The Juneau Huskies went into Friday night’s game with hopes of coming home with a state championship, but they will have to settle for a nearly perfect season.
The unified Juneau high school football team came out on the losing side of a Division I title game that defied expectations. It featured two teams that averaged nearly 35 points, but turned into a low-scoring, hard-hitting grind that ended with the Colony Knights winning their first Championship game with a final score of 14-7.
“It’s just unfortunate, it was definitely a game that could have gone either way — they say that about a lot of games, but that one definitely would qualify,” said Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos in a post-game interview. “It’s just a tough one, like I said, we’ll reflect back, but for right now I just really appreciate everything that senior class did. It’s a real special group of kids, if I could have a group like that every year, I’d coach for 50 more years.”
The score of the ASAA Division I First National Bowl championship remained tied for much of the game at 7-7 after both teams managed to put up points early in the first two quarters. It would be Colony quarterback Jack Nash, a junior, who would put his team on top with a run into the end zone with 17 seconds left in the fourth quarter. Both teams had penalties called on them at crucial moments near the goal line during the contest, which contributed to the low final score.
Colony won the game’s coin toss and deferred to the second half, kicking off to Juneau to start the game.
Juneau relied on the power-running play style that propelled them to the big game, and senior Jarrell Williams started off running the ball often, but Colony’s defense largely stymied his efforts. Instead, the Huskies were paced on the ground by senior Jamal Johnson.
“He’s great, he’s just a warrior, I thought both him and Williams played well,” Sjoroos said. “I thought Colony did a great job of shedding blocks and breaking tackles and they were able to sustain it for the entire game and obviously kept us from putting the ball in the end zone. We were able to move the ball down the field at certain points of the game but not enough to get the lead and get the victory, so all the credit goes to them.”
Johnson had nearly 100 rushing yards in the first half and scored Juneau’s lone touchdown.
Colony’s offense was heavily dependent on Nash. The Knights had a solid running game throughout, but had few big gains against a tough Juneau front-seven. However, Colony’s offense benefited from a dynamic-if-imperfect passing performance from Nash, who completed a long toss to Jayce Underwood for a touchdown from the 49 yard line with a little over four minutes remaining in the first quarter.
However, Nash also threw an interception to Thomas Baxter, a junior, on Colony’s following possession. That would be followed by big defensive plays by seniors Lucas White and Payton Grant later in the quarter to stop further damage.
At the half, the game was tied at 7 all.
The scoreless third quarter saw each team’s defense step up big. Juneau’s Hunter Derr, a senior, had a big tackle early into Colony’s first possession of the quarter, which was shortly followed by a sack by senior Sam Sika and a fumble that the Huskies recovered. Thanks to big running gains by Johnson and an illegal chop block called against Colony’s defense, the Huskies managed to put themselves in good field position, but fell just short on fourth-and-two for a turnover on downs.
Colony had good positioning for a field goal attempt during their first possession of the fourth quarter, however, the kick was blocked by sophomore Jayden Johnson, and Williams came up with the ball for a big gain coupled with a penalty against the Knights that added yards for Juneau.
“That’s something (the blocked field goal) that Coach Evan (Rothfeld) had practiced a lot with those guys so they were in a pretty good spot and they executed perfectly, but we just couldn’t finish that drive,” Sjoroos said. “We had an untimely penalty there at first and goal for three and then that pushed us back and the drive just kind of fizzled out. Colony to their credit made plays on their final drive, heck of a catch on 3rd and 19, he’s double covered and he comes down with the ball and they grinded out a couple more first downs and then got the go ahead score and didn’t leave much time left on the clock, so credit to them for sure.”
Starting at the 41-yard line, Williams would connect with Johnson for the Huskies’ only completed pass of the game, picking up the first. A hold call against Colony also added 10 yards to the drive. Johnson had several big runs, advancing the ball to the 6-yard line, but due to a holding penalty followed by a false start, the Huskies were backed up. On a pivotal fourth-and-17 pass attempt, Williams was sacked with 3 minutes and 30 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter.
Colony would take over at the 33 yard line and Derr had another big tackle to start the drive, but after a clutch completion down field from Nash to Underwood, the Knights picked up momentum. The pass was tipped and bobbled before being corralled, and it briefly looked like it might be called back due to penalty. However, it stood, and Colony continued to push into Juneau territory.
Nash completed another big pass to Cole Hamilton, putting them near the 16 yard line, and from there Nash would finish the game with big running gains into the end zone. The extra point attempt was good, and with 17 seconds remaining Colony held a 14-7 advantage.
Juneau got the ball back, but the Huskies run-heavy offense was unable to cover the yardage needed to put more points on the board.
“I just think it was a good game by two good teams and Colony made a few more plays there at the end and that ended up making the difference and congratulations to them,” Sjoroos said. “We’ll figure out how to do better next time.”
The Huskies finish their season 10-1 with the only loss coming in the final game. After the game, Jamal Johnson, Williams and Brandon Campbell were all named players of the game for the Huskies.
Despite the tough loss and a talented group of departing seniors, Sjoroos said the future is bright for the Juneau program and thanked the community for its support.
“I just appreciate all of the support from the Juneau community and we’re not able to have a football program without them,” Sjoroos said. “We’ll get back to the drawing board, we’ve got some kids that are coming up through the ranks that are going to want to prove themselves going into next year’s season. Hopefully we get a good offseason together and put together a good team and come out tough next season and just keep making Juneau proud.”
• Contact reporter Jonson Kuhn at firstname.lastname@example.org.