As a setting sun transformed a sunny afternoon into a foggy evening, it was still easy to see the Juneau Huskies would soon be playing for a state championship.
Juneau’s unified high school football team bested the Bartlett High School Golden Bears on Saturday with a final score of 50-20. The win in front of an energetic home crowd secures a berth to the Division I state championship game to be played in Anchorage.
While Juneau poured on the scoring after halftime with 29 second-half points, the Huskies also got off to a fast start. Speedy senior James Connally, a wide receiver, scored on a jet sweep on Juneau’s first play of the game.
“When you’re at home in a game like that with all the nerves, and all that, that are on display being able to get a score like that just really got us into a good frame of mind,” said Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos in a post-game interview.
Connally added two more scores during the contest.
The Huskies’ defense also came out of the gate strong, and Connally’s quick score was followed by a fumble recovery by linebacker Jamal Johnson, a junior. The turnover would turn into more points as senior Gaby Soto, a running back, scored on a short pass from senior Noah Chambers, the Huskies’ quarterback.
“You can’t ask for a better start,” Sjoroos said.
Soto would go one to score two more times in the game.
A nifty touchdown catch by Jarrell Williams accounted for Juneau’s other touchdown in the contest.
While Juneau started strong, Bartlett pounded the ball into the end zone twice in the first half of the game. However, an extra-point attempt and two-point conversion fell flat for the Golden Bears.
A 21-12 Juneau lead quickly grew in the second half.
“We were able to come out and get our power run game going and get some pass plays and get some big stops, and it kind of snowballed on them,” Sjoroos said.
Bartlett was kept out of the end zone for nearly all of the second half. Bartlett running back Jacari Harris scored near the end of the fourth quarter when the game was all but decided. A 2-point conversion attempt was also good to give the Golden Bears their 20 points.
Sjoroos said the difference between the two defensive halves boiled down to “just tackling legs and following keys and making them work for it.”
“That’s really what it was, just basic fundamentals that our guys were taking to a higher level there and keep ‘em out of the end zone,” Sjoroos said.
He particularly highlighted a red zone stand that ended with a tackle by junior defensive lineman Brandon Campbell, who had several big tackles in the game.
Now, the Huskies will travel to Anchorage to play Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School to take on the Thunderbirds, according to results posted on Alaska State Athletic Association 365 website. The game is scheduled to be played at 7 p.m. Friday at Service High School.
The last time the two teams met, Juneau dealt East its lone loss of the season in a 39-28 game.
Sjoroos said he doesn’t anticipate it being hard to keep his team focused on the task at hand as the Huskies get ready for the game.
“After this game, I said to them, ‘You had more excitement after the first round than you did even today,’” Sjoroos said. “They’re just kind of, they’re not satisfied yet, I guess. They’ve got a checklist and there’s one more check to go.”
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.