Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau Huskies have chased another predator away from their Adair Kennedy Field kennel, off the capital city boundaries and out of the Alaska School Activities Association First National Bowl Football State Championships with a 31-3 opening playoff win against the Dimond Lynx.
“Like I told the team after the game, it is such a mental challenge in that first playoff game when you are the favorites because it is the first time all year that it is going to end for somebody,” Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said. “In three hours somebody is done. It is an equal playing field for both those teams. It was great to be at home, that really made the difference especially in the second half with the crowd noise and the pep band and everything to keep us going. So we had to weather that mental storm. I told the kids that first half felt weird. It’s a crazy feeling and you need something big to happen early to get you through that and we didn’t have that early.”
It was Dimond who looked like the favorites in the contest in the first quarter but then the three hours turned into a Lynx nightmare.
Dimond took the first kickoff and controlled the ball until Juneau senior Wallace Adams and junior Jarrell Williams knocked down a pass in the end zone intended for Dimond junior wide receiver Malachi Casey on a second-and-nine from the Huskies own 15 yard line.
Then Williams, Adams, senior Jack Gregson, and juniors Jamal Johnson and Hunter Derr put a big stop on Dimond junior running back Vance Harris on third-and-nine.
“It was just ‘play for our seniors’ today,” Williams said of his defensive mindset. “I’m a junior so I have another year, but this is my family and I am riding with them to the end.”
The stop forced the Lynx to kick a field goal and senior Dakota Matiaki put Dimond’s first, and only, points on the board.
Juneau’s offense would fizzle out on their first possession as they looked for Sjoroos’ big play. The Huskies moved from their own 31 across midfield to Dimond’s 29 yard line but two incomplete passes turned the ball back over to the Lynx. It would be the Huskies defense to keep the status quo.
Dimond tried to eat as much clock as possible with the ball in their possession.
With 3:39 remaining in the first quarter, they began another grind toward midfield. On defense, Juneau senior Mathias Wiedersphon and juniors Hunter Derr, Lucas White and Brandon Campbell kept the gains short.
“You just have to play like it could be your last play,” Wiedersphon said. “You have to give everything you have every game. I love playing football. Doing this, and winning and everything with my teammates, my family, just feels so good. I want to keep doing that so I want to keep playing. So I play as hard as I can.”
Eventually the Lynx drive would stall as it carried into the second quarter and close to a possible score but the Huskies' James Connally would claw the ball away to force a fumble recovered by Adams with 9:17 left in the first half.
The Huskies began a long drive from their own 10 yard line with seniors Gaby Soto and Connally running up the middle and Williams along the side line to work across the 50 yard line into Dimond territory.
The Huskies looked for Connally deep but Dimond’s Casey intercepted a pass and the Lynx took over at their own 11 yard line.
Three Dimond plays were stopped by three Juneau tackles. Johnson had a solo stop, then teamed with Williams, and then Williams and junior Sam Sika teamed up for a stop. The Lynx had to send another punt the Huskies way.
“A gang tackle with Jamal Johnson on the sideline when they ran a toss play,” Williams said of his favorite tackle of the game.
Williams laughed when asked if it was easier gang tackling with Johnson or Sika.
“I don’t know about that,” Williams said. “Sam takes care of it by himself.”
Juneau began a drive from their own 41 yard line with 5:47 left before half time.
Quarterback Noah Chambers relied heavily on Soto, and the ball moved in eight plays to the 21 yard line of Dimond where the two connected with a 21-yard pass and run for a touchdown at the 1:20 mark. Adams put his 30th extra point of the season through the uprights for a 7-3 lead.
Dimond could not play Adams’ kickoff and could not move the ball as the Huskies took the clock into the half.
“You knew Dimond would come playing their best game of the year,” Sjoroos said. “They prepped really well. Nobody wants their season end. You just see a different team. I don’t care what your records are, you just do. In the second half we got past that mental challenge of just knowing what’s at stake. You go into halftime with the lead, Gaby with the great touchdown to get us on the board. We knew we were doing things well we just needed to do a couple more things well.”
The second half - and importantly the third quarter - was Juneau all well.
Williams took the opening kickoff to the 42 yard line and in five plays the Huskies gave Soto the carry from the two yard line for a 13-3 lead with 10:36 remaining in the stanza. Adams hit his 31st extra point for 14-3.
Dimond would fumble on their next possession and Williams gathered the loose pigskin for Juneau.
The Huskies were headed for a score but Dimond senior linebacker James Reinbold picked off Chambers.
A play later, Adams returned the favor with his 11th interception of the season, picking off Dimond junior quarterback Tyler Reese and bringing the ball back deep into Lynx territory to set up Soto for his third touchdown of the game, a four yard run. Adams put his 32nd extra point into the air and through the posts for a 21-3 advantage.
Dimond mounted another drive on the ensuing possession, moving from their own 35 across midfield to the Huskies 30 yard line in eight plays but Johnson intercepted Dimond’s Reese and got the ball out to the 42. The Huskies drive would stall but Adams put his foot behind a 25-yard field goal for a 24-3 lead.
