PALMER — The Palmer Moose made all kinds of history in their first home game at Machetanz Field of the season on Saturday, defeating the Dimond Lynx 37-15.
In head coach Tim Popowski’s first win at the helm of the Moose football program, junior kicker Catherine Uschmann became the first female ever to score for Palmer’s varsity football team. Then just for good measure, they did it again. Junior Payton Knittle joined Uschmann as the only female football players ever to score for Palmer when she converted a PAT in the fourth quarter.
The Moose faced a tough week two battle against the much larger linemen of Division 1 Dimond and went into the locker room at halftime tied at 0.
“We were just killing ourselves in the first half and coach Ali (Larijani) came in and he said listen, hurry it up, fix everything. Then we came out and we said (alright), we got you and we got hype,” said Duston Corbin.
The Moose were able to clean up their sloppy play in the first half that resulted in 20 total accepted penalties from both teams. Corbin was one of three Moose to score on offense, and praised senior Dawson VanTassel for his masterful performance. VanTassel scored three times and twice on special teams.
VanTassel weaved through defenders and raced to the end zone, scoring a 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the half with a loud bang, unleashing the Moose Gooser for the first time in 2019. Senior Jayden Christiansen scampered 24 yards to the end zone midway through the third quarter and Corbin scored from four yards out on the next drive to give the Moose a commanding 21-0 lead before VanTassel struck again.
The speedy slot receiver scored on a 6-yard run to start the fourth quarter scoring, set up by an interception return from Manny Lovejoy that gave the Moose a short field to work with. Following three perfect extra points from Uschmann, Knittle got her turn to etch her name in the Moose football history books, converting her PAT attempt successfully to give Palmer the 28-0 lead.
“The fact is those two work really hard. Adam Christiansen does a great job with them and you know during practice they are working, they’re not just sitting around kicking the ball they are working,” said Popowski of his kickers.
The Lynx connected on a 49-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Ryan Hendrickson to wideout Sylhauss Saumalu and converted a tricky two-point conversion on their ensuing possession, cutting the Palmer lead to 20 points with plenty of football left to play in the fourth quarter.
After a scoreless first half and numerous long, arduous drives centered around the punishing running attack of senior Lavar Marshall, VanTassel added another lightning-quick score, this time taking the kickoff 86 yards to the end zone.
“Dawson, Dawson, Dawson. He had a big game making two touchdowns on returns, he’s a special teams hero apparently,” said Corbin.
With wildfire smoke still lingering in the Mat-Su Valley despite the valiant efforts of Friday night rain showers, the Moose faithful filled the stands on Saturday for the first football action in Palmer this year. Uschmann brought the entire grandstands to their feet with an impressive play she made not with her foot, but with her tackling ability. As Lynx return man Dylan Tibbets raced down the sideline past all other Moose special teams personnel, Uschmann delivered the hit that pushed Tibbets out of bounds, evoking a rousing cheer from the stands.
“I feel like I’m on cloud nine, it’s amazing. I was like I have to do what my position calls for now and that’s being the safety and I have to just follow the play and I’m the last defender,” said Uschmann. “My eyes were following him the whole time and once he got past that last player I was just like oh, here we go. I was like this is it and then I just went for it.”
Recent retiree Rod Christiansen, the all-time record holder in Alaska high school football wins looked on fondly from the stands as Palmer’s special teams play made the difference in the blowout win. Christiansen’s son Adam, the only member of the family on the coaching staff this season, is partially to thank for that. Adam Christiansen returned from playing linebacker and long snapper at Concordia University in Nebraska to coach special teams and has taken Knittle and Uschmann under his wing, resulting in not only a perfect performance on PAT’s but also the touchdown-saving tackle from Uschmann.
“He’s really helped me get my form down and just, head down skip through and that’s what’s really helped me, and the boys are so encouraging,” said Uschmann of Christiansen.
Athletic director Dale Ewart and principal Paul Reid are also partially to thank for Palmer’s pair of kickers this year. During last fall’s powderpuff football practices, the two gawked at the powerful legs of Knittle and Uschmann and encouraged them to try out for football the following season. Both were encouraged by their male teammates to play as well.
“Honestly it’s like one of the best feelings,” said Knittle of her kick.
Knittle has been itching to play football since elementary school, and finally got permission from her parents to play this season. Knittle hopes to convert a 40-yard field goal by the end of the season. Uschmann hopes to make a game-winning kick at some point during the season, and is already itching to deliver more tackles. With the three-score fourth quarter lead, Popowski was able to give a handful of his starters a rest and allow junior varsity players to gain valuable varsity experience against their Division 1 opponent.
“There was a few guys that never came out of the game and they showed that they were in pretty good shape,” said Popowski. “We had a lot of guys play tonight which was really good for us and a lot of kids made some plays. Special teams was big tonight.”
The Lynx would score again on a five-yard run from Hendrickson late in the fourth quarter, again cutting the lead to 20. On a punt attempt gone wrong, the Moose defense followed the lead of the offense and special teams, scoring a safety.
“It feels really good because that was a great team win all around players and coaches,” said Popowski of his first win as head coach of the Moose.
Following a disappointing defeat at the hands of the Chugiak Mustangs in their first game of the season, the Moose bounced back in a big way at Machetanz, adding to the low hanging smoke by sounding the Moose Gooser 11 times. Marshall felt confident in his teammates and coaching staff moving forward in the young season.
“Larijani is a really good offensive coordinator for us and Popowski has a good offensive line for us,” said Marshall. “Anything’s possible and D1 schools don’t really matter.”
Palmer 37, Dimond 15
Saturday, Palmer High School.
First quarter: No scoring.
Second quarter: No scoring.
Palmer — VanTassel 79 kickoff return (Uschmann kick) 11:49
Palmer — Christiansen 24 run (Uschmann kick) 5:20
Palmer — Corbin 5 run — (Uschmann kick) 3:04.
Palmer — VanTassel 6 run (Knittle kick)
Dimond — Saumalu 49 pass from Hendrickson (2 pt) 7:58
Palmer — VanTassel 86 kickoff return (Uschmann kick) 7:28
Dimond — Hendrickson 5 run (Fletcher kick)
Palmer — Safety 1:18.
Rushing — Dimond: Tautua 6-23, Hendrickson 12-35, Mateaki — 4-6, Cavazos 1-1; Palmer — Marshall 17-84, Heal 1-3, Corbin 2-9, Christiansen 12-92, VanTassel 3-29, Lovejoy 2-5, Simmerman 1- (-2).
Passing — Dimond — Hendrickson 8-19-189 — 1 TD 1 INT; Palmer — Heal 5-9-21.
Receiving — Dimond Tibbets 3-64, Saumalu 3-81, Faualo 1-36, Stivers 1-8 Palmer — Corbin 2-15, VanTassel 1-0, Lovejoy 1-2, Helm 1-4.