Any hope the Lathrop High School football team would make a late comeback in its home opener against the West Anchorage Eagles on Saturday night came to an end after a Lathrop onside kick rolled straight into the hands of Eagles safety Lotu Momoisea with the Eagles up 21-14 and less than 1:30 left to play in the fourth quarter.
That score would stand for the Eagles, who like the Malemutes, are 1-1 overall. West Anchorage is the defending Division I state runner-up and Lathrop captured the Division II Railbelt title last season and advanced to the state playoffs.
Early in the first quarter Saturday, it looked that the Eagles would have a hard time slowing Lathrop’s run game.
Jace Henry, the Malemutes’ 6-3, 240-pound quarterback, ran for 32 yards on four carries and senior running back Tim Tuese logged 11 yards on three carries to move the chains from the Lathrop 24 to the West 33 on their second drive.
But the momentum quickly shifted. A pass downfield was picked off by Zion Mendoza at the 10-yard line and returned 60 yards to the Lathrop 30 before Mendoza was tackled by Andre’ Williams.
Mendoza, in at quarterback for West in place of Josh Stoltz, completed a 14-yard pass to move the chains. With fourth down and four on the 16-yard line, Mendoza completed a touchdown pass to Dhar Montalbo with 53 seconds left on the clock in the first quarter. The ensuing point-after kick gave West an early 7-0 lead.
Less than five minutes later, West tacked on seven more points. With third and 24 to go on the Eagles 44 yard-line, Stoltz completed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Mendoza with 7:59 left in the first half.
Dario Ayala returned the Eagles kickoff to the 50-yard line and a high-hit penalty against West improved Lathrop’s field position, putting the ball on the visitors’ 35.
A 17-yard pass to Tyriq Luke and a Henry quarterback keeper on the next play was good for a touchdown. However, a missed extra point left the Malemutes trailing 14-6 going into the half.
After the Lathrop defense forced a fourth down and 10 in the third quarter and West opted to punt, Jhon Rones fumbled the fair catch and West recovered the ball on the Lathrop 10-yard line. Three plays later, Niko Faamasino carried the ball into the end zone to put the Eagles up 21-6.
An ineffective passing game resulted in the Malemutes relying heavily on the run in the second half amid a quickly-winding down clock.
The Lathrop defense held the Eagles out of their end zone, and a short West punt with 4:58 left in the fourth quarter gave the Malemutes an opportunity to score.
With 1:42 left in the game, Henry ran in for a touchdown on a quarterback keeper and a completed pass to Finn Hill was good for a two-point conversion to make it a one-touchdown difference. However, the failed onside kick dashed any chance of a Malemutes comeback.
Lathrop next plays on the road at Kenai Central on Saturday.
Contact News-Miner sports writer Laura Stickells at 459-7530. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMsports.