Jayden Johnson (4), a junior for the Juneau Huskies, looks for room to run against Anchorage South during their game Sept. 30 at Adair-Kennedy Field. The Alaska Sports Report calls Johnson “most explosive player in the state” as the state playoffs begin Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Jayden Johnson (4), a junior for the Juneau Huskies, looks for room to run against Anchorage South during their game Sept. 30 at Adair-Kennedy Field. The Alaska Sports Report calls Johnson “most explosive player in the state” as the state playoffs begin Friday night. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire File)

Huskies begin playoffs Friday night; here’s how the eight teams stack up

#8 Juneau faces #1 West Anchorage, but “Jayden Johnson is the most explosive player in the state.”

The Juneau Huskies are facing a formidable challenge entering this year’s state football playoffs as the lowest-ranked eighth seed visiting the top-seeded Anchorage West Eagles, but the visitors do have “the most explosive player in the state,” according to a preview of all eight teams by the Alaska Sports Report.

Juneau, 0-7 in the conference and 1-7 overall during the regular season, are scheduled to play at 7 p.m. Friday against Anchorage West (6-1 conference, 7-1 overall), The Eagles defeated the Huskies in Anchorage two weeks ago by running up a 52-0 score at halftime before going on to win by a final score 59-21.

A bracket shows the seedings and schedule for the eight teams in this year’s state high school football playoffs. (Alaska Sports Report)

A bracket shows the seedings and schedule for the eight teams in this year’s state high school football playoffs. (Alaska Sports Report)

Huskies coach Rich Sjoroos, after last week’s loss to Anchorage South, said that while the team is obviously facing a huge challenge compared to a year ago — when a more experienced squad with more playmakers came within a touchdown of the state title — there are things an underdog can take advantage of.

“I’ve been on the other side of that where we’ve been the heavy favorites,” he said. “West will be the heavy favorites. We get the luxury now of making all the adjustments — when they won like they did two weeks ago they’re not going to adjust, because why would they? There’s not really many adjustments that they would do on their end. And we can hopefully get down to the grindstone, find some things that work and try and make a game with it.”

Also in Juneau’s favor, according to the Alaska Sports Report, is junior wide receiver Jayden Johnson — who has also seen considerable time at running back and quarterback this year.

“Jayden Johnson is the most explosive player in the state,” the website’s analysis states. “He finds the end zone every 4.9 touches and has amassed 12 TDs and 935 yards — 498 receiving and 437 rushing.”

•••••

HOW THE TEAMS STACK UP

ANCHORAGE WEST EAGLES

Seed: #1

Record: 7-1

Coach: Tim Davis

Players to watch: Quarterback Azariah Atonio has thrown for more than 300 yards in each of the last two games and leads D1 passers with 1,858 yards. Halfback Davis Iloilo leads all D1 players with 11 rushing TDs and needs 124 yards to reach the 1,000-yard benchmark. Christian Faletoi is an active linebacker with five sacks, 49 tackles and five interceptions, including a pick six.

Extra point: The Eagles average 47.3 points per game and are 7-0 against Alaska competition with their only loss coming in a 33-26 setback to Aiea in Hawaii.

ANCHORAGE EAST THUNDERBIRDS

Seed: #2

Record: 6-2

Coach: Jeff Trotter

Players to watch: Saumani Atiifale is a freight train whether he’s carrying the ball or tackling. He emerged as the lead running back late in the regular season and has collected 586 yards and five TDs on the season. Quarterback Austin Johnson has passed for 827 yards and 16 TDs – 12 of them going to wide receiver Brandon Young. Young leads D1 receivers with 35 receptions and a dozen scores.

Extra point: With 77 career wins, Trotter ranks No. 1 in East history and seventh all-time in the CIC, two behind Bob Swatosch of Bartlett.

