Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - It was a beautiful Juneau Huskies football day under the sun at Adair Kennedy Field on Saturday, unfortunately for Bartlett High School it was a beautiful Juneau Huskies football day under the sun at Adair Kennedy Field. The Huskies crunched the Golden Bears 50-30 in the Alaska School Activities Association (ASAA) First National Bowl Football State Semifinal and will play in the state championship Friday in Anchorage.
“It was nice knowing that the kids didn’t take this game as the end of the line,” Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said. “They are not satisfied and want to accomplish more this year. They kind of have a checklist of the things they want to do and they have one check to go.”
Senior Noah Chambers threw three touchdown passes, one each to classmates Gaby Soto and James Connally and one to junior Jarrell Williams. He also completed a two-point conversion pass to junior Chris Harris. Soto and Connally ran for two touchdowns apiece. The Huskies ran 53 total plays for 470 yards: 187 through the air and 33 running plays for 283 yards.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Chambers said. “It’s a semifinal game. If we win, we go to state. All of our emotions were running. It was our seniors last home game on this field we grew up playing on since we were seven and eight years old. We’re excited for next week.”
Chambers commented on being protected by his offensive line and the prowess of the Huskies defensive line.
“This whole season, our defensive line has been putting up a great fight for our size, and what God gave them they are doing everything they can,” he said. “And our O-line has been great. The improvements they’ve made since week one to now is insane. I’m just so happy, so proud, that I get to throw behind them.”
Bartlett would be exposed to Juneau’s first defensive weapon on the opening kickoff as Juneau senior Wallace Adams, the Cook Inlet Conference Kicker of the Year, put the ball into the end zone, eliminating any chance for the large Golden Bears to get momentum established.
Bartlett’s first possession saw just one first down as their smash-and-bash senior running backs Aleva Lilomaiava and Nick Patea and junior quarterback Niko Alailefaleula managed just 17 yards and on third-and-12, the Huskies’ Adams and junior Brandon Campbell put a seven-yard loss on Alailefaleula to force a punt.
“Brandon is such a strong kid,” Adams said. “I haven’t known him very long but I’ve come to know him closely this year. He’s a great kid to have on the team. He brings so much energy. He makes plays when we really need them. For his size he is incredibly strong. He plays like he is six-six and 300 pounds.”
Campbell said he was just proud of the team: “I’ve been dreaming of this since I was playing in Cubs. It’s awesome. I knew I just had to stay low and push them back. Everyone played great today.”
The Huskies took just one play to show how they would combat the larger Golden Bears. Chambers handed off to Connally on a reverse, and he covered 73 yards of turf in under eight seconds for a 6-0 advantage. Adams put the extra point through for point seven.
"Mixed emotions right now," Connally said after the game. "It's nice that we are going to state but it's just sad that this is our last time on this field. I'm really happy with this team."
Bartlett fell victim to Juneau’s next defensive weapon, as the Huskies tacklers limited the Golden Bears to just three plays and stripped the football on the third with junior Jamal Johnson recovering the fumble.
“Anytime you can pull off a ‘W’ against a physical team is definitely a good thing for us,” Juneau defensive coordinator Mitch Haldane said after the game. “We just have a great group of guys that buy into how we prep for games. They practice hard, focus. They kind of soak up stuff and apply it when it becomes game time and they execute. They are just a great group of guys that really want to win football games, and it is just really fun to watch them play defense and progress since our camp had started. The guys are inbetween the lines and making plays, executing. We have a great group of football players that are hungry and really want to get after it. Not only on defense but all three phases, kicking and special teams and offense.”
Chambers put the workload on Soto’s shoulders next as the Huskies offensive line opened paths down field. The Huskies drew the Golden Bears offsides on a fourth-and-one and a third-and-11 on the drive as well and Chambers found Soto on a nine-yard pass to take a 13-0 lead. Adams continued his perfect streak of extra points for 14-0.
“Coach always told us the game is never over until the game is over,” Soto said. “I just learned from him, ever since I was in sixth grade, 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.”
Bartlett’s Lilomaiava gave the Golden Bears a lift with a 21-yard gain on their next possession and Jacari Harris and Alailefaleula worked their run game down to a quarterback keeper for a seven-yard score. Their extra point attempt missed wide to trail 14-6.
