WASILLA -- Vincent Aumavae was nearly unstoppable Friday night at Veterans Memorial Field, where he ran for 242 yards and helped the Palmer football team clinch its 14th straight state playoff appearance.
Aumavae danced, spun and slithered his way up the field, scoring two of his three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to give the Moose a 26-20 win over host Wasilla in the 35th installment of the Potato Bowl.
"It feels good, senior year, winning the Potato Bowl," Aumavae said. "That was one of my dreams as a freshman."
The annual showdown between Palmer and Wasilla is known as the Potato Bowl, and with Saturday's win, Palmer owns 26 wins in the series. Wasilla's last win came in 2011 when it beat Palmer on a last-second field goal.
Palmer blew out Wasilla last season, but Saturday's game came down to the wire. Aumavae broke a 20-20 tie with 1:04 to play, scoring on a 20-yard run on a fourth-and-1 situation. Nathan Aumavae, Vincent's brother, sealed the win when he intercepted a pass with 35 seconds remaining.
As sweet as it felt to win the big season finale, both Aumavaes said making the playoffs is a bigger achievement.
Three of five Railbelt teams will receive berths in the large-school state playoffs, and coming in to Friday's game, all five teams were still alive because it was possible that all five would finish with 2-2 conference records.
By improving to 6-2 overall and 3-1 in the Railbelt, Palmer knocked Wasilla (3-5, 1-3 Railbelt) out of the playoffs.
Colony (2-5, 2-1 Railbelt) can do the same to West Valley (3-4, 1-2 Railbelt) with a road win Saturday. A victory would clinch a conference title for Colony, which owns the tiebreaker over Palmer after beating the Moose last week. Palmer would finish second and Lathrop (5-2, 2-2) would be third.
If Colony loses, Palmer wins the Railbelt and some complicated tiebreakers come into play for second and third place.
Palmer running back James Nisbett, the team's leading rusher last season, sat out Saturday due to injury, but the Moose still managed to run for 365 yards.
"We were thinking about him the whole game," Vincent Aumavae said. "He told us he might be able to come back for the playoffs."
Wasilla came up with just enough big plays to keep pace with the Moose until the end in a game that was tied three times, at 7-7, 13-13 and 20-20.
A 45-yard touchdown pass from Josiah Williams to Isaiah Dawkins tied the score at 13-13 with 6:39 to play, but Palmer only needed three running plays from Vincent Aumavae to retake the lead on the ensuing possession. Aumavae's second carry was a 41-yarder and he followed that with 2-yard scoring plunge to put Palmer up 20-13.
Wasilla answered with a 9-yard scoring run from Cash McGregor to tie it at 20-20, but the Warriors defense had no answer for Aumavae, who led the charge on Palmer's winning drive.
"We left everything out there and it just didn't fall for us," McGregor said.
Wasilla's home field, equipped with new FieldTurf this season, hasn't been kind to the Warriors. They failed to win any home games this season. Saturday's game came with an electric atmosphere with stands full of fans for both teams.
"This doubled or tripled the fans we had at any other game," McGregor said. "It's amazing. It was a lot of fun."
Reach Jeremy Peters at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 257-4335.
Palmer 7 6 0 13 -- 26
Wasilla 7 0 0 13 -- 20
Palmer -- B.Aumavae 15 run (Inukai kick), 7:29
Wasilla --McGregor 11 run (O'Laughlin kick), 2:36
Palmer -- V. Aumavae 12 run (kick fail), 8:20
Wasilla -- Dawkins 45 pass from Williams (kick blocked), 6:39
Palmer -- V. Aumavae 2 run (Inukai kick), 5:45
Wasilla -- McGregor 9 run (O'Loughlin kick), 3:58
Palmer -- V. Aumavae 20 run (kick fail), 1:04
First Downs 20 19
Rushes- yards 50-365 37-174
Passing yards 13 179
Return yards 17 84
Passes 3-9-0 8-17-4
Punts 3-32.7 2-21.0
Fumbles-lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties- yards 8-70 4-30
Rushing -- Palmer: V. Aumavae 33-242; B. Aumavae 4-53; N. Aumavae 5-34; Merritt 5-21; Schneider 3-15. Wasilla: Otto 14-45; McGregor 7-43; Garnett 4-41; Williams 10-30; Rilatos 2-15.
Passing -- Palmer: Merritt 3-9-0--13. Wasilla: 8-17-4--179.
Receiving -- Palmer: Berg 2-8; Wells 1-5. Wasilla: Dawkins 3-98; McGregor 3-59; Garnett 1-17; Dedrick 1-5.
By JEREMY PETERS