The Juneau football team appeared eager to put the game behind them.
Approximately 30 minutes after losing in the state quarterfinals to South Anchorage (5-4, 1-3 Cook Inlet), Juneau’s makeshift locker room inside a modular classroom was mostly barren, save for a few players still packing up their gear. Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos described a feeling of shock among his players after Saturday’s 54-14 season-ending loss, an understandable reaction given all that had gone right for the Huskies (5-4, 3-1 Chugach) in the last two months, notably a 43-point victory last Saturday that secured the Chugach Conference championship and No. 1 playoff seed.
“For somebody tonight, it was going to end, and when it ends, it’s pretty abrupt,” Sjoroos said. “You think of all the practices and camps and team dinners and bonding and all the stuff that goes into the season. To have it all of a sudden end and be done, it’s pretty hard to swallow. They’ll bounce back from it, but I think that’s really what you can see right now is a lot of stunned guys.”
Juneau gave up five touchdowns in the second half to South, the fourth seed out of the Cook Inlet Conference. Wolverines running back Carter Weber-Thomas had four touchdowns in the victory while quarterback Jackson Harmon had three touchdown throws, including at least one each to Jaden and Quincy Heartwell-McCoy.
“We watched a ton of film and had a great week of practice with the kids, so they were confident coming out,” South coach Walter Harmon said. “It’s actually one of our more complete games, so we were excited about that.”
The Huskies were the second No. 1 seed to go down Saturday. Top-seeded East Anchorage also lost its quarterfinals matchup. South Anchorage will clash West Anchorage while Colony, which upset East 28-27, moves on to face Service next weekend in the semifinals.
The game got out of hand for the Huskies in the second half.
Jackson Harmon led a four-play, 73-yard touchdown drive midway through the third quarter. Harmon’s 46-yard pass to Elijah Bowdon set up the Wolverines in Juneau’s end, and Weber-Thomas scored just three plays later on an 8-yard run. The Huskies fumbled the ball on their next possession, and Harmon took advantage, finding Quincy Heartwell-McKoy for a 43-yard touchdown pass. The wide receiver’s ensuing two-point conversion made it 34-14 with 2:58 left in the third quarter.
“I think the kids took over the game, which what we’ve been working for all season long, is to get them to recognize their own opportunities,” Walter Harmon said. “I think all of our offensive players grew up, especially Jackson.”
The Wolverines came out of the break with a renewed focus, according to Jackson Harmon.
“Our seniors really took over in the room over there,” Jackson Harmon said. “They did not want their season to be over. They did not want that to be their last game. So we came out with a winning mentality and fought hard.”
That’s how Juneau came out for the first half.
After going down 18-7, the Huskies burned over eight minutes off the clock with a 19-play, 75-yard drive that ended seven seconds before half. The drive featured a big fourth-down conversion by running back Gaby Soto and a 3-yard touchdown grab by Ali Beya.
Juneau went into halftime trailing 18-14.
Sjoroos said the team will benefit from the playoff experience.
“Everybody that is out there for Juneau, there’s really no playoff experience there,” Sjoroos said. “So to get a game under their belt now is really going to build us for next year, and the fact that almost every kid is coming back, I think they’re going to be pretty motivated and hungry to avenge anything like that that happened this year.”
• Contact sports reporter Nolin Ainsworth at 523-2272 or firstname.lastname@example.org.