Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - Something had to give as two undefeated gridiron powers clashed on the “Nest on Hillcrest” in Anchorage, and it was the visiting Juneau Huskies that were fenced in by the West Eagles 49-23 for their first loss of the young season.
“It was a tale of two games there,” Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said of the first and second halves. “We were only able to suit 23 kids today for varsity, the lowest number I have ever had on a varsity sideline in a game I coached. A tough week to be taking on West with not all the reserves we would normally have. It definitely showed in the second half, we emptied the tank a little bit. But I thought the kids played hard all the way to the end.”
The play of the game for Juneau (2-1) was a defensive gem at the end of the second quarter: Huskies senior Wallace Adams intercepted West quarterback Jaideven Suesue on a long pass attempt to Eagles All-State wide receiver Quentin Underwood with just over a minute before halftime that kept the Huskies with momentum and in front 15-14.
“Wallace Adams had a great game,” Sjoroos said. “Even they (West) were hugging him and tapping him after the game and said he was a ball player. He was physical. He was catching balls on offense and blocking on offense. Obviously his kicking game we know about. That was a big interception. He has just been a field general for us and definitely had an all-around big game and took on a bigger role today.”
Juneau had two first quarter possessions with no points and had given up a first quarter touchdown to West senior James “Boogie” Sloan.
The Huskies seized momentum late in the first quarter and took the ball into the second quarter with senior quarterback Noah Chambers mixing in a pass to classmate Matthew Hartsock and runs by senior Gaby Soto to push the ball down to first and goal. Junior Jamal Johnson carried twice to score, and the Huskies trailed 7-6. A West penalty allowed Chambers to connect with junior Chris Harris on a two-point conversion for an 8-7 Juneau lead.
The Eagles moved the ball on an 80-yard drive on their next possession to regain the lead 14-8 and the Huskies did the same on their next possession. Johnson and Soto were used to carry and Chambers connected with Adams in the series. Soto carried the score from the West 8 yard line and Adams added his first extra point of the game for a 15-14 lead.
Sjoroos commented on the ground games by Johnson and Soto.
“It was probably the best and smartest running of their careers,” he said. “They just really picked and chose the holes well, fought for yards when they needed to and just really played smart football games. And of course the line blocking for them. I am just really proud of the guys.”
West looked to come right back but Adams had the interception that secured the lead.
Starting the second half, West scored on an opening drive capped by a 68-yard scoring pass from backup quarterback Harrison Steeves-Litte to senior Nate Lyken for a 20-15 advantage and the extra point by junior Robert Brune made it 21-15.
“Probably everybody on the team would raise their hand and say we just didn’t tackle up to the level that we normally tackle to,” Sjoroos said. “I thought West, according to the way the game was called, they played a much cleaner second half with just one penalty. They made some big plays. Those 50-50 balls, we got a couple of those in the first half that went our way and in the second half they got a couple.”
One was the touchdown pass.
“The kid made a really nice catch,” Sjoroos said. “With two defenders right there, he was able to keep his balance and take it down the sideline. Just things like that. They were able to get us off the field in the second half. Their defense stiffened up and they played at a higher level.”
The Eagles carried that momentum into a defensive stand and another drive culminated by Sloan’s third touchdown run of the game and another extra point by Brune for 28-15.
Juneau was held to a 4th and 5 on its own 35 on the next drive and Adams put a long punt into the West end for good defensive position.
West continued to run with Sloan, and Steeves-Litte giving to junior Robert “Junior” Misa for a 31-yard gain to the 1 yard line. A penalty backed West up to the 14 but Sloan carried in his fourth touchdown for point 34 and Brune kicked in the extra for 35.
Juneau again got a big pass play from Chambers to junior Payton Grant on its next possession for a 19-yard gain but three plays left them a foot short on fourth down.
At the West 41 yard line, Juneau called time out to set up a momentum booster. A direct snap to Johnson put a fresh 10 yards in the turf for Chambers and the Huskies. Juneau moved the ball for another first down as the third quarter expired on a fourth-and-four pass to Johnson on the wing.
