Two seasons ago South's Zach Lujan played in the state football playoffs for the first time, a freshman who had just been called up for his first varsity game.
The Wolverines were blown out by Palmer that day, and the 36-point loss was something Lujan didn't want to experience again at Dimond Alumni Field on Saturday.
Lujan got his wish. This time it was the Wolverines delivering the blowout, a 38-0 dismantling of a West Valley team that came in with six wins and a share of the Railbelt Conference title.
"A field goal here or there and they're No. 1," South coach John Lewis said of West Valley's march through the regular season.
The Wolverines, who will play West in next week's semfinals, took such a quick lead Saturday, West Valley didn't have the luxury of attempting any field goals. Senior running back Tommy Hopp struck for the first score on a 4-yard run on South's opening drive. A 20-yard touchdown pass from Lujan to Will Krolick gave the Wolverines a 12-0 lead midway through the first quarter and South never let up on its way to a 24-0 halftime lead.
Lujan, who finished with 111 passing yards and a rushing touchdown to go with his passing touchdown, said the game may have been South's best of the season.
"Everything was finally clicking at the right moments," he said.
South (7-2) held the Wolfpack (6-3) to 38 rushing yards and picked off West Valley quarterback Tucker Plass three times -- the result of some new defensive schemes inserted by a defensive coaching staff that Lewis said worked overtime all week to prepare for the game.
Hopp, who also plays linebacker, said several players switched defensive positions in recent games and the moves have made all the difference.
"Because early in the year we got pushed around," he said. "We finally got everyone in the right spots."
Outside linebacker Aaron Esplin was in the right spot throughout the game, disrupting a variety of West Valley running formations.
"Little No. 4 was playing out of his mind," Lewis said of the 5-foot-8, 155-pound junior . "He played beyond his body."
It wasn't just the defense that excelled for the Wolverines, whose offense racked 215 rushing yards on 42 carries that were split among 10 ball carriers. Using a multitude of backs has been a trademark of South's offense all season.
"A lot of these guys are also on defense, so some of those guys get winded," said running back Sharif Taha.
Taha made the most of his three touches, scoring his first touchdowns of the season on two of them. His 16-yard touchdown run in the second quarter gave South an 18-0 lead and his 11-yard score in the fourth quarter put an exclamation point on the big win.
The final dagger came from Michael Wilson, South's leading rusher who turned a broken run to the left side into a 39-yard touchdown up the right side, bringing his rushing total to 87 yards on eight carries.
Lewis said the running game's success was a product of great blocking by the offensive line. Almost every time the West Valley defense mounted a challenge by stopping a running play, the South line came back with big blocks to spring a runner loose on the next play.
"Eight guys in the box and it didn't matter," Lewis said.
West Valley hoped to start fast and maybe catch South by surprise. The Wolfpack attempted an on-side kick on the game's opening kickoff, but South recovered it.
Then on their first possession, the Wolfpack tried a fake punt on a fourth-down play near midfield but failed to convert.
"We were gonna come out and win," West Valley coach Daniel Esparza said. "We weren't gonna come out tentative."
West Valley center Ray Garris-Shoemaker said the Wolfpack made too many mental mistakes that led to big plays for South. The senior said it was a tough way to end his high school career, especially since the team played so well all season.
"It was pretty tough to watch the score go higher and higher," he said. "I gave it everything I had."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
West Valley 0 0 0 0 -- 0
South 12 12 7 7 -- 38
South -- 4 run Hopp (run fail) 10:10
South -- Krolick 20 pass from Lujan (kick fail) 5:29
South -- 16 run Taha (run fail), 4:19
South -- 2 run Lujan (run fail), :24.2
South -- 11 run Taha (Toomey kick), 11:49.
South -- 39 run Wilson (Toomey kick), 5:56.
First downs 6 17
Rushes-yards 18-38 42-215
Passing yards 91 111
Return yards 139 76
Passes 14-29-3 9-14-0
Punts 5-36.2 3-44.0
Fumbles-lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 10-80 10-85
RUSHING -- West Valley: Cummings 6-14; Graham 6-12; Anderson 5-12; Plass 1-0. South: Wilson 8-87; Hopp 12-57; Taha 3-29; Williams 3-16; Erickson 6-11; Schleusner 3-9; Lujan 4-1; Whitinger 1-5; Loewe 1-2; Steele 1-(-2).
PASSING -- West Valley: Plass 14-29-3--91. South: Lujan 9-14-0--111.
RECEIVING -- West Valley: Evanger 6-77; Graham 3-(-8); Vinton 1-20; Anderson 1-12; Garriss-Shoemaker 1-1; Cummings 1-(8). South: Steele 3-26; Erickson 3-15; Krolick 2-55; Alston 1-15.