Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau Huskies had their most balanced football game of the season on Saturday and coach Rich Sjoroos said it was caused by the Service Cougars coaching staff's own great game plan.
“They had the kids really prepared and they like to go fast with an uptempo offense,” Sjoroos said. “They put a lot of pressure on you to get your guys lined up and all your assignments in place before they snap the ball. One of their MOs has been that fast pace. I thought our kids did a great job of getting lined up. We never really felt rushed or out of position.”
The Huskies defense was able to get two quarterback sacks and four interceptions on the day. They put the offense in good field position for most of the game and then the special teams kicking game again made their opponents look at an 80-yard field of work for points.
“Just all the phases are starting to click,” Sjoroos said. “But Service definitely kept our run game in check more than any team we have seen this year.”
The Service D-line was quick off blocks and fast to the ball and forced a couple bad snaps. But the positive is it will be similar to how Bartlett attacks on defense this coming Saturday: pressure up front with a lot of bodies coming.
The Juneau offense ran only 49 plays while Service ran close to 70, partially due to the fact that the Juneau defense scored, thus Service got extra possessions. The Huskies are usually in the 60-play number themselves.
However, the Juneau defense accounted for two scores on interceptions and two more possessions of great field position that resulted in scores.
“Their defense did a pretty good job against our offense but our defense more than made up for it on that side of the ball,” Sjoroos said.
Juneau limited Service to just 12 points and one of those scoring drives started on the Cougars own 20 yard line as Huskies kicker Wallace Adams continues to put kickoffs through the opponents end zones.
“We put them on a short field,” Sjoroos said. “I thought our defense did a great job. Contesting balls that were caught, not many yards after the catch, tackling was good, a very sound game defensively.”
Sjoroos said that the prior two games had been very rough and physical but the Huskies came away from Saturday’s win with more energy.
“We didn’t feel as spent at the end of this game,” Sjoroos said. “Maybe our conditioning is getting a little better. We also found a way to get more kids involved.”
Juneau junior Payton Grant had 10 total offensive touches against Service. Prior games leaned a lot on senior Gaby Soto and junior Jamal Johnson. Soto’s carrying load was reduced from over 20 each of the prior two games to 14 against the Cougars.
“We’re trying to get more guys involved and I think it will pay dividends down the road,” Sjoroos said.
The noticeable aspect of the Huskies is they all embrace the team-first concept, which is evident from the sideline to the down line marking each play.
“They genuinely just like each other,” Sjoroos said. “You can tell they are just friends off the field. They will go fishing together, or hang out on the weekends, probably eat lunch together, just different things. There are some relationships there that go beyond football and that makes my job super easy when you already know they genuinely like each other and genuinely celebrate for each other when the other guy has success when maybe it is not their name and number that has been called. That is something they have created. I have not had to try and instill any of that. This group is a fun group of kids. I think football is just a small piece of their whole puzzle and 20 or 30 years from now you’re going to see a lot of friendships that carried on way beyond playing football together.”
HUSKIES STATS VS SERVICE
Passing: Noah Chambers was 7-13 for 133 yards and three touchdowns.
Rushing: Gaby Soto rushed 14 times for 41 yards and one touchdown. Payton Grant rushed 7 times for 41 yards and one touchdown. Jamal Johnson rushed three times for 15 yards. Chris Harris rushed two times for six yards. Jarrell Williams rushed once for six yards. James Connally rushed three times for five yards. Noah Chambers rushed four times for minus two yards.
Receiving: James Connally caught one pass for 43 yards and one touchdown. Payton Grant caught two passes for 38 yards and one touchdown. Chris Harris caught one pass for 21 yards. Matt Hartsock caught one pass for 18 yards and one touchdown. Gaby Soto caught one pass for 13 yards. Sam Sika caught one pass.
Interceptions: Juneau - Wallace Adams two and one touchdown. Kadin Messmer one and one touchdown. Gaby Soto one.
Turnovers: Juneau 0, Service 4.
Now the Huskies take their second week of sitting on top the Division I Cook Inlet Conference standings into another travel game at the Anchorage den of the Bartlett Golden Bears. And number two East Anchorage plays number three West, number four Colony hosts cellar dweller Dimond, and number five South travels up the Anchorage hill side to Service.
