With 26 seconds left and a trip to the state championship on the line, West High's Tom Troxel kicked the football into a leaping mob of South players. It all happened so quickly it was difficult to tell which of the Wolverines blocked the 37-yard field goal attempt to preserve a 30-28 win over the defending state champion Eagles in a First National Bowl semifinal game Friday night.
"It was a team effort," said South linebacker Dalton Sauder.
Sauder might as well have been talking about the entire South football season, because the Wolverines rotate players in and out so much it's usually impossible to pinpoint any star players. This time, South used nine ball carries to pile up 300 rushing yards at Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium in Chugiak, but for once a star player wasn't tough to find.
Michael Wilson entered the game as South's leading rusher and he made sure things stayed that way, turning in his best statistical game of the season. The senior led the Wolverines with 137 yards on 14 carries, scored three touchdown and was named player of the game.
Wilson scored the game's first two touchdowns, two short runs that helped the Woverines build a 14-0 lead after one quarter. His final touchdown was also South's final score, a 14-yard sprint to give South a 30-21 lead with 10:03 left in the fourth quarter.
"Every week we get better," Wilson said. "Hopefully next week we'll come out with a win."
Next week is the state championship game, when South will play the winner of today's semifinal between Service and Juneau.
Wilson's early touchdowns, combined with stout defensive effort by the Wolverines, threatened to turn the game into a blowout. When quarterback Zach Lujan punched in a short touchdown run in the second quarter, South led 20-0.
West started chipping away, however, starting with a 1-yard touchdown run by Marcel Dion, who also provided the game's biggest highlight when he caught a 69-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Conor Feckley.
Dion said the play wasn't designed to go to him, but Feckley rolled out of the pocket and saw an open Dion streaking down the right sideline. Feckley unleashed a rocket into the cold, night air and hit Dion in stride.
"It was beautiful," Dion said. "It was perfect."
The score gave West its only lead at 21-20 and Dion said it felt like momentum had shifted in the Eagles' direction.
"It felt like we were coming together and making a comeback," he said.
But South grabbed a 23-21 lead with Griffin Toomey's 22-yard field goal with 3:41 in the third quarter. It remained a two-point game after the teams traded touchdowns in the fourth quarter, the last of them coming at 8:05 when Feckley hit Eric Vandervort with a 21-yard pass.
The Eagles got a great chance in the game's final minutes when they sacked Lujan for a 14-yard loss on a 3rd-and-nine play from the South 46-yard line. South punted and West took over on its own 30 with 2:58 remaining.
The final drive included some nice runs by Nathen Sailele and a 20-yard run by Feckley to set up a potential game-winning field goal, an attempt that was stuffed by the Wolverines.
"For a lot of us it's been our goal since we were freshmen to make to the championship," Wilson said. "Now, we get to go."
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
South 14 6 3 7 -- 30
West 0 13 8 7 -- 28
South -- Wilson 4 run (Toomey kick), 7:45
South -- Wilson 5 run (Toomey kick), 1:26
South -- Lujan 2 run (kick failed), 10:3.
West -- Dion 1 run (Troxel kick), 6:35
West -- Holtman 1 run (kick blocked), :36
West -- Dion 69 pass from Feckley (Tulimasealii run), 10:05
South --Toomey 22 FG, 3:41
South -- Wilson 14 run (Toomey kick), 10:03
West -- Vandervort 21 pass from Feckley (Troxel kick), 8:05.
First downs 20 17
Rushes-yards 48-300 29- 187
Passing yards 44 244
Return yards 116 49
Passes 7-13-0 14-31-1
Punts 3-33.7 2-31.5
Fumbles-lost 2-0 2-0
Penalties-yards 7-41 5-35
RUSHING -- South: Wilson 14-137; Hopp 10-43; Taha 3-42; Erickson 9-35; Toomey 4-26; Lujan 5-10; Williams 1-4; Loewe 2-3. West: Feckley 7-76; Tulimasealii 12-60; Sailele 9-48; Holtman 1-2; Dion 1-1.
PASSING -- South: Lujan 7-13-0--44. West Feckley 14-31-1--244.
RECEIVING -- South: Hopp 2-12; Krolick 1-8; Erickson 1-5; Shallo 1-4; Toomey 1-5; Williams 1-10. West: Dion 5-120; Brown 5-40; Vandervort 4-84.
First National Bowl
Tom Huffer Sr. Stadium, Chugiak High
Noon -- Barrow vs. Nikiski, small-school championship
4 P.M. -- Service vs. Juneau, large-school semifinal
7:30 P.M. -- Homer vs. Kenai, medium-school championship
TV -- Channel 4 will provide live coverage of small-school and medium-school title games.
Radio -- AM-1140 (radiokenai.com) will provide live coverage of the small-school and medium-school title games. AM-590 will provide live coverage of the large-school semifinal.
$10 adults, $5 students (good for all three games)
Large crowds are expected and parking at Chugiak High is limited. Car-pooling and early arrivals are encouraged.