Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - In the fourth week of the Cook Inlet Conference season the then unbeaten top-ranked football powerhouse East Anchorage breezed into the capital city expecting another electrifying win only to be short-circuited 39-28 by the Juneau Huskies widely balanced offensive attack and their emerging gang-tackling defense.
After that game senior lineman Mathias Wiederspohn said, “Head coach Rich Sjoroos tells us ‘you set the bar high and keep pushing yourself past that.’ Every week we set the bar.”
The bar gets no higher than Friday night's 7 p.m. Alaska School Activities Association First National Bowl Series DI Football State Championship at Service High School.
“Well we are eating a lot of pasta,” Sjoroos said. “Getting them ready as fast as we can for Friday night. Seriously, it’s been a good week, it’s a short week, it has a lot of distractions. We just got off a real physical game against Bartlett with a quick turnaround where we have to go on the road for the first time in five weeks and take on a team that is going to have a lot of revenge on their minds to get even from the game earlier this year where we were able to beat them.”
Both teams have gone unscathed through the remainder of their schedules since that confrontation and through the playoffs.
In the CIC season Juneau defeated Colony 53-12, Dimond 35-6, lost to West 49-23 away, defeated East 39-28, Service 49-12 away, Bartlett 27-14 away, and South 42-7.
East defeated Service 45-22 away, South 59-22, Lathrop 50-26, lost to Juneau 39-28 away, defeated Colony 50-26 away, West 35-21 away, Bartlett 32-20 and Dimond 48-7.
Juneau defeated Dimond 31-3 and Bartlett 50-20 to earn the title game, East (officially Bettye Davis East Anchorage) topped Service 48-14 and West 34-32.
“We know we have a lot of things going against us heading into this game but I just like the determination in our group,” Sjoroos said. “We’ll get them ready and everybody will come out and we’ll have a good plan in place. We will give it our best shot and just know that we have done a lot of good things to this point and hopefully we can continue it for one more game. Their defense, next to ours, is the second best in as far as points allowed. They spread the field well, they have good athletes. East’s a good football team, there is a reason why they are playing in this football game and there is a reason we are there.”
Wiederspohn, who battles in the trenches on both the defensive and offensive lines will be counted on to slow down East, the second biggest line in the league behind Bartlett.
“You just have to know what they want to do,” Wiederspohn said. “And when they do that you have to know how to play against it. Just watching film and paying attention on practice and knowing what to do is super important. You just have to know where they are going. It’s pretty easy honestly you just know where they are going and you go against it on defense. And on offense you just have to take them where you want to take them. Get in the right position and do that.”
Senior quarterback Noah Chambers and senior running back Gaby Soto have also been in film class.
“We know what they are good at,” Chambers said. “We are just going to have to play against what they are not. You have to take what you are given in this game. There are not going to be many home-run shots like we can get against other teams. We’re just going to have to hand the football to the refs like coach always says. We just have to stick to our fundamentals and just play good football like we know how: block, stay on blocks, carry out our fakes… We can always get a little better, no one is perfect.”
Soto is among the league leaders in touchdowns with 21, plus fills a defensive role and credits Sjoroos with the mindset to play until the game is over.
“I just learned from him, ever since I was in sixth grade,” Soto said. “That you just give it all you got until the very end. It doesn’t matter what the score is you keep going. You keep pounding and pounding until that clock hits zero. If not, the game is not over.”
Sjoroos also has Wallace Adams as a kicking weapon. Adams was selected the CIC Kicker of the Year and is perfect on the season in extra points, going 39-39. His kickoffs have pinned opponents to starting on their own 20 yard line and he has the range to kick a field goal anywhere inside the 50.
“My farthest field goal in practice is a 56 yard field goal,” Adams said. “In a game I have had the lucky opportunity to hit one from 32 yards. Coach has given me that opportunity, I am thankful for everything I am given.”
Sjoroos has 28 total seasons moving teams across the gridiron, 13 of those with the varsity program from 2003-2013 and 2019 to present. He also coached JDHS JV in 2001 and ’02. His stints as leading JYFL teams are from 1995-2000, 2014, 2016-18.
His varsity teams have made the playoffs every year and include eight conference titles, nine state semifinals, five state finals with two state titles and three runner ups.
“With this group it is just making sure we have the best depth in the right spots with the guys we have,” Sjoroos said of this year’s Huskies. “We have the same 31 guys through the entire playoffs but just making sure that we have enough depth built in at each position just in case we need to turn to that in the game.”
According to ASAA historians, in 2003 East topped, then, Juneau-Douglas 33-18. Uniform stylings and equipment have changed over the seasons but the meetings between the two have not.
Juneau is looking to win their first state title since beating Palmer 23-13 in 2007 (as JDHS) and East is looking to add to their 2018 state title over West 35-6.
Juneau also took state in 2005, defeating Palmer 49-29, and in those state semifinals Juneau topped East 21-3. Juneau has also fallen to Service 22-14 in the 2008 state championship and to Soldotna 56-49 in the 2013 Medium Schools Championship. East defeated West 13-6 in the 2016 title game.
Juneau was third in 2010, ’11 (East fifth), ’06 (East fifth), ’04 (East fifth) and 1999. East was third in 2017 and 2015. Juneau fifth in 2001, East in ’09, ’07 and 2000. Juneau and East tied for fifth in 2019 and 2012.
In the unofficial Anchorage Invitational state championship (1983-89) East won titles in 85, 86 and 87. From 1990-96 East has one title, two thirds and a fifth.
The 2021 state championship game kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday, on the Service High School field in Anchorage.
Above and below - Action from week four between Juneau and East.