Bartlett is the CIC hot team. After dropping their first two season games against powers West 33-9 and Colony 40-13, the Golden Bears have defeated Dimond 14-8, Palmer 22-15 and last week the South Wolverines 30-22. South had just beaten West the week before 46-34.
“The Cook Inlet is a tough conference,” Sjoroos said. “Each week is a reboot and you have to prove yourself. The things that Bartlett is good at are definitely the things that we have the most work ahead of us, as far as getting better at. We know that going in. I know the kids will be super focused this week. There are a lot riding on the games as you get down the home stretch for seeding and things like that. I think the kids and coaches will be ready.”
Bartlett is an veteran team with a roster of over 70 varsity players, only one of which is a sophomore. While their defense is similar to what Service brings, the Golden Bears offense is polar opposite.
Bartlett likes to churn out the yards slowly and methodically, milking the whole field and as much clock as possible.
An example would be in the second quarter of last weeks Bartlett game against South. The Golden Bears had two possessions while the Wolverines ran just one play. It was an interception that Bartlett capitalized on by running the clock to the last second and scoring before halftime.
As Service gets up and down the field to wear opponents down, Bartlett does so mentally by taking the wind out of the game
“That’s the pressure they can put on you,” Sjoroos said. “If they put points on you it puts even more pressure on you to score quickly because if they get the ball back they will take even more time and churn it down the field. Just a different approach for sure.”
Juneau, however, has not had difficulty scoring, amassing 199 points in five games to opponents’ 107.
Over their first five games Juneau has scored 46 first quarter points to opponents 28; 58 second quarter points to opponents 13; 41 third quarter points to opponents 33; and 54 fourth quarter points to opponents 33.
Bartlett has scored 88 points to their opponents 118; outscoring opponents 66 to 45 in their three wins and being outscored 73 to 22 in their two losses.
This is how the Huskies scored last game:
Juneau 15 - 7 - 13 - 14 = 49
Service 0 - 6 - 0 - 6 = 12
In the first quarter senior quarterback Noah Chambers connected on a 16-yard scoring pass to Grant and then the wily signal caller drew Service offside allowing Soto to grind through for a two-point conversion. Two minutes later Adams intercepted a pass and returned it 40 yards for a touchdown, then he booted in the extra point.
After Service scored in the top of the second quarter the Juneau defense stymied their extra point attempt. Chambers then connected on a 19-yard scoring pass to senior Matthew Hartsock and Adams kicked the extra point.
In the third quarter Soto busted through for a seven yard scoring run. A strong defensive stand again got the Huskies the ball and Chambers connected to his senior speedster James Connally for 43 yards and a score. Adams kicked his third extra of the game.
In the fourth quarter the Cougars got a run in but again the Juneau defense stopped the two-point attempt. Grant would score on a 19-yard run and Messmer intercepted a pass 40 seconds later for a 52 yard score and Adams kicked both extra points.
Sjoroos said the biggest area to improve on from the game was staying on blocks.
“I think Service showed us some quickness and stuff that gave us some fits as far as getting off our guys and making tackles before we could really get our run game going,” he said. “I knew going in that was one of their strengths but we weren’t able to negate it that much throughout the game offensively. Defensively there are always things you can do better. Bartlett has some big running backs. I think the challenge for us will be showing that we can tackle some of the bigger running backs around the state, and we will have that opportunity this week.”
Football pundits had pegged Bartlett and East in the preseason as the two teams that would decide the CIC. While East was hot, Bartlett got off to a slow start, and the pigskin gurus were scratching their heads.
“You can see lately that whatever wasn’t working for them at the beginning of the year they are starting to figure out now,” Sjoroos said. “It is a great time for this game for us because we need to find out where do we really stand, what do we really need to work on, and Bartlett will show us those things and hopefully we are prepared for it.”
CIC standings: Juneau 4-1, East Thunderbirds 4-1, West Eagles 4-1, Colony Knights 3-2, Bartlett Golden Bears 3-2, South Wolverines 1-3, Service Cougars 1-4, Dimond Lynx 0-4.
Above - The Juneau Huskies rally tackling, shown against East earlier this season, has been a key for their success. (Klas Stolpe)