WASILLA — The Wasilla Warriors mounted a comeback on the opening game of the football season on Veterans Memorial Field, defeating the West Valley Wolfpack 39-32.
The win comes as the first for Wasilla’s new head coach Ken Ottinger. The Wolfpack were led by interim head coach Norm Davis due to the resignation of head coach Roy Hessner on July 27 following a swimming accident that received national attention.
The Wolfpack would light up the scoreboard early and often. West Valley scored twice on Wasilla fumbles in the first quarter. The Wolfpack scored three times in the first quarter alone, culminating short drive with a 68-yard touchdown strike from Shaun Conwell to Weston Avery to put the Wolfpack up 18-6.
“We’ve got a lot of guys that have great hands and great speed so if we can get them in a position to make a play they’ll make that play and we did in the first quarter,” said Davis.
The Warriors benefitted on special teams in their own way. After struggling to receive a kick, return specialist Ethan Kraus put on a display of speed and shiftyness. With penalties assessed on kickoffs, Kraus dazzled his way across midfield to give the Warriors prime field position early in the second quarter. He struck again later in the game, nearly breaking one free and setting up a Wasilla score by taking the ball all the way to the West Valley 11 yard line. Kraus scored the Warriors first touchdown on a 2-yard run late in the first quarter.
Starting Quaterback Byson Malave traveled with the American Legion Post 35 Road Warriors baseball team that took runner-up at a national tournament in Wyoming, and hadn’t attended enough practices to be eligible. Backup quarterback Colton Lindquist led the Warriors with his arm and his legs, racking up 74 yards rushing in the first half alone and 121 yards on the ground. Lindquist scored twice in the second quarter for the Warriors.
“Oh my gosh he stepped up,” said Ottinger of Lindquist. “He didn’t want to play quarterback but he didn’t say anything, he just said yes coach, he learned it and he was a dual threat tonight.”
Speedster Hunter Hayes led the Warriors with a game-high 140 yards rushing, 57 of which came on the game-tying score with 7:11 left in the second quarter. Lindquist would capitalize on Kraus’ long kick return to take the lead for the first time with a 1-yard run later in the second quarter.
“Our blocking was unbelievable on special teams,” said Ottinger.
Wasilla struck first in the second half when Kraus took a 3-yard run to the end zone. For the first time all game, a team converted the PAT when Jaden Sheveland sent the ball through the uprights. West Valley answered almost immediately, needing just more than a minute to get the game back within one score.
Conwell sent a bomb deep into the end zone from midfield and connected with Dylan Thomas. Conwell again connected with Weston Avery for the two-point conversion to bring the Wolfpack within 1.
“To go in a hostile environment and you’re competitive to the final seconds of the game, they can all hold their heads up with pride and I’m proud of them,” said Davis.
Lindquist sealed the game with a 14-yard run late in the fourth quarter, but the Wolfpack was not done yet. A costly fumble gave Conwell three more shots at the end zone, but the Warrior defense stifled the West Valley comeback attempt.
“Our corners and our free safeties made some adjustments and it was a little bit of a tighter window for him,” said Ottinger.
Lindquist was 5 for 11 for 76 yards passing to go along with his 121 yards on 25 carries. Lindquist’s counterpart Conwell threw for 145 yards in the first half alone and ended 11 for 21 for 146 yards with one interception and one touchdown. Wasilla moves on to play another interior opponent next week in North Pole. Ottinger hired a number of Valley coaches to be a part of his staff including offensive coordinator Matt Jaronik who led the Warriors in a chant after the game of “I love Warrior football.”
“Trying to get a change of feel of how Wasilla Warrior is perceived it’s going to take a while,” said Ottinger. “This win is on all my coaching staff it’s not me that’s on them.”
Moose, Knights fall on road
Palmer and Colony suffered road losses Friday. Chugiak scored a 26-2 win over the Moose. Defending Division I state champion East topped Colony 44-16 in Anchorage.