On any other evening, with victory theirs, the West Eagles surely would have been jubilant after the football game -- smiling, laughing and recounting moments.
As they gathered on the turf at Anchorage Football Stadium on Friday night to listen to post-game evaluations and advice from their coaches, though, the Eagles’ collective look and vibe teetered somewhere between disheartened and devastated.
Their season-opening, 28-6 nonconference victory over Palmer came with a heavy burden.
Sophomore receiver Lazono Martin, who announced himself to the varsity ranks with two first-half touchdown catches and the hint of bigger possibilities, suffered what appeared to be a serious left knee injury in the third quarter. He did not return.
That misfortune left the Eagles, who scored on their first three possessions and four of their first five, somber and listless.
“He has the potential to be one of the best receivers we’ve ever had,’’ said West coach Tim Davis. “He still does, no matter what happens with this injury.
“He needs to know he’s part of our family and we love him. You see a loved one go down, it sucks.’’
No one knows better than West quarterback Sam Wedin, the senior who last season blew out his right knee in Week 2 and Friday made a triumphant return by throwing for 344 yards and twice hooking up with Martin for touchdowns.
“It’s tough,’’ Wedin said. “It happens, happens so fast. I really feel for him and his family right now, and wish the best for him.’’
Martin caught seven passes for 97 yards.
Palmer also lost a player to a knee injury, which coach Rod Christianson feared could be season-ending. Senior linebacker Shoya Watanabe was injured when Wedin, scrambling, made a sharp juke and Watanabe countered by trying to halt his momentum and change direction.
Wedin underwent surgery last fall and was lost for the season that ended with West the large-school state champion. He proved sharp in his return, completing 24 of 37 passes, with one interception, and produced some effective scrambling on the rare occasions he was pressured. He was elated to be back in a game, even though his joy was tempered by his teammate’s injury.
“It was a long time,’’ Wedin said. “It felt like forever. It’s so great to be back.’’
Wedin runs a no-huddle offense that usually features a four-receiver set, tilts to the pass more than the run and can strike quickly. Davis liked what he saw.
“He made two or three bad decisions, but overall, he played really, really well, and he managed his game well,’’ Davis said.
The Eagles marched 63 yards in 10 plays on their first possession and needed 2 minutes, 53 seconds before P.J. Seiu scored on a 5-yard run. They next covered 86 yards in eight plays and 1:49 before Wedin connected on a 24-yard score with Martin, who collected the ball after it was tipped by Palmer’s Wyatt McGann. And they required three plays and 56 seconds to cover 48 yards and gain Martin’s 26-yard touchdown pass from Wedin with six seconds left in the first quarter.
Jordan Murchinson scored West’s other touchdown on a 1-yard run in the second quarter. That was the last time the Eagles scored.
“We played like a young team tonight,’’ Davis said. “We are a young team. We had some flashes, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do on Monday.’’
Some of that labor will come from receivers picking up the slack left by Martin’s absence. Junior Shanai Leon caught six passes for 85 yards, senior Gelano Bell latched onto five for 51 yards, sophomore Turek Taylor caught three balls for 41 yards and junior Julo Tagalu had two catches for 62 yards.
Tagalu thought he was on his way to a long catch and run for a touchdown in the third quarter. He raised an arm in celebration at the Palmer 15 -- that was worth a penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct -- and was tackled by Chase Ferris short of the goal line.
Ferris caught four passes for 39 yards and scored Palmer’s lone touchdown on a 4-yard swing pass from Justin Roth in the second quarter. Palmer rushed for 226 yards on 49 carries, and Jared Layton led them with 53 yards on 15 carries.
“We thought we got better as the game went on, especially defensively,’’ Christianson said.
With a knee injury suffered by each team, though, the evening ended grimly.
As excited as West’s Taylor was to be playing varsity as a sophomore, he was disappointed to see his teammate and fellow receiver Martin go down.
“If he hurts,’’ Taylor said, “I hurt.’’