Juneau had a rare miscue as Chambers was picked off by Bartlett senior Keli’i Pelenato with just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter and Bartlett would take possession deep into the second quarter on runs by Harris, Lilomaiava and Alailefaleula, who would score on a keeper from second and goal at the Huskies 11-yard line. An unsportsmanlike penalty after the score pushed the visitors back five yards and their two-point conversion pass failed leaving Juneau ahead 14-12.
Juneau’s Soto returned the ensuing kickoff to the Huskies 37. In seven plays the Huskies had first down passes to Adams, Connolly and Soto, and Chambers kept the ball himself to get to first-and-goal from the 10. Soto smashed into the Bartlett defensive line three times to earn a touchdown and a 20-12 lead with four minutes remaining in the half. Adams kicked his third extra point in the game for 21.
Bartlett put one of their best drives together after again being pinned to the 20 yard line on the kickoff. The Golden Bears broke across midfield and down to the Huskies 26 yard line in just over two minutes. But Juneau’s front line stopped Bartlett’s Alailefaleula on fourth-and-seven and the Huskies ran their offense into halftime.
“We just have a lot of senior leadership,” Juneau line coach Jeff Hedges said after the game. “From Wyatt Harvey, he’s been great all season… Brandon Campbell, Hunter Derr… Mathias Wiedersphon has taken on double teams this entire season and has not said a word about it… but what that does is free up our linebackers like Lucas White and Jack Gregson. As far as a full team this is the best defensive and offensive lines I have ever been lucky enough to coach, and it started before the season. We did our daily drills and these guys would do that every day and get it right and that is what it is all about, is these guys doing what they were coached, the fundamentals, and doing it every time. These young men are prepared to be successful in life. They are hard workers, they are good guys, they are caring guys that love each other and are willing to work hard for each other.”
Bartlett attempted an onside kick to open the second half but Soto recovered on the Juneau 42 and Johnson churned out yardage through the defensive line to get across midfield and down to the Bartlett 28. Harris caught a short pass and on third-and-seven at the 16 yard line, Soto ground the ball down to the Bartlett four yard line. On his second carry near the pit Soto smashed through for his second score of the game and a 27-12 lead. Chambers connected with Harris for a two-point pass conversion and 29-12.
Adams pinned Bartlett to the 20 on the kickoff again and the Juneau defensive line continued to buck and battle against the Golden Bears’ ground game. Bartlett faced fourth-and-15 from the 50 and Juneau held the line as a pass fell incomplete and possession went to the Huskies.
On the ensuing play Connally ran behind the offensive line, took a handoff from Chambers and was 50 yards down field and into the end zone before the clipboards on the Bartlett sideline could hit the turf. Adams added his fourth extra point of the game for a 36-12 lead.
Bartlett attempted to run the next kickoff back but found Juneau special team players at every turn and were pinned on their own 11. Juneau held Bartlett to little gain and on fourth-and-five, the Huskies’ Campbell brought down two Golden Bears in one tackle to earn possession.
The Huskies nursed the clock down to seven seconds remaining in the third quarter and Chambers hit Williams for a five-yard pass and a 42-12 lead with Adams staying perfect for 43.
Bartlett would live up to their hype as a power team on their first possession of the fourth quarter, pounding the ball down to first and goal at the Juneau 10 yard line, but the Huskies’ Campbell and Soto, assisted by their nine teammates on the field, would stop Golden Bears’ stars Harris and Patea on consecutive third and fourth down carries to regain the ball.
Soto was asked what was more special, scoring three touchdowns or making big tackles.
“The tackles,” Soto said. “They could have scored and gotten momentum. I was more excited when my teammates were scoring… James running down the sidelines, Jamal running down the sidelines. Everyone is just doing their jobs, that’s when I’m excited. Especially when I see coach running down the field, too.”
