Lance Wright's high school football season last year was cruelly, painfully short -- maybe five seconds, tops.
He's back this season, and his return means this season already is shaping up as a long, humbling one for the state's defensive backs.
Wright, North Pole's transcendent junior receiver, caught two of senior Moo Rogers' four touchdown passes Friday night, when the Patriots opened the season with a 32-14 victory over Dimond at Dimond Alumni Field.
Covering the season-opening kickoff against West at Anchorage Football Stadium last August, Wright caught a toe in the turf while making a cut and tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.
What was supposed to be his breakout season as a sophomore -- the state's coaches were abuzz after Wright's performances at summer camps in 2011 -- became his lost season.
"Since I was a little kid, I've worked so hard and to have it taken away in one play was really tough to take,'' Wright said.
Wright's injury tugged at teammates and friends like Rogers, who had played with Wright and against him for years of youth football.
"It was extremely hard to watch him hauled off the field,'' Rogers said.
Wright underwent surgery in Texas, where he began his rehabilitation. He inspired his teammates and coaches with videos of his rehab, including the first time he walked on his mended knee.
Friday night, North Pole coach Richard Henert beamed as he watched Wright and his teammates celebrate with their fans. He knew the countless hours of rehab Wright endured and how much the wideout missed the game and being able to help his team.
"To have this moment is worth all of that, and more,'' Henert said.
That satisfying finish came long after a stumbling start.
Dimond rolled to an 8-0 lead in a heartbeat. Armani Tufaga's 3-yard touchdown run and a safety earned when Rogers was tackled in the end zone after a bad snap gave the Lynx that advantage 1 minute, 52 seconds into the game.
But then Wright, a 6-foot-2, 190-pounder with speed, agility and leaping ability, made his presence felt. After Rogers scored on a 2-yard run early in the first quarter, he hit Wright with a 37-yard bomb for a touchdown on the first play from scrimmage of North Pole's next possession.
Wright in the second quarter made a leaping 3-yard touchdown catch. He finished with four catches for 55 yards and two runs for nine yards.
"Not to sound cocky for Lance, but most DB's can't cover him, and adding him to the mix is such a huge positive,'' Rogers said.
That's because the Patriots of the Railbelt Conference have an arsenal of explosive players. Rogers, who last season both passed and rushed for well more than 1,000 yards, has another deadly receiver in the quick, elusive Anthony Gibson. The senior caught two touchdown passes Friday and snagged a game-high five receptions for a game-high 106 yards.
Rogers also hit Khalil Steward with a 42-yard scoring bomb. Rogers completed 10 of 20 passes for 203 yards and was intercepted twice. He also rushed 21 times for a game-high 86 yards and would have easily surpassed 100 yards rushing if not for several errant shotgun snaps that caused big losses of yardage.
Wright soaked it all in.
"My goal is to win,'' he said. "We're a 'we' team. We don't care about individual stats.''
Though Dimond of the Cook Inlet Conference ran the ball effectively at times -- Tufaga rushed eight times for 52 yards and Elijan Pili added a 5-yard touchdown run in the third quarter -- the Lynx crippled themselves with five turnovers and untimely penalties.
Pili's touchown cut North Pole's lead to 24-14 and Rocky Vasai's successful two-point conversion run would have made it 24-16 and a one-possession game. But the conversion was nullified by a penalty for blocking below the waist, which put the ball on the 20-yard line. A subsequent conversion pass was incomplete and Rogers hit Gibson with a 19-yard scoring strike on the ensuing possession.
The Lynx also were whistled for five encroachment penalties in the second half.
The night, though, was about Wright.
And with his return, all was right for North Pole.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.
North Pole 18 8 0 8 -- 32
Dimond 8 0 6 0 -- 14
Dimond -- Tufaga 3 run (run failed), 10:21.
Dimond -- Safety, Rogers tackled in end zone, 10:08.
North Pole -- Rogers 2 run (run failed), 8:39.
North Pole -- Wright 37 pass from Rogers (run failed), 8:39.
North Pole -- Gibson 36 pass from Rogers (run failed), 3:08.
North Pole -- Wright 3 pass from Rogers (kick failed), 7:47.
Dimond -- Pili 5 run (pass failed), 1:47.
North Pole -- Gibson 19 pass from Rogers (Davis pass from Rogers), 11:52.
First downs 19 10
Rushes-yards 37-155 36-127
Passing yards 203 13
Return yards 86 170
Passes 10-20-2 3-10-2
Punts 2-42.0 5-25-4
Fumbles-lost 2-1 4-3
Penalties-yards 8-60 10-68
RUSHING -- North Pole: Rogers 21-86, Johnson 5-24, Davis 2-16, Wentland 2-13, Wright 2-9, Wicklund 2-6, Keene 1-3, Best 2-(-2). Dimond: Tufaga 8-52, Pili 9-40, Unga 6-35, Zavala 2-18, Barrett 2-11, Vasai 2-10, Chong 3-(-6), Coleman 4-(-25).
PASSING -- North Pole: Rogers 10-20-2--203. Dimond: Coleman 3-9-1--13, Ainuu 0-1-1--0.
RECEIVING -- North Pole: Gibson 5-106, Wright 4-55, Steward 1-42. Dimond: Pili 2-8, Ducios 1-9.
East 42, Kenai 7
Punahoa 48, West 0
Lathrop 44, Nikiski 41
Lathrop JV 60, Seward 8
North Pole 32, Dimond 14
By DOYLE WOODY
Anchorage Daily News