There was a point early in the second quarter of Saturday night's quarterfinal football game when West Valley looked like it might give South a difficult time at Dimond Alumni Field. But the Wolverines made big plays at key moments to earn a 34-6 victory that ultimately never felt close.
The win means South (7-2) will advance to play undefeated and top-ranked Palmer in next weekend's semifinals. And it meant West Valley (4-5) ended the season the same way as it ended last season -- with a playoff loss to South.
The Wolverines, who lost last year's championship game to Service, are on a mission to return to the title game this season.
"Everyone's excited and we've been working hard for this," said Taylor Faagau, who led the South ground game with 86 yards on nine carries. "It felt really bad losing to Service in the state (championship) game. We've just been working hard all year and we got Palmer next week and we're just going hard."
South opened Saturday's scoring in the first quarter with a 4-yard touchdown run from Aaron Esplin followed by a two-point conversion from Jaremie Augafa.
But the Wolverines opened the door for West Valley when Nicholas Settle fumbled on the first play of the second quarter. West Valley recovered the ball and took over just inside the 50-yard line in South territory, and a series of running plays and a South penalty gave the Wolfpack first and goal from inside the 3-yard line. But South stood strong, stopping the Wolfpack on three straight rushing attempts from the 1.
"We just couldn't get a big enough push off the line,'' West Valley running back Jamal Cummings said. "Their D-line just stopped us and we couldn't get in."
South drove for a late second-quarter touchdown, a 1-yard run from quarterback Zach Lujan, to go up 14-0 at halftime.
West Valley took the second-half kickoff and went three-and-out and then watched South's Kahlil Autry return the ensuing punt 57 yards to the West Valley 4-yard line. Augafa shrugged off tacklers on his way into the end zone on the next play and suddenly South held a commanding 21-0 lead.
Faagau iced the game with two more touchdowns in the third quarter, his first coming on a 44-yard run and his second on a 3-yard pass from Lujan. Faagau, a senior, was injured during last year's playoff run and said he's thrilled to be healthy and contributing to what he thinks is a powerful team.
"We got a lot of returning seniors this year and we got so much talent at the younger ages too," he said. "We're so much better than we were last year."
Led by a game-high 102 rushing yards from senior Lorenzo Graham, West Valley gained 284 total yards to South's 265 and matched South's 15 first downs.
Though the result was a loss to South for the second straight season, the Wolfpack found solace in not being shut out this time around. With just less than a minute remaining, Cummings (68 yards on 13 carries) punched in a hard-fought 6-yard touchdown run for the Wolfpack's only score. Several teammates met him with an embrace after the score.
"It meant a lot to us and our team to get in the end zone," Cummings said. "We just never wanted to quit in this game. We just wanted to keep fighting to the end."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or 257-4335.
West Valley 0 0 0 6 -- 6
South 8 6 20 0 -- 34
South -- Esplin 4 run (Augafa run), 5:20
South -- Lujan 1 run (run failed) 2:32
South -- Augafa 4 run ( Eyob Imlach kick), 10:17
South -- Faagau 44 run, (run fail), 7:36
South -- Faaguau 3 pass from Lujan (Imlach kick), :45.4
West Valley -- Jamal Cummings 6 run (run failed) :57.2.
West Valley South
First downs 15 15
Rushes-yards 41-179 36-218
Passing yards 105 47
Return yards 13 172
Passes 8-19-2 5-10-1
Punts 6-30.8 4-33.25
Fumbles-lost 2-1 2-1
Penalties-yards 5-47 11-103
RUSHING -- West Valley: Graham 21-102; Cummings 13-68; Anderson 1-13; Chafin 2-1; Plass 4-(-5). South: Faagau 9-86; Autry 5-47; Williams 4-32; Lujan 6-16; Hopp 2-11; Settle 2-10; Taha 1-9, Augafa 1-4; Loewe 1-1; Hoover 3-1; Esplin 2-1.
PASSING -- West Valley: Plass 8-19-2--105 South: Lujan 5-10-1--47
RECEIVING -- West Valley: Graham 3-28 Sudduth 2-49; Jeffries 2-25; Evanger 1-3. South: Faagau 2-5; Williams 1-19; Page 1-18; Ellis 1-5.
By JEREMY PETERS