Starting the fourth quarter from the West 20 yard line, Juneau’s Grant ran for 10 yards. Soto barged ahead for nine yards to the 1 yard line and on the next play put the nose of the football over the goal line to trail 35-21. Juneau drew West offside on the extra point line up and went for a two-point conversion on the penalty with Soto carrying the pigskin in to trail 35-23.
A squib kickoff by Juneau gave West the ball at the Eagles’ 28 and they worked slowly down the turf, eating yards and time.
West quarterback Suesue was brought down from behind by Juneau’s Wyatt Harvey to save a touchdown but West inched closer with Sloan getting to the five yard line with under eight minutes remaining.
Juneau took the kick off from its own 25 yard line but went four and out on their second-to-last possession of the game.
West looked to run out the clock but Suesue found a receiver and Sloan broke a run to get within scoring distance. An exchange of penalties set up a Sloan touchdown run and Brune extra point for 49-23.
Juneau took a last gasp at the end zone with under a minute to go as Soto ran for nine yards, Chambers passed to Adams for a first down and then to junior Chris Harris to move over the 50 yard line with just 30 seconds left. Double coverage on senior James Connally left an incomplete pass in the end zone on first down. Adams caught second down for a few yards over the middle. Third and fourth down were incomplete and West took a knee to end the game.
Sjoroos said he was extremely proud of the Huskies performance. He noted senior Landon Guthrie having the best game of his high school career, third-string center, senior, Sione Veikoso starting for the first time in place of injured Brandon Campbell and performing perfectly.
“Just guys stepping into roles and doing bigger things than we asked in the past,” Sjoroos said. “Just really proud in that regard. I love this group. It is one of the funnest years ever coaching football. Even on the day where you don’t come out on top of the scoreboard you feel good about the effort they give. You know, come Monday, they will be eager to watch film and learn from what they did. We didn’t have the reserves we normally have so the kids were stepping up and taking on bigger roles that maybe they hadn’t been asked to do the first two games. Coming on the road and having the lead at halftime against one of the top two teams in the state, loved that. We just had to come out in the third quarter and create something, like that 50-50 ball they catch for the 68-yard touchdown, if we get a pick there or a sack or do something to get them off the field we can keep the momentum. Once again it just shows it is tough to go on the road and win especially against really good teams. We just have to find a formula that is going to work because we will be back up here again in a couple weeks.”
Juneau (2-1) will host the top-ranked East Thunderbirds (3-0) on Saturday at Adair Kennedy Field. West improves to 3-0.
“We will definitely learn from the things we need to do better and expand on the things we did well and get ready for East and all the games after that,” Sjoroos said. “I told the guys, as long as I’ve coached, I focus on the negative things just temporarily just to make sure we try and weed those things out, but spend more time building on the things that went well and make us a better team and I need them to do the same thing. We need to just get past some of the things that didn’t work out to our advantage today but also understand why that didn’t happen and become a better and stronger team.”
SCORE BY QUARTER
West 7 - 7 - 21 - 14 = 49
Juneau 0 - 15 - 0 - 8 = 23
HOW THEY SCORED
3:20 - Eagles - Sloan 24-yard run. Brune PAT. 7-0.
10:48 - Huskies - Johnson 2-yard run. 2-pt conversion Chambers pass to Harris. 8-7.
8:20 - Eagles - Sloan 3-yard run. Brune PAT. 14-8.
2:20 - Huskies - Soto 7-yard run. Adams PAT. 15-14.
10:24 - Eagles - Steeves-Litte 25-yard pass to Lyken. Brune PAT. 21-15.
7:31 - Eagles - Sloan 15-yard run. Brune PAT. 28-15.
3:35 - Eagles - Sloan 13-yard run. Brune PAT. 35-15.
11:10 - Huskies - Soto 1-yard run. 2-pt conversion Soto run. 23-35.
6:35 - West - Sloan 1-yard run. Brune PAT. 42-23.
2:10 - West - Sloan 6-yard run. Brune PAT. 49-23.
Above - The Juneau Huskies prepare for a kickoff earlier this season.