Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Alaska’s top-ranked high school football team hung another mauling on their victory wall Saturday as the Juneau Huskies used every position but a taxidermist in a 49-12 win over the Service Cougars, scoring on offense and defense.
“You can’t ask for anything more coming out of the gate on the road,” Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said of the team’s performance. "Especially since the last road trip didn’t go the way we wanted it and we knew at some point we had to find a formula that is going to work.”
The formula Saturday included mixing in five interceptions on defense, including two by senior Wallace Adams, one for a touchdown, and one each by junior Payton Grant and seniors Gaby Soto and Kadin Messmer. Messmer brought his to the end zone for his first career varsity touchdown.
“We had some new kids step up for us today,” Sjoroos said. “Payton Grant had a couple big plays for us and Kadin Messmer getting his first high school touchdown on an interception runback. Just some great efforts by different guys. And with the shorter roster numbers and the two physical weeks that we have just come off of, there hasn’t been much time to breathe. And in this conference it is tough. You have good players on all the teams and just the dynamics of the games, sometimes they are 600 miles away.”
Service took on Juneau’s Adams for the opening kick and lost as Adams put it through the end zone and the Cougars could only move backward on their first possession, punting the ball away with Juneau getting half field position.
Juneau stalled on a fourth and four and Service took over on the Huskies 44 yard line. The Cougars moved the ball on three consecutive plays before Juneau’s Soto picked off Service quarterback Coen Niclai at the 18 yard line and brought it back to midfield.
A five-yard Soto run followed by a 15-yard Service penalty set up Juneau on the 37 and senior Noah Chambers passed to juniors Grant and Chris Harris to get the ball to the 16 yard line. After a Soto run for no gain, Chambers hit Grant for a 16-yard touchdown. An ensuing penalty allowed Soto to run for the two point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
Adams struck again with a monstrous kick and the Juneau defense again took control with Soto and Harris getting solid tackles for losses and Adams intercepting a pass for a 40-yard run into the end zone. He added the extra point for 15-0.
Sjoroos said the interceptions that led to scores and good field position and keeping the Service offense at bay were key for the win.
“Because the Service run defense is as good as I have seen this year,” Sjoroos said. “And they proved it. It was just very challenging to get any kind of big gains on the ground. They got off blocks well and tackled well and flowed to the ball well. They gave our line some trouble that caused a few errant snaps, just kind of got us out of our rhythm of churning it down the field. Credit to them. We knew going in it was going to be tough. But the flip side was Noah (Chambers) was able to get the passing game going and connect with some receivers and get some big catches there, get more points on the board and get that separation and then our defense closed it out."
Service managed a touchdown pass in the second quarter as Niclai connected on an 18-yard pass to Elijah Bartz but Juneau snuffed out the Cougars two-point conversion attempt.
Juneau managed the field for another touchdown as Chambers connected with senior Matthew Hartsock for a 19-yard touchdown and another Adams extra point for a 22-6 lead.
The Juneau defense stopped Service on their first drive of the second half, forcing a deep pass by the Cougars on fourth and four that Huskies senior strong safety James Connally hindered enough to force possession change.
“The kids kind of cranked it up there in the second half,” Sjoroos said. “It’s hard to go wrong when you are forcing turnovers and even getting points out of those. That kind of kick started everything for us and got the energy up and the kids kept it up for the rest of the game."
Starting from the Service 44 yard line, the Huskies had a bad snap and looked at second and 26 but Chambers connected to Soto and then to Grant and the ball was at the 11 yard line with Soto carrying it across for a 28-6 advantage.
The Juneau defense held again and Chambers connected with Connally with two minutes remaining in the third quarter for a 43-yard touchdown pass and Adams kicked the extra point for a 35-6 lead.
“Our defense had an outstanding game today,” Wallace Adams said. “Our offense wasn’t flowing nearly as well as it has in our first four games and in this game our defense really came up and showed up big and took care of the game for us. Our coach told us today if we can score on defense like we did with our two pick sixes there is just not much a team can do to beat you. So if you can score on defense it is true that defense can win games. So we created turnovers and we rally tackled and we did a great job overall.”
The fourth quarter started with Juneau senior defensive lineman Brandon Campbell forcing Service quarterback Niclai out of the pocket on consecutive plays and the Cougars running for their life.
A Service punt put Juneau inside their own five yard line with 10 minutes remaining in the game. Two pass attempts to Connally didn’t connect and the Huskies would eventually let Owen Adams punt away with Service getting a good field return.
“So far we have won that kicking position battle in all the games,” Sjoroos said. “We punted a little bit more today than we have all year and Owen (Adams) did a nice job punting the football. I thought we covered well. As far as kickoffs and extra points that is a nice element to have and to be able to rely on when you need it.”
The Cougars worked the ball down to first and goal where the Cougars Niclai pitched the ball to Julius Reape for a touchdown run. The Juneau defense stifled the ensuing two-point conversion run keeping their lead at 35-12.
Chambers orchestrated another Juneau drive as the Huskies worked time off the clock with a balanced running attack behind the offensive front line. Chambers, Grant and Soto soon had the ball down to the Service 25 yard line. A first down run by Harris was followed by a 19-yard touchdown run by Grant and W. Adams put the extra point through the uprights for 42-12.
Service had a good return to midfield on the ensuing kickoff but Juneau senior defensive back Kadin Messmer intercepted a pass and ran it back 52 yards for an exclamation point that W. Adams dotted with his kick for the final 49-12 tally. W. Adams would intercept Service on their next possession and time would run off the game clock.
“The biggest goal that coach wrote on the white board today was to win the first game on the road,” Wallace Adams said. “No team has been able to accomplish or figure out how to win after getting off an airplane and playing an hour later. So scratching off that goal today was a huge accomplishment and I am so proud of the team.”
Juneau improves to 4-1 on the season and Service falls to 1-4. The Huskies will travel to Bartlett High School in Anchorage next weekend.
“We definitely found some things today that we can build on and come up next week and hopefully get the same kind of effort,” Sjoroos said. “We can get some good performances out of some guys and put them into spots to be successful and Bartlett will be a whole other challenge but we’ll be ready for it.”
SCORE BY QUARTER
Juneau 15 - 7 - 13 - 0 = 49
Service 0 - 6 - 0 - 6 = 12
HOW THEY SCORED
5:19 - Huskies - Chambers 16-yard pass to Grant. 2-pt conversion Soto 2-yard run. 8-0.
3:13 - Huskies - Adams 40-yard interception. Adams PAT. 15-0.
9:13 - Cougars - Niclai 18-yard pass to Bartz. 2-pt conversion fails. 6-15.
2:01 - Huskies - Chambers 19-yard pass to Hartsock. Adams PAT. 22-6.
4:45 - Huskies - Soto 7-yard run. 2-pt conversion fails. 28-6.
1:57 - Huskies - Chambers 43-yard pass to Connally. Adams PAT 35-6.
7:40 - Cougars - Reape 2-yard run. 2-pt conversion fails. 12-35.
2:50 - Huskies - Grant 19-yard run. Adams PAT. 42-12.
2:01 - Huskies - Messmer 52-yard interception. Adams PAT. 49-12.
Above - Juneau senior Kadin Messmer does a backflip as junior Jarrell Williams and senior Noah Chambers leave the field after defeating East earlier this season. (Klas Stolpe)