“Our defense was just lights out all day,” Sjoroos said. “The amount of energy that coach Mitch (Haldane) and coach Evan (Rothfled) put into prepping that defense is at a level that Juneau hasn’t seen in a long long time if ever. It is showing out there on the field.”
Dimond went three-and-out again as Juneau’s defense clamped down harder and the Lynx punt was bounced on the Huskies 30 yard line. A flag put the ball back five more.
The next play resembled a large boulder rolling slowly down a hill over small trees, except the hill was green turf and the boulder six-foot, 281 pound running back Sam Sika.
Sika took a screen pass and rumbled 75 yards, running over two defenders before his speed decreased and he looked to wide receiver Connally for a block and then dove over the goal line for a 30-3 lead.
“I was cramping on the 20,” Sika said. “I told James to block for me, I was done. I couldn’t carry the ball so I just dove into the touchdown. I was really scared this whole week because we have never practiced so hard. This week I got a good play and all that practice came true. My defensive mindset is just play the ball, just try to get downfield and get the quarterback and keep going. Keep doing what you can do best.”
Adams put his 33rd extra point of the season (with no misses) through the uprights for point 31.
“All I’ve been thinking all week is we have to give it to our coaches,” Adams said. “I usually have the general nerves about me you usually have before a game but I didn’t today even though this is the first playoff game I have been in where we have a chance to make it to the finals. I wasn’t even that nervous and that’s because of the way coach Rich and coach Mitch (Haldane) have prepared us. Coach Mitch’s defensive plans, the way he executes, everything he does, is for the team and it helps us out tremendously as you can see.”
The Huskies followed that score up with one of their finest defensive series of the season after the Lynx returned the kickoff to their own 40.
Huskies seniors Chris Harris, James Buker, Mathias Wiedersphon and White forced a fumble by Lynx senior running back Jasiah White that Dimond recovered for a loss and Huskies Johnson and Williams tackled Lynx junior running back Shane Stephan for a loss.
“Our main mentality is just to swarm and play as a group,” White said. “And everybody does their job and nobody tries to be a hero.”
Juneau caused a false start by Dimond, and Huskies Johnson, Adams and senior Miles Peterson gang tackled Lynx junior running back Vance Harris for a short gain.
As the Lynx’ Harris broke a big play down the side line, the Huskies’ Johnson saved the score by pushing him out of bounds. Then Adams picked off a pass and returned it for a touchdown. Although the score was called off due to a Juneau block in the back after the interception the Huskies had possession and controlled the clock.
The Huskies would punt on the possession but their defense followed up with an even more impressive stance.
Dimond took possession at midfield with eight minutes remaining in the game and moved the ball in five plays to the Juneau 5-yard line. There the Huskies locked the goal line gates and denied the Lynx entry in four straight plays to regain possession with 4:49 remaining.
Chambers marched the Huskies down field using a mix of senior Kadin Messmer and Harris on the ground and a 36-yard pass play to senior Matthew Hartsock to grind out the clock for the win.
“They had us in the first half, I’m not going to lie,” Chambers said. “But we came back, coach Sjoroos had a great talk with us. He said, ‘Do you want it to end here? It’s really up to us, either you go out, you turn it around or we turn in our pads.’ And I say we turned it around pretty good.”
Juneau ran 53 plays and accumulated 440 yards in the game, including 226 in the air (8 passes) and 214 on the ground (38 rushes).
The Huskies will next face the Bartlett Golden Bears (32-19 winners at Colony on Friday) in a semifinal at Adair Kennedy Field this coming Saturday at 3 p.m.
In other playoff games, East defeated Service 48-14 behind four touchdowns and an interception from senior Damarion Delaney, and two touchdowns from senior Deuce Zimmerman, one a 65-yard catch and run and the other a five-yard interception.
East will face West. West defeated South 47-40 on a last second 19-yard run from senior quarterback Jaideven Suesue. West plays East in a semifinal next weekend.
HUSKIES STATS vs DIMOND
Passing: Noah Chambers was 8-15 for 226 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions.
Rushing: Gaby Soto rushed 25 times for 115 yards and two touchdowns. Jarrell Williams rushed three times for 40 yards. Chris Harris rushed one time for 21 yards. Kadin Messmer rushed five times for 20 yards. Sam Sika rushed two times for six yards and Chambers rushed two times for two yards.
Receiving: Sam Sika caught one pass for 75 yards and a touchdown. Wallace Adams caught one pass for 54 yards. Matthew Hartsock caught one pass for 36 yards. James Connally caught three passes for 31 yards. Gaby Soto caught one pass for 21 yards and one touchdown. Lucas White caught one pass for nine yards.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Dimond 3 - 0 - 0 - 0 = 3
Juneau 0 - 7 - 24 - 0 = 31
HOW THEY SCORED
7:16 - Lynx - Matiaki 15-yard field goal. 3-0.
1:20 - Huskies - Chambers 21-pass to Soto. Adams PAT. 7-3.
10:36 - Soto 2-yard run. Adams PAT. 14-3.
8:49 - Soto 4-yard run. Adams PAT. 21-3.
3:15 - Adams 25-yard field goal. 24-3.
:41.2 - Sika 75-yard run. Adams PAT. 31-3.