdowns, and also threw for 234 yards.
Yet West never found itself in serious trouble, largely because it forced five turnovers -- Rogers was intercepted three times and fumbled twice -- and parlayed those momentum-changers into 24 points.
West head coach Tim Davis, who opened his third season by improving to 20-1 overall, was generally pleased, but said his thin team -- the Eagles have 28 players, more than half of whom play both ways -- has ample room for improvement.
"We looked really sharp in the first half and we tired in the second half,'' Davis said. "If other schools were watching, they should smell blood in the water, and we're going to motivate our guys with that.''
North Pole, which plays in the Railbelt Conference and in a 2009 first-round playoff game delivered Davis' only defeat as a head coach, suffered a devastating loss on the opening kickoff.
Sophomore wide receiver Lance Wright, pegged as a dominating player, injured his left knee covering the Patriots' opening kickoff. Wright made a cut on the artificial turf -- no contact was involved -- and crumpled. North Pole coach Richard Henert said preliminary indications are Wright suffered an injury to his anterior cruciate ligament.
"It's a heartbreaker,'' Henert said.
West, which plays in the Cook Inlet Conference, drove 64 yards in 10 plays on the opening possession of the game, scoring on Feckley's 13-yard strike to Kasey Privett. After Rogers lost his grip on the ball while preparing to deliver a pass on North Pole's second play from scrimmage, West's Jacob Crews recovered the fumble and Nathan Sailele busted an 11-yard touchdown run on the Eagles' first play to seize a 14-0 lead.
After Desmond Corpuz intercepted Rogers on North Pole's next possession, West's Tom Troxel nailed a 45-yard field goal that glanced off the fingertips of a Patriot lineman and ricocheted off the left upright. Troxel made five of his six extra-point attempts. He also launched three of his eight kickoffs for touchbacks, booted four others at least as deep as the 5-yard line and punted twice for a 51.5-yard average.
West pushed its lead to 24-0 inside the first five minutes of the second quarter, when it took possession on downs at its own 4-yard-line and Feckley prompted hooked up with Marcel Dion for a 96-yard bomb. Dion made six catches for 124 yards.
Rogers proved a workhorse for North Pole -- he accounted for 420 yards of total offense. Rogers completed nine of his passes to Garrette Duncan, who gained 134 receiving yards.
"Those two guys are gamers -- they're our two best gamers,'' Henert said. "You put the ball in their hands and they will do something with it.''
Feckley, whose offense did not commit a turnover, said the Eagles will learn from their shortcomings even though they moved the ball well and scored on seven of 11 meaningful possessions -- he took a knee twice to run out the clock on West's 12th possession.
"We've got to cut down our penalties and work on our conditioning, but overall, I'm really happy,'' Feckley said. "We're always talking about staying together. Things are going to go wrong in a game -- they always do.
"But if you stay positive and keep working, you'll come out of it.''
Davis said he was impressed the Patriots battled after they lost a standout player on the first play of the game and fell far behind early.
"Give it up for them,'' Davis said. "Hats off to Richard and his team. Most teams would have mailed it in. They did not give up and they fought until the end.''
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
North Pole 0 7 14 7 -- 28
West 17 13 14 0 -- 44
West -- Privett 13 pass from Feckley (Troxel kick), 8:22.
West -- Sailele 13 run (Troxel), 7:31.
West -- Troxel FG 45, 3:47.
West -- Dion 96 pass from Feckely (Troxel), 7:16.
North Pole -- Rogers 2 run (Gibson kick), 3:48.
West -- Dion 5 pass from Tulimsealii (kick failed), 1:02.
West -- Money 10 pass from Feckely (Troxel kick), 7:28.
North Pole -- Rogers 4 run (Gibson kick), 4:55.
West -- Rut 25 pass from Feckley (Troxel kick), 3:20.
North Pole -- Rogers 8 run (Gibson kick), :19.
North Pole -- Snelling 15 run (Gibson kick), 9:06.
North Pole West
First downs 26 18
Rushes-yards 43-216 30-172
Passing yards 234 308
Return yards 55 185
Passes 16-34-3 17-26-0
Punts 1-28.0 2-51.5
Fumbles-lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-yards 9-45 18-169
RUSHING -- North Pole: Rogers 32-186, Snelling 2-22, Davis 6-9, Wentland 3-(-1). West: Tulimasealii 12-88, Sailele 7-40, Dion 1-18, Williams 4-18, Feckley 6-8.
PASSING -- North Pole: Rogers 16-34-3--234. West: Feckely 16-25-0--303, Tulimasealii 1-1-0--5.
RECEIVING -- North Pole: Duncan 9-134, Gibson 3-61, No. 7 2-16, Copeland 1-12, No. 44 1-11. West: Dion 6-124, Brown 5-92, Lawrence 2-44, Rut 1-25, Privett 1-9, Money 1-10, Sailele 1-(-2).