PALMER -- Thanks in part to three lengthy touchdown runs from Jordan Tufaga on Friday night, the Dimond football team will play in the semifinals of the First National Bowl for the first time in more than a decade.
The Lynx (4-5) were solid in every phase as they stormed to a big lead and held on for a 38-17 win over host Colony (3-6), earning a spot in next week's semifinals against the winner of a Saturday matchup between Chugiak and Service.
"It feels great," said Tufaga, who scored on runs of 29, 37 and 15 yards. "Our hard work paid off. I'm thankful for that."
Dimond, the fifth seed from the Cook Inlet Conference, last made the semifinals in 2001 and went on to win a second straight state championship that season, which is the last time a large school won consecutive titles in Alaska.
The Lynx started the eight-game regular season with two losses, followed by a three-game winning streak that led to three straight losses coming in to the playoffs. Dimond's 38 points were a season high, prompting coach Chris Borst to call Friday's win one of his team's best games of the year.
"The kids were so excited," he said. "They were excited to make this bus trip and get the opportunity to come out here and keep playing."
The last time Dimond came to Colony for a playoff game, in 2010, the Lynx were eliminated from the playoffs.
Colony was riding such a hot streak coming into Friday's game that nobody would have been surprised to see the top seed from the Railbelt Conference win. The Knights opened the season with four straight losses and were 1-5 record before claiming road victories over Palmer and West Valley to close the regular season.
"We battled through everything to get to this point," said Colony's Daniel Bilafer, who caught 10 passes for 193 yards and a touchdown. "We're upset, but if you look back on what we were able to accomplish, it's kind of bittersweet right now."
Things went Dimond's way from the start, with the Lynx marching down the field for a touchdown on the game's opening drive. It was a methodical drive that ate more than half the time off the first-quarter clock and ended with a 27-yard pass from Jeremiah Maga to Marquez Buster.
Maga was particularly impressive, completing his first eight passes on his way to 142 yards in the first half.
"We were trying to stick to his strengths and what he does well in addition to what they were giving us," Borst said.
Dimond kept moving the ball in the second quarter and extended the lead to 21-0 on runs from Tufaga. The Lynx also benefited from timely interceptions by Buster and Fono Savaiinaea, who returned one to pay dirt just before halftime to give Dimond a 31-0 lead at the break.
Colony played better in a second half marred by numerous personal fouls by both teams. The Knights outscored Dimond 10-0 in the third quarter, scoring all 10 points in a short span that included a interception returned for a score by Noah Spencer, followed by an onside kick recovery that led to a 29-yard field goal from Bilafer. Still, the effort wasn't enough to overcome the big first-half deficit.
Tufaga's third touchdown run came early in the fourth quarter to put an exclamation point on the win. There were plenty of smiles in the Dimond huddle after that, and a few tears on the Colony side.
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
Dimond -- Marquez Buster 27 pass from Jeremiah Maga (Jack Sedor kick), 5:15
Dimond --Jordan Tufaga 29 run (Sedor kick), 11:02
Dimond -- Tufaga 37 run (Sedor kick), 6:29
Dimond -- Sedor 36 field goal, 3:49
Dimond -- Fono Savaiinaea 15 interception return (Sedor kick), :23.4
Colony -- Noah Spencer 20 interception return (D. Bilafer kick), 3:36.
Colony -- Daniel Bilafer 29 field goal, 2:45
Dimond -- Tufaga 15 run (Sedor kick), 9:16
Colony -- Daniel Bilafer 8 pass from Bryce Niver (D. Bilafer kick), 5:28.
RUSHING -- Dimond: Tufaga 10-85; Vasai 7-49; Coleman 4-17; Barrett 1-10; Bratcher 3-9; Schell 3-8; Maga 4-(-26). Colony: Conway 9-46; Niver 12-45; Harvey 1-10..
PASSING -- Dimond: Maga 11-16-1--156. Colony: Niver 14-33-2--237.
RECEIVING -- Dimond: Buster 4-51; Rafa Zavala 2-28; Coleman 1-28; Vasai 1-28; Parker 1-14; Tufaga 2-7. Colony: Daniel Bilafer 10-193; Schell 1-28; Steven Bilafer 1-5; Looney 1-1; Harvey 1-10; Basner 1-3.