Palmer wins wild football game over North Pole

Matt TunsethAlaska Dispatch News

PALMER -- With confusion reigning and a steady downpour falling on Machetanz Field, the Palmer Moose needed some magic.

Presto.

Chase Ferris’  improbable 29-yard touchdown reception from Justin Roth on a disputed fourth-and-15 with 1:37 left to play Thursday night gave Palmer an insane 54-49 nonconference win over North Pole.

“I’ve been playing football for 11 years and I’ve never been a part of something like that,” said Ferris, who nabbed a batted ball at the 5-yard line and scampered into the end zone for his sixth touchdown of the night.

Ferris was the offensive star of a game that featured plenty of highlights, rushing for five touchdowns and 291 yards on 27 carries. 

Despite the back-and-forth nature of the game, it was Ferris’s magical catch that had fans buzzing afterward. The game-winning play came after Palmer coaches argued with referees over the down -- the Moose thought it should be third, not fourth -- leaving Palmer facing an all-or-nothing down to decide a game it had led until the waning minutes.

“We’re just happy to get a win,” said Ferris, whose team improved to 1-2 overall (0-0 in Railbelt Conference play).

North Pole fell to 2-1 overall. The Patriots, the state's second-ranked team in the medium-school division, are 2-0 in the Southeast Conference.The loss quashed what would have been a miracle comeback for North Pole, which trailed by as many as 16 points in the second half and didn't lead until late in the fourth quarter. 

The teams combined for 892 yards of offense and zero punts. Ferris was the big star with his six scores, but he wasn’t the only player who put up big numbers. North Pole’s DeAundre Campbell rushed for 227 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, and Patriot quarterback Garrett Sommer ran for three scores and threw for another. Roth also had a big game under center, completing 6 of 7 passes for 111 yards and two TDs.

“It was just a great team effort,” Ferris said.

The game got off to an explosive start, with four touchdowns scored in the first eight minutes, including three in a wild 43-second span.

Ferris started things off with a 46-yard scamper to the outside on the Moose’s fifth play from scrimmage.

North Pole answered on its first play of the game, a 71-yard sprint by Campbell that cut the lead to 7-6 after a missed extra point.

Ferris treated fans to a third consecutive touchdown when he bolted 62 yards on the very next play, putting the Moose up 14-6 and putting an exclamation point on one of the wildest stretches of football seen since the XFL folded.

The Patriots cut the lead to 14-13 on an 8-yard run by Sommer to end a first quarter that had players, fans and officials gasping for breath.

Things didn’t slow down much in the second quarter. Ferris picked up two more touchdown runs, book-ending 37- and 4-yard scores around a 1-yard plunge from Sommer to make it 28-19 at the half.

Ferris and Campbell were nearly unstoppable in the first half, with the Palmer back racking up 240 yards on 16 carries while his North Pole counterpart picked up 134 yards on just eight totes.

Any chance the game might settle down was immediately quashed in the third quarter. Ferris picked up his fifth TD just 49 seconds into the half, bursting seven yards one play after the Moose recovered a North Pole fumble deep in Patriots territory.

For the second time in the game, North Pole answered with a touchdown on the very next play from scrimmage when Sommer found Garrett Wollmann for a 67-yard strike.

The Moose wasted no time answering, getting their own 67-yard bomb from Roth to Darrion Angol just three plays into their next possession.

The Patriots needed just three plays to tack on their next score, a 12-yard rumble by Simi Skipps that cut Palmer’s lead to 42-33 with more than seven minutes still left in the third quarter.

Palmer pushed its lead to 48-33 on a 9-yard run by Jared Layton early in the fourth, but the Patriots again answered, this time with a five-play, 59-yard drive capped by an 18-yard scoring run by Sommer. Skipps’s conversion run then cut the lead to 48-41 with just over nine minutes remaining.

North Pole’s Lafi Skipps recovered the ensuing onside kick, setting up the Patriots at midfield with a chance to drive for a tying or go-ahead score. North Pole then marched 51 yards on 10 plays, finishing the drive with a 22-yard scamper by Campbell and capping it with Skipps’s second bruising conversion run of the quarter. That made it 49-48 Patriots with 4:42 remaining and setting up the dramatic final scoring drive for the Moose.

On the game's biggest play, Ferris said he simply kept his eye on the ball as it was batted back off the goal line by a North Pole defender and into the junior's outstretched arms. 

"I just trusted what I've been taught about always going to the whistle," he said. 

Reach Matt Tunseth at mtunseth@alaskadispatch.com or 257-4335.

MOOSE 54, PATRIOTS 49

North Pole       13   6   14   16 — 49

Palmer  14   14   14   12— 54

First Quarter

Palmer — Ferris 40 run (Clark kick), 9:21

North Pole — Campbell 71 run (kick missed), 8:56

Palmer — Ferris 62 run (Clark kick), 8:38

North Pole — Sommer 8 run (Wollman kick), 4:36

Second Quarter

Palmer — Ferris 37 run (Clark kick), 8:35

North Pole — Sommer 1 run (kick missed), 4:12

Palmer — Ferris 4 run (Clark kick), 0:47

Third Quarter

Palmer — Ferris 7 run (Clark kick), 11:11

North Pole — Wollman 67 pass from Sommer (try failed), 10:53

Palmer — Angol 67 pass from Roth (Clark kick), 8:58

North Pole — S. Skipps 12 run (Sommer run), 7:37

Fourth Quarter

Palmer — Layton 9 run (kick missed), 11:07

North Pole — Sommer 18 run (S. Skipps run), 9:04

North Pole — Campbell 22 run (S. Skipps run), 4:42

Palmer — Ferris 29 pass from Roth (run failed), 1:37

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING — North Pole: Campbell 17-227, Sommer 14-34, S. Skipps 3-26, Wollmann 1-11, Benett 1-4, Hursh 1-0. Palmer: Ferris 27-291, Layton 8-29, Hershman 6-20, Roth 2-(-2).

PASSING — North Pole: Sommer 5-10-1—119, A. Rogers 1-3-0—22. Palmer: Roth 6-7-0—111.

RECEIVING — North Pole: Wollmann 3-157, Hursh 3-34. Palmer: Angol 5-82, Ferris 1-29.