The Huskies didn’t score first, but they did score last and the most in a blowout win against Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School that punches Juneau’s ticket to the state championship game Friday in Anchorage.
The final score of the game was 39-6, and the win was fueled by dominant play on both sides of the ball.
When asked how he felt about yet another victory and advancing to the 2022 ASAA First National Bowl Series Division I Football State Championship coach Rich Sjoroos had but one response, “Proud.”
“We’ve talked about all the work they’ve put in, these kids have played football out here since they were little kids and to be able to have a semi-final game on their home field and come out on top and have a chance to play for another state championship their senior year, can’t be more proud of them and the coaches, as well,” Sjoroos said. “I grew up here and I’ve always just taken great pride in what’s on the front of that jersey and it says Juneau, and I just feel good that I’m able to help make football successful in Juneau and just looking forward now to the challenge next week.”
East managed to score early in the contest with a 66-yard pass coming on the game’s second play, however, it would be the last score the Thunderbirds would put on the board. After missing the extra point, East took the lead at 6-0, but the Huskies would quickly answer after recovering a fumble on the 25-yard line with 5 minutes and 46 seconds left in the first quarter. That led to a possession punctuated by senior Jarrell Williams running the ball for nine yards into the end zone despite a facemask nearly turning his helmet entirely backward. After picking up the extra point, the Huskies took a 7-6 lead they would not relinquish.
On East’s next possession, they would make it as far as the 47-yard line before being intercepted by Williams, securing the ball for the Huskies at the end of the first quarter. It was Williams again in the end zone for the Huskies early into the second quarter bringing the score up to 13-6 after the extra point was blocked. Senior Payton Grant would come up big a few plays later with an interception at the 25-yard line and after several running plays between Jamal Johnson and Williams, Johnson would ultimately score with 2:46 left in the second quarter, bringing the score up to 19-6 after a second extra point attempt was blocked.
East then started with the ball at the 42-yard line but thanks to senior Brandon Campbell, it never went much further than that due to a big tackle that forced a loss of yards for the Thunderbirds, another big tackle and a blocked pass by No. 51, who the announcer noted was celebrating a birthday, which brought an end to the half. At the beginning of the third quarter, it was the Williams and Johnson show once again with big running gains by each until Johnson managed to run the ball in for a touchdown with 7 minutes remaining the third quarter. After securing the extra point, the score was 26-6.
A stout defense and frequent pressure from the Huskies’ defensive line stymied East’s offense throughout the game.
Sjoroos said the senior defense have been strong all year, but Saturday’s game was especially dominant with big turnovers and the return of senior MJ Tupou.
“That defensive line up front with Derr and Sika have been special all year, and Campbell was an absolute force today coming off the end,” Sjoroos said. “MJ Tupou was back in the lineup and did a real good job for us, so four seniors up at the front of that defense and then getting all of those takeaways today was just really big for us because it was able to give us a little separation on the scoreboard and it kept us in good field position.”
East would try to come back but after an incomplete pass on fourth down and 16, Juneau took over on the 26-yard line. Williams had two big running plays and after a facemask was called against East, the ball was on the 10-yard line, and it would be Johnson once again to run it into the end zone with 2:18 left in the third quarter and the score at 33-6 after the extra point. The Thunderbirds would lose possession on their next drive after a broken-up pass on fourth and 28, putting the Huskies offense on the field at the 44-yard line. Johnson and Williams would collectively run the ball to the 28-yard line on the next two plays, which saw the end of the third quarter.
The fourth quarter opened with more running gains by Williams and Johnson until Williams connected with senior Lucas White for a pass that took the ball to the goal line. White would finish the job shortly after with a run into the end zone, putting the score at 39-6 after an attempt at a two-point conversion was missed. Huskies would hold off East after a fourth down attempt was missed, putting Juneau’s offense at the 10-yard line. Johnson made big running gains on the following two plays, but after a wide snap, the Huskies were forced to kick the ball away. East made good distance down the field from the 49-yard line, however, it would be an interception by Williams in the end zone to put the final nail in the coffin.
Juneau boasts a perfect 10-0 record after their last home game of the year. The Huskies will seek to make it 11-0 against Colony High School in the championship game held at Service High School. Sjoroos said that despite the team’s tremendous success, he’s never allowed the records to be the focal point when looking to the next game each week.
“It’s funny, I just kind of lose sight of the records because I feel like each week is such a reboot,” Sjoroos said. “It’s like you could have a good record and then East might not have a good record, but then you could see in the beginning of the game how tough they are and how many players they have and stuff like that, so I just kind of throw that out the window and I hope by being that way that the kids don’t get too caught up in it either because I feel like if you get too caught up in your own record, you might lose sight of what you’re trying to accomplish.”
Following the game, Sjoroos said he only then learned that Colony had won its semi-final game against Bartlett High School. He added that while Colony has been solid all year with one of the best defensive players in the league, Juneau is confident, as well and they’ve risen to every challenge they’ve faced throughout the season.
“We had a tough match-up with them in Colony, we were able to win that game, but they definitely took it to us in the first quarter and then we got going, so we’re definitely looking forward to that rematch in Anchorage,” Sjoroos said. “It’s going to be a big test, they’ve got the defensive player of the year on that team, No.21 (Jack Nash), he’s been absolutely lighting it up on offense, as well, so I’m sure they’re confident, but our guys are, too, though. I will say at this point our senior class has handled everything that’s ever been thrown at them and now here’s one more hurdle to overcome and they’re just going to have to have a great week of practice, prepare as hard as they can and finish out their careers up in Anchorage and hopefully come out on top.”
Williams, who is certainly no stranger to the feeling of having big games, put on one of his more dominant performances of the season with two touchdowns, two interceptions and big runs all throughout. After the game Williams said he’s confident in his team moving into next weekend’s big game in Anchorage.
“I feel great, I feel like I’m 100% and so is the team,” Williams said. “We had a ton of injuries last regular season week, but we’ve got all the guys back. We stopped a big team tonight and now we’re coming for Colony’s head.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at email@example.com.