The Juneau Huskies were in familiar territory at halftime.
The unified Juneau high school football team, for the second week in a row, enjoyed a narrow advantage over a talented Anchorage team. However, while the Huskies faded against West Anchorage on the road, they were able to keep the pressure on in the second half and ultimately prevail at home against East Anchorage High School.
Different week, different outcome
Last week, Juneau went into the half with a 15-14 lead against West Anchorage High School. That turned into a lopsided loss.
Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said finishing the game strong and securing a win was a focal point of halftime discussions.
“We talked at halftime that we had the lead, but we also had the lead the week before, so we need to make sure we improve in the second half,” Sjoroos said in a post-game interview. “I think especially in the fourth quarter we were really able to get things rolling offensively, and then defensively get a couple of stops and get off the field.”
While Juneau led at the half and the end of the final frame, they weren’t up throughout game.
Each half saw lead changes, quick scores, red zone turnovers and big gains. How tight was the game? Going into the fourth quarter, the contest was tied at 21. With just over 3 minutes remaining, Juneau clawed out a 29-28 lead via a Gaby Soto rush for a 2-point conversion. It wasn’t until late in the fourth quarter that big defensive plays and an opportunistic offense gave enough cushion for the Huskies to take a victory formation.
Sjoroos said East Anchorage was “the No. 1 team in the state for a reason.”
“I couldn’t be more proud of everyone,” Sjoroos said.
Containing a dangerous offense
The Thunderbird’s quarterback Kyler Johnson, a senior, made big plays with his arms and legs all day and East receiver Deuce Zimmerman, a senior, reliably found seams in the secondary for big gains.
Sjoroos said East Anchorage is a good football team with a lot of talent.
“They’re tough all the way around,” Sjoroos said. “They’re literally one snap away from exploding every time —offense or defense. I just thought it was a great job by our coaching staff. Our players responded with a great week of practice, and it was reflected on the football field here. I just thought we stayed aggressive today.”
Three times two
Going for 2 points following touchdowns was part of staying aggressive Sjoroos said.
Soto’s rushing score was one of two conversions. A leaping Payton Grant reception that gave Juneau a 9-point lead was the other. That scoring play required quarterback Noah Chambers to buy some time with his legs, a big jump from Grant as well as concentration to keep his feet in bounds.
“It gave us a chance to go up two scores,” Sjoroos said. “I figured at that point, let’s make it happen, and what a great play. On offense, that was probably our play of the game.”
Kadin Messmer, a senior, and Hunter Derr, a junior, also put 2 points on the board by sacking Johnson in East Anchorage’s end zone for a safety.
No. 1 picks
As the second quarter wound down, the Thunderbirds were marching the ball down the field.
With the Huskies up by six points, less than a second remaining in the half and East Anchorage on the 6-yard line, the Thunderbirds opted to pass.
The ball found its way to the hands of Juneau’s Jarrell Williams, a junior who wears No. 1, who opted to take a knee to end the half rather than attempt a risky interception return.
In the fourth quarter with less than 3 minutes remaining, Williams again picked off Johnson. Williams ran the ball back to the end zone, whipping the crowd into a frenzy in the process, but the return was called back because of a block in the back. The Huskies would score on the subsequent drive, securing a two-possession lead.
Sam Sika, a junior, also contributed an interception late in the game for the Huskies to go long with a big catch and key fourth-down stop.
Punching above their weight
While East Anchorage had Juneau beat in sheer size, the Huskies tackled well and ran through contact.
Sjoroos said being on the wrong side of a height, weight or numbers comparison isn’t new for the Huskies, and it’s something players and coaches work hard to overcome.
“We’re under-sized against pretty much every team that we play,” Sjoroos said. “Whether it be sheer numbers of kids, the size of the guys on the line, our running backs are smaller than their running backs, our receivers are shorter than their guys. We just say, they put 11 guys out there, only one guy is going to have the ball in his hands, and we have to get him down. We just got to block our guy, stay in front of him. Make them go through us to get their tackle, which is what we try to do and preach, and they responded well.”
Juneau has away games scheduled for each of the next two Saturdays.
The Huskies are slotted to play at Service High School on Sept. 11. Varsity kickoff is set for 3 p.m., and junior varsity at noon.
The next week, they’re scheduled to play Bartlett High School before returning to Adair-Kennedy Field on Sept. 25.
• Contact Ben Hohenstatt at (907)308-4895 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @BenHohenstatt.