Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau Huskies did what many were thinking was improbable, at least early in the season, defeating powerhouse and then unbeaten East Anchorage. Now coach Rich Sjoroos has the team believing what he and his coaching staff have known for years, that it is not the size of the dog but, rather, the size of the fight in that very same dog and on any given Saturday there are a lot of dogs across the Cook Inlet Conference.
“I think the biggest takeaway from this week is, in the Cook Inlet Conference, it will be a reboot each week,” Sjoroos said. “Any team is capable of beating anyone. So it should make for an exciting second half of the season.”
Juneau had their most balanced attack on offense this season against East, one of the better defensive teams. Of note was senior Noah Chambers moving the offense multiple times and never letting up, including a two-point conversion to junior Payton Grant with two minutes remaining in the game.
“The passing game is definitely starting to sync better,” Sjoroos said. “The whole team played well. Whether it was the blocking up front, or having to use a couple different centers, or different guys running the ball. Noah (Chambers) had his best game, as far as buying extra time and keeping plays alive and keeping his eyes downfield. That two-point conversion was probably one of the best plays of his career even though it was just a two-point conversion. But to take that snap, when he was younger he might have just tucked it up or thrown it away or did something that didn’t result in points. But that play was just a great job by him all the way around, and Payton Grant what a phenomenal catch in the back of the end zone. And James Connally is kind of our big threat guy, yeah he didn’t get the one in the end zone but then we go right back to him on fourth down and he makes a catch to get us a first down.”
HUSKIES STATS VS EAST
Passing: Noah Chambers was 11-23 for 128 yards and one interception.
Rushing: Gaby Soto rushed 23 times for 76 yards and three touchdowns. Jamal Johnson rushed 12 times for 53 yards and one touchdown. Payton Grant rushed 5 times for 24 yards. Jarrell Williams rushed two times for 23 yards. Noah Chambers rushed three times for 22 yards. Wallace Adams rushed one time for four yards and one touchdown. James Buker rushed one time for minus three yards.
Receiving: Wallace Adams caught six passes for 85 yards. James Connally caught two passes for 21 yards. Gaby Soto caught one pass for 14 yards. Sam Sika caught one pass for 12 yards. Lucas White caught one pass for 10 yards.
Interceptions: Juneau - Jarrell Williams 2, Sam Sika 1.
Turnovers: Juneau 2, East 3.
SCORE BY QUARTER
East 15 - 0 - 6 - 7 = 28
Juneau 7 - 14 - 0 -18 = 39
One of the major defensive plans of the game last Saturday for the Huskies was to force East senior Kyler Johnson, the state’s leading passer, out of the Thunderbirds pocket and heading east or west, side-to-side. That strategy allowed senior Jarrall Williams to intercept two passes, one just before halftime and one with 2:55 remaining in the fourth quarter. The defensive pursuit of K. Johnson was accented with his tackle for a safety by senior Kaden Messmer and junior Hunter Derr with 1:33 remaining in the game and an interception by junior Sam Sika with 47 seconds left.
“That was getting pressure up front and keeping guys in lanes,” Sjoroos said. “And getting that quarterback where he couldn’t turn that corner. Once he turned that corner on us, oh my goodness his vision and he has those good receivers. We were able to keep his shoulders parallel to the side line and not north or south.”
HOW THEY SCORED
4:26 - Thunderbirds - Johnson 13-yard pass to Zimmerman. Samuelu PAT. 7-0.
2:19 - Huskies - Johnson 4-yard run. Adams PAT. 7-7.
0:37.5 - Thunderbirds - Johnson 21-yard pass to Delaney. 2-pt conversion Johnson to Zimmerman. 15-7.
9:50 - Huskies - Soto 5-yard run. Adams PAT. 14-15.
2:06 - Huskies - Soto 6-yard run. Adams PAT. 21-15.
3:23 - Thunderbirds - Johnson 4-yard pass to Dyett. PAT no good. 21-21.
8:31 - Thunderbirds - Pa’u 2-yard run. Samuelu PAT. 28-21.
3:46 - Huskies - Adams 4-yard run. Soto 2-pt conversion. 29-28.
2:09 - Huskies - Soto 1-yard run. 2-pt conversion Chambers to Grant. 37-28.
1:33 - Huskies - Messmer/Derr safety. 39-28.
The first two rounds of the Alaska School Activities Association First National Bowl playoffs will be at the home field of the higher seed, meaning that Juneau needs to secure a road win to bring the playoffs to Adair Kennedy Field. The Huskies have to win four conference games to secure a quarter final first round game.
Road wins have been hard to come by for all CIC teams so far. After traveling to the home of the Service Cougars this weekend, a traditional power CIC coaches are eyeing, the Huskies play at Bartlett Sept. 18 and then host South Anchorage on Sept. 25. Playoffs begin with quarterfinals Oct. 8-9 and semifinals Oct. 15-16, both at the higher seed. The state championship is Oct. 22 at Anchorage Football Stadium.
“No one has found the formula, so far this season, for going on the road and winning,” Sjoroos said. “It just hasn’t happened. The state finals aren’t in Juneau. If you want to go deep in the playoffs, which is a long ways away, you have to put yourself in a good position to do that. That means you have to learn how to win on the road.”
Cook Inlet Conference game scores to date include:
No. 1 Juneau (3-1) defeating East 39-28, Colony 53-12, Dimond 35-6 and losing to West 49-23.
No. 2 East (3-1) defeating Lathrop 50-26, South 59-22, Service 45-22 and losing to Juneau 39-28.
No. 3 West (3-1) defeating Juneau 49-23, Bartlett 33-9, Service 35-6 and losing to South 46-34.
No. 4 Colony (3-1) defeating South 34-31, Wasilla 34-14, Bartlett 40-13 and losing to Juneau 53-12.
No. 5 South (1-2) defeating West 46-34, and losing to East 59-22 and Colony 34-31.
No. 6 Bartlett (2-2) defeating Palmer 22-15 and Dimond 14-8, and losing to West 33-9 and Colony 40-13.
No. 7 Service (1-3) defeating Dimond 26-20, and losing to East 45-22, West 35-6 and Soldotna 48-34.
No. 8 Dimond (0-3) losing to Juneau 35-6, Bartlett 14-8 and Service 26-20.
CIC games for this weekend include Juneau at Service, East at Colony, West at Dimond, and Bartlett at South.
“Service is well conditioned and has some of the best athletes we will have faced so far this season,” Sjoroos said. “We squared off against them on the road during week one in 2019 and they beat us 58-42. We are excited to go back and have the opportunity to play them again.”
Game time is 3 p.m. at Service High School on Abbott Road and will be broadcast on 107.9 The Hawk.
Above - The Huskies defensive line prepare to rush against East Anchorage. (Klas Stolpe)