COLONY KNIGHTS

Seed: #3

Record: 5-3

Coach: Robbie Nash

Players to watch: Hard-hitting linemen Reese Rodriguez and Quilan Meehl anchor a defense that allowed just 9 points a game over a three-game winning streak to end the regular season. Rodriguez leads D1 defensive players with 89 tackles (12.6 per game) and six sacks. Meehl is third in tackles (69) and tied for second in sacks (5).

Extra point: Kicker Johnny Figgins leads the state with seven field goals – including a school record 41-yarder in Week 5 and a state record-tying three in Week 8 – and last week blasted a 62-yard punt. That’s gettin’ Figgy with it.

SERVICE COUGARS

Seed: #4

Record: 4-4

Coach: Kahlil Bolling

Players to watch: Quarterback Jonathon Tautua leads D1 passers with 23 TDs and ranks second with 1,599 yards. Top receivers are Caleb Wahlman (30-669-9) and Chris Thompson (26-435-8). Running back Jayden Schmidlkofer (133-574-1) has come on strong in the second half of the season with 100+ yards in three of his last four games. On defense, Carson Gamez is averaging 9.4 tackles per game while PJ Levao has been good for 9.3 tackles.

Extra point: Wahlman has recorded 100+ receiving yards in four games, keyed by his 176 vs. Colony and his 130-yard, 3-TD effort vs. Juneau. Wahlman also ranks No. 2 in D1 with 85 tackles.

DIMOND LYNX

Seed: #5

Record: 5-3

Coach: Brian Yim

Players to watch: Quarterback Carson Wingate has picked it up toward the end of the season, lifting his completion percentage from .419 in his first three CIC games to .549 in the final two. He has thrown for 886 yards and seven TDs; of his 10 interceptions, six of them came against Service in a 28-14 Week 5 loss. Top pass catchers are Josiah James (28-377-2), Alex Borke (21-365-3) and Javonte Walls (21-319-4).

Extra point: Dimond is looking for its first playoff win since 2015 when the Lynx beat Colony 34-26.

BARTLETT GOLDEN BEARS

Seed: #6

Record: 2-6

Coach: Chance Matsuoka

Players to watch: Bartlett has long been ‘Running Back High’ and this year is no different behind a stable of workhorse backs led by Makisi Poleo (72-689-89), who is coming off a 190-yard, 3-TD gem to end the regular season. Other yard bakers include Lokahi Kanohokula (80-672-4) and Manu Satele (57-483-4).

Extra point: Andre Jameson is a game changer. The playmaker had an 82-yard punt return last week and earlier this season against Colony scored on a 64-yard run and 96-yard kickoff return.

ANCHORAGE SOUTH WOLVERINES

Seed: #7

Record: 3-5

Coach: John Lewis

Players to watch: Quarterback Cole Yarrington surpassed the 1,000-yard benchmark for the season after leading the Wolverines to a 46-0 victory in the regular-season finale at Juneau. Running back Aaron Concepcion and receivers Landon Drumm and Falealili Lefano round out the offense. The defense is led by Brock Skinner and Rylin Sanderson in addition to Lefano in the secondary.

Extra point: With 84 career wins, Lewis ranks No. 1 in South history and fifth all-time in the CIC, five behind Duncan Shackelford who coached 22 years at Dimond and Chugiak.

JUNEAU HUSKIES

Seed: #8

Record: 1-7

Coach: Rich Sjoroos

Players to watch: Jayden Johnson is the most explosive player in the state. He finds the end zone every 4.9 touches and has amassed 12 TDs and 935 yards – 498 receiving and 437 rushing. A one-man wrecking crew, he has furnished eight TDs of 50 yards or longer. Quarterback Noah Ault (34%-579-7) and running back Hayden Aube (143-478-6) round out the offense.

Extra point: A three-time Alaska Coach of the Year, Sjoroos has been on staff seven times when Juneau played for a state title, ranging from 2003 to 2022. He served as offensive coordinator when the team won in 2005 and 2007. He was head coach between 2009 and 2013 before taking time off and coming back in 2019. In all that time, this is his first losing season. But the postseason presents new life.

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