The best thing about Saturday’s game for Juneau Huskies coach Rich Sjoroos and his players is it has no relevance for them as they enter the playoffs.
The Huskies are entering the postseason in last place in the eight-team conference — at 0-7 in the conference and 1-7 overall — after losing at home to seventh-ranked Anchorage South 46-0 (2-5 in the conference, 3-5 overall) at Adair-Kennedy Field.
The game was one-sided from start to finish as the visiting Wolverines were successful running and passing the ball mostly at will, while the turnover-prone Huskies never threatened to score.
It was a difficult way to end the regular season for Sjoroos, whose team last year came within a touchdown of state title and who has never before had a losing season in 30 years of coaching. He and his team also face a formidable challenge entering the postseason as they’ll face top-ranked Anchorage West (6-1 conference, 7-1 overall), who defeated the Huskies in Anchorage a week ago by running up a 52-0 score at halftime before going on to win by a final score 59-21.
For Huskies fans looking for a silver lining, it’s worth noting: 1) one-third of Juneau’s players in that game were from the junior varsity squad due to a lack of varsity players, 2) Juneau outscored West in the second half 21-7 and 3) Sjoroos, after Saturday’s regular-season finale, said there are ways to take advantage of last week’s loss.
“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.”
One notable difference is Juneau has a younger team while West has more seniors, Sjoroos said.
“The pressure starts getting on you when your careers and seasons can end on one given night,” he said. “Everybody has had eight weeks for seeding purposes, but now it’s zero-and-zero.”
Among the obvious challenges for Sjoroos will be coming up with a game plan. He threw a multitude of different looks at the Wolverines on Saturday — including having at least four different players take snaps at quarterback — which he has done other times throughout the season, especially when his team has struggled.
“I’m just trying to find something that works, so when I find something works I’ll stick with it,” he said. On Saturday “I literally couldn’t find anything that worked and so I kept trying different things. I try not to keep doing the same thing if it’s not working and we’ve tried to adjust some things, and to their credit they were just stopping us from really getting anything rolling today.”
The Huskies, despite several lopsided losses this season, did prove they are capable of contending with a top team when they went to Washington state and defeated Auburn High School in a 55-49 shootout in double overtime, which is the only loss for Auburn (4-1 overall) so far this season. Sjoroos said as such he isn’t reflecting yet on the success or failure of this season, emphasizing that is still to be determined.
“I just want to continue to coach and try and get these kids playing better,” he said “And that’s what I’m gonna keep striving for. If we’re going to reflect back on these games we’ve already had, I’ll do that after the season’s over.”
Juneau Huskies 2023 regular season schedule
Aug. 12: East Anchorage 21, Juneau 6
Aug. 19: Dimond 40, Juneau 33
Aug. 26: @Bartlett 56, Juneau 21
Sept. 2: @Service 54, Juneau 14
Sept. 8: Juneau 55, @Auburn (Washington) 49
Sept. 15: Colony 19, Juneau 6
Sept. 23: @West Anchorage 59, Juneau 21
Sept. 30: South Anchorage 46, Juneau 0