A Service High School player returns a punt deep into Juneau territory during the first quarter of Saturday’s game on the Anchorage school’s home field. Service scored its second touchdown a short time later to take a 15-0 lead before going on to win 54-14. (Courtesy of Juneau Huskies Football)

A Service High School player returns a punt deep into Juneau territory during the first quarter of Saturday’s game on the Anchorage school’s home field. Service scored its second touchdown a short time later to take a 15-0 lead before going on to win 54-14. (Courtesy of Juneau Huskies Football)

Punting miscues pivotal as Huskies lose to Service 54-14

Bad snap, kicks and coverage result in TDs for Anchorage team as Juneau drops to 0-4.

In a game with sluggish offenses and lots of penalties during the early going, miscues in the punting game turned out to be the difference as the Juneau Huskies lost on the road to Anchorage’s Service High School by a score of 54-14 to drop to 0-4 on the season.

A snap over the punter’s head on Juneau’s first possession was recovered by Service for their first touchdown and a long return of a Juneau punt later in the first quarter led to Service’s second touchdown. Subsequent blocked and muffed punts gave Service additional opportunities deep in Juneau territory, and the Anchorage team found its offensive rhythm and put the game further out of reach as the second half wore on.

Besides losing the game, Juneau also saw two players go down with injuries. Primo Nauer, a senior lineman, sustained an arm injury midway through the second quarter and starting quarterback Noah Ault, a sophomore, was hurt in the second half.

“They just got dinged up a little bit,” said Juneau head coach Rich Sjoroos, adding he chose to keep them out of game, especially when the score got out of reach.

Juneau’s Jayden Johnson (4) is stopped for a short gain during the Huskies’ game against Service High School on Saturday in Anchorage. Juneau head coach Rich Sjoroos said Service tried to contain Johnson, the Huskies’ biggest playmaker this year, by having a defensive player shadow him during the game. (Courtesy of Juneau Huskies Football)

Juneau’s Jayden Johnson (4) is stopped for a short gain during the Huskies’ game against Service High School on Saturday in Anchorage. Juneau head coach Rich Sjoroos said Service tried to contain Johnson, the Huskies’ biggest playmaker this year, by having a defensive player shadow him during the game. (Courtesy of Juneau Huskies Football)

Even before Ault’s injury the Huskies had multiple players take snaps from the quarterback position as part of a run-heavy game plan that failed to gain much momentum, particularly in the middle of the field. Sjoroos said the strategy was “trying to get what they gave us” as Service focused on shutting down the Huskies’ biggest playmaker, junior wide receiver Jayden Johnson, who both a receiver and in the backfield has at times been a dominant offensive presence this season.

“They rolled a safety over on him every time,” Sjoroos said.

Service got the ball to start the game and, in a preview of their offense throughout the game, ran a no-huddle offense that didn’t punt despite their drive stalling with an overthrown pass on fourth-and-17 at the Juneau 39.

Juneau, in turn, went three-and-out on their first drive, but the snap went over the punter’s head on fourth down, and Service recovered the ball and ended up in the end zone for their first score.

The Huskies then fumbled on the first play of their second series at their own 46. But Service was unable to capitalize as, on a fourth-and-20 following a sack, a pass intercepted by Juneau’s Sage Schultz was returned to the Service 24.

Juneau was unable to advance the ball and its second punt of the game again proved costly, as it was returned to the Juneau 14. Service scored a few plays later and added a two-point conversion to make the score 15-0.

Another punting mishap occurred on the Huskies next possession and the kick was blocked, with Service recovering on the Juneau 6-yard line. But Service committed its own miscues with penalties backing them up to the 26-yard line, then turning the ball over on downs when a completed pass on fourth-and-goal from the 9-yard line was stopped three yards short near the end of the first quarter.

Juneau then showed a flash of the big-play presence seen at times earlier this year, with Ault converting a fourth-and-2 on a quarterback sneak and another fourth down with a pass to junior running back Caleb Ziegenfuss. Ault then connected with Johnson on a long catch-and-run touchdown pass to make the score 15-7 in Service’s favor with about 8:30 left in the first half.

The teams next exchanged possessions before Service made its first sustained offensive drive from its own 45-yard line, with two long runs and a touchdown pass making the score 22-7. Juneau drove the ball to the Service 29-yard line on its next possession before turning the ball over on downs with an incomplete pass on fourth-and-2 near the end of the half.

Juneau got the ball to begin the third quarter, but the drive stalled and a muffed punt gave Service the ball on the Juneau 25-yard line. The Anchorage team scored with a touchdown pass on its first play and, with a missed extra point, the home team was ahead 28-7.

The Huskies would turn the ball over on downs on its next possession and Service would drive for another touchdown to make the score 35-7 about halfway through the third quarter. A turnover by Juneau at its own 32 on its next possession resulted in another touchdown pass on the first play and another missed extra point, putting Service out in front 41-7.

Juneau would get its second touchdown on the next drive, starting at its own 42, with junior running back Hayden Aube taking over at quarterback after Ault’s injury. On fourth-and-5 from the Service 13, Aube scrambled for a first down inside the 5-yard line, then two plays later ran into the end zone to make the score 41-14

Service, following a failed onside kick by Juneau, scored a few plays later with a long touchdown pass to make the score 48-14 and then again on a final touchdown pass with time running out in the fourth quarter to make the final score 54-14.

Sjoroos, who in three decades as a high school coach has been a part of numerous title-game Juneau teams, said he’s “trying not get too caught up in the standings” despite the winless record midway through the eight-game regular season schedule. This year’s team is younger than the one that came within a touchdown of the championship this year, and saw some of its best skill position players and linemen graduate.

“I feel the ceiling is still pretty high with this group,” Sjoroos said. “We just haven’t been able to put together a complete game.”

Juneau’s next game is at 7 p.m. Friday against Auburn High School in Washington state. The Huskies will return home the following Friday for a 7 p.m. rematch of last year’s state title game against Colony High School.

Juneau Huskies 2023 schedule

(Note: All times are varsity games; junior varsity games start three hours earlier)

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: @Auburn (Washington), 7 p.m.

Sept. 15: Colony, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23: @West Anchorage, 2 p.m.

Sept. 30: South Anchorage, 3 p.m.

• Contact Mark Sabbatini at mark.sabbatini@juneauempire.com or (907) 957-2306.

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