PALMER -- Palmer is quickly becoming known for the amazing Aumavaes.
Ben Aumavae is uncle to Vincent and Nathan Aumavae, and all three play a vital role for the Moose, who took down defending state champion South in the first round of the First National Bowl football playoffs Saturday.
Ben Aumavae's 14-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run at Machetanz Field in Palmer helped seal a 25-22 victory over the Wolverines, who handed Palmer its only loss last season, a 25-7 defeat in the state semifinals.
"It feels good, revenge," he said. "I've been waiting for this moment. I didn't want my senior year to get ruined."
Palmer (7-2), which will face West in a Friday semifinal, came in as the second seed from the Railbelt Conference. South (5-4) was the third seed from the Cook Inlet Conference.
A banged-up South squad that was without playmakers Justice Augafa, Nicolas Settle and Ben Hopp, forged a 14-13 lead at halftime, but couldn't stop the Palmer running attack in the second half.
If it wasn't Vincent Aumavae breaking through for big run, it was Ben or Nathan. Vincent led the charge with 125 rushing yards on 29 carries, Ben racked up 76 yards on 12 carries and Nathan, who is also a ball-hawking defensive back, chipped in 25 yards on five carries.
Palmer was fortunate to be in the game at halftime, having turned the ball over four times in the first two quarters. All three turnovers came from quarterback Zeth Merritt, who overcame the three interceptions and a fumble by running for two scores and throwing for another.
Palmer players weren't lacking in confidence in the locker room at halftime, Ben Aumavae said. And Merritt wasn't letting his errors get him down.
"He took the blame, but he got over it," Ben Aumavae said.
Merritt's biggest clutch play was the 17-yard touchdown pass he threw to Cody Wells with less than a minute to play in the first half to cut the Palmer deficit to a point.
Palmer took a 19-14 lead on the first possession of the second half, methodically marching down the field with run after run and capping the nearly four-minute-long drive with an 11-yard scoring run by Merritt.
Ben Aumavae's touchdown run with 8:17 to play in the fourth quarter gave the Moose a 25-14 lead, but it didn't take long for South to answer.
Andrew West returned the ensuing kickoff 48 yards to the Palmer 36-yard line. Three running plays later and 43 seconds after Palmer's score, the Wolverines cut the lead to 25-22 on an 8-yard run from West and a two-point conversion run by West.
Palmer moved the ball deep into South territory and ran off a big chunk of time before stalling and turning the ball over on downs at the South 22-yard line.
South's final possession started with just more than a minute remaining. The Wolverines managed two first downs and nearly crossed midfield before time ran out.
"These kids played their guts out," South coach John Lewis said. "I can't be any more prouder of them."
Palmer -- Zeth Merritt 1 run (Jacob Inukai kick), 6:16
South -- Alec Valdez 1 run (Eyob Imlach kick), 11:10
South -- Chris Scott 48 interception return (Imlach kick), 2:57
Palmer -- Cody Wells 17 pass from Merritt (kick blocked) :11
Palmer -- Merritt 11 run (pass fail) 8:17
Palmer -- Ben Aumavae 14 run (pass fail), 8:59
South -- Andrew West 8 run (West run), 8:16
|First Downs||13||24||Rushes- yards||38-190||59-285||Passing yards||59||96||Return yards||48||68||Passes||4-13-0||6-13-3||Punts||4-28.5||1-45.0||Fumbles-lost||2-1||2-1||Penalties- yards||8-55||6-30|
Rushing -- South: Valdez 6-65; West 9-52; Maisey 11-46; Stephen 4-14; Hoover 2-5; Alsworth 1-4; Settle 1-4; Cook 2-1; Imlach 1-0; Light 1-(-1). Palmer: Aumavae 29-125; B. Aumavae 12-76; V. Merritt 10-52; N. Aumavae 5-25; Schneider 3-7.
Passing -- South: Valdez 4-13-0--59. Palmer: Merritt 6-13-3--96.
Receiving -- South: Hudson 2-42; Stephan 1-13;Ottum 1-4. Palmer: V. Aumavae 3-31; Wells 2-50; N. Aumavae 1-15;