The West High football team came into its regular season-finale with two goals in mind. First and foremost was securing the Cook Inlet Conference championship and the top seed in the 2023 division playoffs. Second was to send the Class of 2024 out with a bang on senior night.
With a 41-0 shutout victory over visiting Service on Friday night, the Eagles accomplished both goals in dominant fashion. West now heads into the postseason riding a four-game winning streak and looking like the team to beat.
“We put in tremendous work in the offseason to get to this point and feel like it was destined for us,” senior wide receiver and outside linebacker Aaron Hampton said. “West hasn’t had the No. 1 seed in a long time and it feels good to get that on senior night.”
What was supposed to be one of the most competitive games in the final week of the 2023 regular season between two of the top three teams in the Cook Inlet Conference wound up being a lopsided show of force for the Eagles.
They not only successfully defended the Nest on Hillcrest but made sure their seniors shined bright in front of bleachers filled with family, friends, students and faculty.
“My whole family was here in the stands and it was like a dream just having everybody supporting me,” senior running back Davis Iloilo said.
All six of the Eagles’ touchdowns were scored by seniors.
“Seniors across the city went through that COVID season as freshmen, and our seniors that were on C-team only got to play two games that year,” West head coach Tim Davis said. “Every year they’ve continued to fight through adversity, and it was a special moment here tonight. It’s always special at the Nest.”
The first points of the game came on Service’s first possession, which ended with an impressive 30-yard interception return for a West touchdown by Hampton, who weaved and stiff-armed his way into the end zone.
“We missed a few plays early on offense and felt like we should’ve scored,” he said. “It was great communication on the backside to tell me to shift defenders, and I got that pick.”
Senior running back Mason Tanoa scored the next touchdown on a short 2-yard run as the first quarter expired on a play where he lined up as a wildcat quarterback and followed his blockers to paydirt.
Iloilo would score the first of his team-leading three touchdowns on West’s first drive of the second quarter on a 12-yard run up the middle. His second came from 7 yards out with less than a minute until halftime, and his third touchdown came on a 3-yard run about halfway through the third quarter.
“He is an absolute truck,” Hampton said. “It’s hard to even tackle him in practice. He’s the best running back in the state.”
The Eagles leaned heavily on their physical tone-setting power back Friday. He received the first three carries of the game and the last two touches of the night on runs of 11 and 10 yards to cap off his 141-yard rushing performance.
As potent and punishing as the West running game was, the Eagles’ most exciting plays came through the air. The crown jewel was a 65-yard second-quarter touchdown from senior quarterback Azariah Atonio to senior receiver JT Bautista, who found himself wide open down the field while the Service defense was distracted by multiple exchanges in the backfield.
“We worked on it in practice and had some fun with it,” Davis said.
He had called a timeout moments before so he could dial up the creative trick play after seeing a look from the Cougars that gave him “a hunch” such a maneuver would work if properly executed.
“Life is too short not to do some wild stuff on a Friday night on the football field,” Davis said. “We just felt like they were going to be aggressive and come down and figured if we can complete all the operation of it, we could have a big play there.”
The road to the state title game will run through the Nest on Hillcrest: Friday’s win means that the Eagles not only captured the conference regular season crown but also secured home-field advantage through the playoffs. The championship will take place at Service on Saturday, Oct. 21.
“It feels really good to have the one-seed, but we know the second season is where crazy stuff happens,” Davis said. “We’re focused on one game and one play at a time.”