The last time the West High football team played an overtime game was against Chugiak in Week 2. That was also the last time the Eagles lost a game.
“We didn’t want that feeling again,” said West quarterback Tyrone Davis, who scored the winning touchdown in his team’s thrilling overtime victory Friday night against Palmer in front of a sizable crowd at Anchorage Football Stadium.
West’s 26-23 win in the First National Bowl semifinal was the eighth straight for a team that started the season with two losses. The Eagles (8-2) will get a chance to win their second title in four seasons next weekend against the winner of a Saturday semifinal between Service and Dimond.
Friday’s showdown with Palmer (7-3) was the kind of game football fans wait all season to see — hard-hitting with big-time plays from big-time players on both sides of the ball. West accumulated more than 400 yards on offense, and Palmer racked up all of its 302 yards on the ground.
There were plenty of tense moments in a game tied at 7-7, 13-13 and 20-20, which is where the score stood when Palmer went for it on fourth-and-3 in its own territory with less than a minute to play in regulation.
The Moose failed to get a first down, giving West the ball on the Palmer 26 with 41 seconds left. After three short running plays, West’s Davis Ortland lined up for a potential game-winning, 36-yard field goal with a strong wind at his back and two seconds to play.
He missed it wide left to set up overtime, where each team gets at least four downs from the 10-yard line. If the game is still tied after that, the teams continue to alternate possessions from the 10 until a winner emerges.
Palmer got the ball first and kicked a 24-yard field goal after two running plays and an incomplete pass to the end zone.
West only needed one play to win the game, an option play in which Davis kept the ball and found a huge hole to the right side.
“I saw everyone shift to the left, so I just went to the right and it was an open hole,” Davis said. “I just made one cut and went to the end zone. It was very exciting.”
The entire fourth quarter was exciting. It looked like Palmer might steal a win when, with the score tied 13-13, the Moose blocked a West punt and recovered the ball on the West 7 with 6:11 to play. Three running plays later, quarterback Zeth Merritt punched in a 1-yard touchdown run and the Moose led 20-13.
Palmer’s running game was beyond impressive. Led by 153 rushing yards from James Nisbett, the Moose consistently gashed a West defense that hadn’t surrendered a point to its previous two opponents. Nisbett looked spry in a return from a knee injury that kept him out the past two weeks, as did runners Vincent and Ben Aumavae, who combined for more than 100 yards.
“There were little holes and they still got through them,” Davis said of the Palmer runners. “That was probably the toughest team we played all year.”
Still, West bounced back from Palmer’s go-ahead touchdown with an eight-play drive that featured seven running plays. The last one was a 1-yard scoring dance from Leroy Elliott on fourth-and-1 to forge a 20-20 tie with 1:51 to play.
West only used three ball carriers all night, with Lui Faamasino leading the way with 138 yards on 27 carries. Davis ran for 70 yards to go with 196 passing yards in his best game of the season.
Davis had never played quarterback before that Week 2 overtime loss to Chugiak, when he took over for an injured Sam Wedin. Since then, Davis has improved every week and allowed the Eagles to expand their game plan.
“We talk a lot about it in practice: don’t fear, just be excited to go be great,” said West coach Tim Davis. “Tonight, Tyrone Davis was great.”
Reach Jeremy Peters at email@example.com or 257-4335.
West -- Faamasino 5 run (Ortland kick), 10:10
Palmer -- Nisbett 12 run (Inukai kick), 7:27
West -- Elliott 30 pass from Davis (kick fail), 4:23
Palmer -- Merritt 5 run (kick failed), 1:06
Palmer -- Merritt 1 run (Inukai kick), 5:03
West -- Elliott 1 run (Ortland kick), 1:51
Palmer -- Inukai 24 field goal
West -- Davis 10 run
Rushing -- Palmer: Nisbett 24-153; V. Aumavae 10-67; B. Aumavae 6-40; Watson 1-23; Merritt 11-19. West: Faamasino 27-138; Davis 11-70; Elliott 2-3.
Passing -- Palmer: Merritt 0-6-0--0. West: Davis 13-27-1--196
Receiving -- West: Elliott 7-95; Rayford 4-90; Faamasino 2-11.
By JEREMY PETERS