PALMER -- On paper, it might appear the Bartlett football team started the new season the same way the last one ended.
The Golden Bears were winless in eight games last season, but they showed improvement in their 21-15 nonconference loss to host Palmer at Machetanz Field on Friday.
"They were hungry," said Palmer senior James Nisbett, who rushed for 129 yards. "They're not the same team from last year. They're gonna upset some teams."
Palmer entered the season from the other end of the spectrum, having lost one game last season. The Moose were eliminated from the state playoffs by South in the semifinals.
Nisbett, who made a habit of scoring multiple touchdowns in games on his way to more than 1,000 rushing yards last season, said the Moose have a long way to go to get back to last season's high level of play.
"We're not where we want to be right now," he said. "We're not satisfied. It's all about getting better and we know we have the talent to win and go further."
The score was tied 15-15 at halftime and defense ruled a scoreless third quarter.
Palmer's Vincent Aumavae (63 rushing yards), broke a 36-yard run to open the fourth quarter, putting the Moose on the Bartlett 6-yard line. Three plays later, Ben Aumavae bulled his way across the goal line from the 1-yard line for his second short-yardage touchdown and the game-winning touchdown.
Bartlett squandered a prime opportunity to come back with less than five minutes remaining when Palmer botched a snap and a hustling Dimitri Torres recovered the fumble to set the Golden Bears up at the Palmer 28.
A personal foul on Bartlett stalled the drive, and Palmer managed to run the clock out to end the game after taking over on downs.
"Everybody I talked to told me we were gonna get beat by 40, and we came out and, you know, I thought for the better half of the game we were the better team on the field," second-year Bartlett coach Daniel Esparza said. "That's a credit to our kids, their hard work and just their sheer toughness."
Palmer scored on the game's opening drive, taking a 7-0 lead on a two-yard plunge by Ben Aumavae, but Bartlett came right back with a solid drive from near midfield.
Junior quarterback Zyrelle Jones, who led Bartlett with 62 rushing yards, completed his first four passes. His fourth completion was a 15-yard touchdown pass over the middle of the field to C.J. Hoffman. Torres bolted up the middle for a 2-point conversion to put Bartlett ahead 8-7, and the Bartlett sideline erupted in jubilation.
Palmer rebounded to take a 15-8 lead on a nine-yard run from Nisbett and a two-point conversion pass from Zeth Merritt to Cody Wells. That happened with 2:53 left in the first half, but once again, Bartlett had an answer.
The Golden Bears put together a drive that began midfield and ended with Jones racing across the goal line from six yards out with 24 seconds left in the half.
Palmer regrouped at halftime, Nisbett said, and talked about getting back to playing hard-nosed football. Both teams played hard and clean in the second half. Players from both teams hit the turf hard and struggled to get up at times, with a few limping off the field in the fourth quarter.
"It was nasty," Nisbett said. "I'm just glad we got the win."
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Bartlett \t8 \t7 \t0 \t0 -- 15
Palmer \t7 \t8 \t6 \t0 -- 21
Palmer -- Ben Aumavae 2 run (Jacob Inukai kick) 5:55
Bartlett -- C.J. Hoffman 15 pass from Zyrelle Jones (Dimitri Torres run) 1:45
Palmer -- Nisbett 9 run (Wells pass from Merritt), 2:53
Bartlett -- Jones 6, run (Belgarde kick), :24
Palmer -- Ben Aumavae 1 run (PAT failed), 10:39
First downs 12 17
Rushes-yards 32-108 50-258
Passing yards 49 11
Return yards 50 63
Passes 6-14-0 2-4-0
Punts 2-31.0 1-17
Fumbles-lost 1-1 2-2
Penalties-yards 1-15 4-20
RUSHING -- Bartlett: Jones 17-62; Honore 6-21; Falaniko 5-19; Irving 2-0; Kenney 2-6. Palmer: Nisbett 24-129; V. Aumavae 9-63; Merritt 12-49; B. Aumavae 3-8; Schneider 2-9
PASSING -- Bartlett: 6-14-0--49. Palmer: 2-4-0--11.
RECEIVING -- Bartlett: Irving 2-18; Hoffman 3-22; Reynolds 1-9. Palmer: Wells 2-11.