High School Sports

West High football team wins back-and-forth quarterfinal playoff game over South

Jaideven Suesue figured the evening’s only peaceful moments came hours before kickoff as he stretched in solitude.

Slade Schuster described the topsy-turvy emotions felt during four wild quarters of postseason football as “hard to handle.”

In the aftermath of one of Alaska high school sports’ craziest contests in at least the last quarter century, West senior Terrence Grissett stood near one of his home field’s end zones. He offered his best summation of all that transpired.

“To be honest, I’m completely mind blown,” Grissett said. “I don’t have the words, other than it was a great game and we both played our hearts out.”

Suesue, the Eagles’ senior quarterback, capped off his team’s comeback in storybook fashion Friday. On a designed run off the left side, he scampered for a 19-yard score with 58 seconds remaining to lift West to a scintillating 47-40 victory over South.

“I was able to bring a bunch of the defenders inside and then bust it (outside),” Suesue said of the game-winning rush. “My blocks, perfect. I give all the credit to those guys up front.”

The First National Bowl Division I quarterfinal win kept the dream of a championship alive for the Eagles, who improved to 6-2 overall and snapped a three-game losing streak to the Wolverines (2-6). West faces the winner of Saturday’s Service-East matchup, which kicks off at East at 4 p.m.

Top-seeded Juneau also hosts winless Dimond on Saturday. The winner tussles in the semifinals next weekend against Bartlett, which scored a 32-19 quarterfinal victory at Colony on Friday.

The remaining higher seeds host semifinal games.

Here’s a taste of the dizzying performances played out Friday by South and West in nearly 3.5 hours:

• The Eagles scored the first quarter’s only points and led 14-0.

• The Wolverines totaled 26 of 30 points in the second quarter and enjoyed a 6-point halftime lead.

• South pushed its lead to 14 points (40-26) late in the third quarter before West tallied 21 points unanswered.

• Scoring plays included an 84-yard kickoff return from Grissett as well as successful pass plays of 41, 81, 58 and 37 yards.

• Some defense was played — a few fourth-down stops from West and South recorded four turnovers on downs.

All in all, the teams combined for 145 plays from scrimmage and 885 yards of offense. Suesue passed for 363 yards and three touchdowns, while leading the team in rushing with 65 yards. The dual-threat show from Suesue helped offset the loss of leading rusher Boogie Sloan.

Sloan missed the game for disciplinary reasons, West coach Tim Davis said.

Grissett’s time to shine came 19 seconds after South opened up a two-touchdown lead. He gathered the ensuing kickoff on the left side before going right and averting numerous would-be tacklers. At about South’s 30, Grissett broke back to middle on his way to the end zone.

“I followed my blocks and found a path,” he said. “It was smooth sailing after that.

“Whenever I’m able to make a good play, I don’t focus on anything else. I don’t even realize I’m doing it until after it happens.”

West’s senior receiving duo of Nate Lyken and Quentin Underwood combined for 18 catches for 268 yards. Lyken scored three times.

Schuster, South’s senior quarterback, passed for 373 yards and three touchdowns. Junior Kai Coleman scored three touchdowns and combined for 142 scrimmage yards. Junior Joe Stahla caught an 81-yard touchdown pass early in the third quarter.

After the game, South coach Walter Harmon confirmed it was his last as leader of the program. He joined the Wolverines as a junior varsity assistant in 2009 and played an integral role in three DI state titles (2012, 2014 and 2019).

He took over as head coach in 2017.

“The upshot of what we saw here tonight was seeing the success of a couple programs competing after successfully making their way through the (COVID-19) pandemic,” said an emotional Harmon. “We got the chance to coach some great kids into pretty good performances.

“We should’ve never given up a two-touchdown lead, and I’m trying to balance how to feel. Hopefully, we’ll all eventually get to a spot to reflect and appreciate all the positives and shared camaraderie.”

Veteran Anchorage-based journalist Matt Nevala can be found on social media at @MNevala9.

Matt Nevala

Matt Nevala co-hosts “The Sports Guys” radio show, Saturdays at 11 a.m. on KHAR AM 590 and FM 96.7 (@cbssports590). Find him on social media at @MNevala9.