FAIRBANKS — On a wild night on its own field, the West Valley Wolfpack took an emphatic step into the large schools high school football playoffs by beating the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears 47-28.
On a crisp evening with temperatures in the upper 30s, West Valley used two defensive touchdowns to snap a 21-21 tie and Lorenzo Graham did the rest with three touchdown runs in the second half to put the Wolfpack in the postseason for the second straight year.
“That was exhausting, inspirational, exciting and terrifying all at the same time,” first-year West Valley coach John Patterson said after meeting with his team following West Valley’s first win against Juneau since before the current batch of 22 seniors began playing at the school.
“It was a fabulous accomplishment for these kids,” Patterson said. “We’ve been preaching all season that if you give it your all and keep pounding, good things will happen. That was the case tonight.”
The win gives West Valley, 3-3 in the Railbelt and 4-4 overall, the third Railbelt Conference seed and the Wolfpack will play second-seeded Cook Inlet Conference’s South Anchorage in the first round of the playoffs, most likely Friday night at Anchorage Football Stadium.
West Valley finished in a three-way tie with Colony and Juneau-Douglas for third place in the Railbelt. The Wolfpack won the three-team tie-breaker on point differential against the other two teams of +15. Colony had a +3 and Juneau-Douglas had a -18.
Once the three-way tie was broken, deciding the fourth-place team went to a two-way tie-breaker, which put Juneau-Douglas in the playoffs by virtue of its 21-20 victory over Colony earlier in the season.
“It’s not the way we wanted to get in the playoffs,” said Juneau-Douglas coach Rich Sjoroos. “We wanted to win the game and gain some momentum, but sometimes momentum works the other way, too.”
Graham had another unbelievable performance to lead the Wolfpack offense, rushing 16 times for 248 yards and three second-half touchdowns — 55, 83 and
“I just feel joy right now, especially for the seniors who haven’t beaten Juneau-Douglas until tonight,” Graham said, while being interviewed at midfield. “This is just one step along the road. We want to keep on going.”
Patterson had nothing but praise for West Valley’s star running back.
“He’s a warrior and he comes to compete,” Patterson said. “We all wish we could do that.”
After Juneau-Douglas tied the score 21-21 with 5:06 left in the third quarter on a 16-yard pass from Dorian Isaak to Brian Brassfield, the Crimson Bears recovered an onside kick and it looked like the visitors had stolen West Valley’s momentum.
Bring on Hyland Story.
With Juneau facing a third and seven situation on the West Valley 44 yard-line, Story stepped in front of a Crimson Bears receiver, intercepted Isaak’s pass and raced 60 yards to the end zone to give the Wolfpack a 27-21 lead it would never relinquish.
On the second play of the fourth quarter, West Valley sophomore Charles Sudduth picked off another Isaak pass and took it 28 yards to paydirt to give the Wolfpack a 34-21 advantage.
“Our whole focus this week has been on defense,” Patterson said. “You know, defense can score points too.”
Juneau-Douglas came right back as Isaak hooked up with Trevor Pfaff on a 2-yard TD strike to pull the Crimson Bears to within six points with 10:32 remaining in the game.
West Valley gave up the ball on fumble and Juneau had a first down and 1 on the West Valley 6 yard-line after a defensive holding call on the Wolfpack.
But the Wolfpack defense held and that set the stage for Graham’s 83-yard touchdown run, putting West Valley in the playoffs for the third straight year.