The Juneau Huskies finished their 2021 season as runner-ups for the state’s Division I title.
The capital city’s unified high school football team fell to the Bettye Davis East Anchorage High School Thunderbirds 30-17 on Friday in the 2021 state championship game played at Service High School in Anchorage.
In a Saturday morning phone interview, Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said the outcome wasn’t the end of the season that the Huskies had hoped for, but there are still many positives to come out of the season, and those will only become more evident as the sting of the loss dissipates.
“There should be a lot of smiles on a lot of faces, we accomplished a lot this season,” Sjoroos said.
Accomplishments include a Cook Inlet Conference title after moving into the state’s largest football conference; an undefeated record at home, including a pair of dominant playoff wins; and a glut of all-conference honors for players and personnel, including Coach of the Year recognition for Sjoroos; among other successes.
Juneau spent the bulk of the 2021 Alaska School Activities Association First National Bowl Series game playing catch-up with an East team that played well on both sides of the ball. East rushed for a touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion with about 2 minutes and 30 seconds left in the first quarter — both courtesy of junior Punimatagi Pa’u — and never trailed again.
“Hats off to East this season, they played a good football game,” Sjoroos said.
The Huskies beat the Thunderbirds the last time the teams had played, and Sjoroos said it was evident they had made adjustments in their approach to the Huskies. Throughout the game, East did a good job of containing Juneau’s speedy skill players as multiple attempts to push the ball outside were ultimately bottled and deep passes typically fell incomplete.
Still, Juneau was able to put points on the board in the second quarter via a long pass from quarterback Noah Chambers, a senior, to fleet-footed wide receiver James Connally, a senior. It’s a connection that had high-octane potential all season. An extra-point kick from senior Wallace Adams put the Huskies within a single point of the Thunderbirds.
The ball didn’t bounce the Huskies’ way on multiple occasions. That included East recovering multiple fumbled snaps and successfully throwing the ball away rather than taking a big loss or turning the ball over.
There was also a delayed touchdown call near the end of the second quarter that caused visible confusion and frustration on the Juneau sideline, as it initially seemed Juneau had stopped East on a fourth-and-1 run. However, the touchdown run, also by Pa’u, gave East a 14-7 advantage. The Thunderbirds would follow that up with another 2-point conversion and enjoy a 16-7 lead at the half.
East started the second half with the ball, and efficiently drove down the field. Thunderbirds quarterback Kyler Johnson menaced the Huskies with his legs and arm throughout the game. Johnson rushed for two touchdowns in the second half and made some tough cross-field throws. East Anchorage running backs Andrew Montenegro, a sophomore; Amosa Sou, a senior; and Pa’u all rushed well, which allowed East to chew up the clock while gaining chunks of yardage.
Running backs Gaby Soto, a senior; and Jarrell Williams, a junior; also ran well in the game, and Juneau showed the inventiveness and flashes of big-play ability that led to high-scoring games throughout the season. However, the Huskies were unable to find the end zone often in the contest.
In the third quarter, Adams kicked a 40-plus-yard field goal from the left hash-mark that put Juneau within two touchdowns of East. Adams had missed two long attempts earlier in the game.
“It was great for him to bounce back,” Sjoroos said, calling Adams the best kicker in the state.
In the fourth quarter, Williams caught a touchdown pass from Connally for the Huskies’ second touchdown of the game to make the score 30-16. Adams would tack on another extra point. Sjoroos said the trick pass was a play the Huskies had been tinkering with for a while, and the touchdown play may have been the first time it worked.
That touchdown would be the last score for either team.
Throughout the game, visiting Juneau fans could be heard passionately cheering on the Huskies, and Sjoroos was complimentary of the fans from Juneau, other parts of the state and even the Lower 48, who had followed the team.
“I thought our fans were phenomenal, it was great to see people make the journey,” Sjoroos said. “It was just a neat thing to see.”