Working from his own one-yard line ,Chambers led the Huskies away from the back line with a pass to Williams, a run by Johnson, and a stunning pass to junior Payton Grant on third-and-eight from their own 17. Grant lateraled the ball to junior Lucas White, who found a first down at their 31. Five plays later, and one offensive holding penalty, the Huskies were on their own 27 yard line and Chambers connected with Connally for a 73 yard pass and run to take a 49-12 lead. Adams made it half a century on the score clock with just five minutes left to play and remained perfect on the season with extra points at 39 for 39.
“I am excited about this one,” Adams said. “But we … have a lot to prove really. We have to go to Anchorage and prove we are a really good team. We’re not really respected and I’m not very satisfied. I feel like in the first half Bartlett played a really physical game and were running us over but our defensive line turned it around. We started tackling low, we used our techniques and we really came through it the second half. I’m really proud of the guys, especially Brandon Campbell.”
Bartlett ended the game with their best highlight reel. Pinned at the 20 again, Lilomaiava carried to the 33 yard line and the 45 on consecutive plays and Harris broke across midfield to plow 45 yards into the end zone for a Golden Bears touchdown. Lilomaiava banged into the end zone for a two-point conversion and put an even 20 on the lesser end of the 50-20 final score.
Senior Cody Roomsburg, playing his first year of football since middle school, shared the sentimentality of the whole Huskies squad.
“I’m just happy to be here, happy to be part of this team,” he said. “It’s spectacular to watch them. These are some of the best guys I know. They’re amazing people and amazing football players. They’re just putting in the work to make it happen.”
The Huskies will play the East Anchorage Thunderbirds for the state championship at 7 p.m. Friday at Service High School. East defeated the West Anchorage Eagles 34-32 in a semifinal at T-Bird field.
“I liked their mentality,” Sjoroos said of his Huskies. “Even at the end of the game, they were excited but they didn’t take it as their final game of the year. They are hungry for more.”
Said running back Soto, “It is always your dream as a kid to play in a state championship game. Last year we lost that opportunity and that team was something special, just like this year’s team.”
HUSKIES STATS vs BARTLETT
Passing: Noah Chambers was 14-20 for 187 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
Rushing: James Connally rushed two times for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Jamal Johnson rushed 10 times for 66 yards. Gaby Soto rushed 14 times for 55 yards and two touchdowns. Payton Grant had one carry for 12 yards. Jarrell Williams two carries for nine yards. Lucas White one carry for eight yards. Chambers one carry for seven yards. Chris Harris two carries for minus one yard.
Receiving: Connally caught two passes for 82 yards and one touchdown. Soto caught three passes for 25 yards and one touchdown. Adams caught two passes for 24 yards. Harris caught two passes for 24 yards. Williams caught two passes for 19 yards and one touchdown. Grant caught two passes for 10 yards and Johnson caught one pass for three yards.
SCORE BY QUARTER
Juneau 14 - 7 - 22 - 7 = 50
Bartlett 6 - 6 - 0 - 8 = 20
HOW THEY SCORED
8:17 - Huskies - Connally 77-yard run. Adams PAT. 7-0.
3:46 - Huskies - Chambers 9-yard pass to Soto. Adams PAT. 14-0.
2:00 - Golden Bears - Alailefaleula 7-yard run. PAT fails. 6-14.
8:27 - Golden Bears - Alailefaleula 11-yard run. 2 pt conversion fails. 12-14.
4:11 - Huskies - Soto 1-yard run. Adams PAT. 21-12.
8:16 - Huskies - Soto 5-yard run. 2-pt conversion Chambers to Harris. 29-12.
4:00 - Huskies - Connally 50-yard run. Adams PAT. 36-12.
0:07 - Huskies - Chambers 5-yard pass to Williams. Adams PAT. 43-12.
5:09 - Huskies - Chambers 73-yard pass to Connally. Adams PAT. 50-12.
2:46 - Golden Bears - Harris 45-yard run. Lilomaiava 2-pt conversion. 20-50.
Above - Juneau junior Brandon Campbell (65), and seniors Wallace Adams (84) and Jack Gregson (34) stop Bartlett's Niko Alailefaleula during Saturday's 50-30 Huskies semifinal win over the Golden Bears at Adair Kennedy Field. Below - Juneau senior James Connally (10) sprints into the end zone during the Huskies 50-30 state semifinal win over Bartlett on Saturday at Adair Kennedy Field.