Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - For the third straight week the Juneau Huskies sit on top of the Alaska Sports Broadcasters Poll, leading the Division I Cook Inlet Conference with a 5-1 record after beating Bartlett (3-3) 27-14 last Saturday and hosting South Anchorage this weekend with the conference title on the line.
The Juneau victory over the Golden Bears was keyed by two goal line stands by the Huskies defense inside their own three yard line.
“Twice we held them,” Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said. “That is two times more than a lot of teams will do in a season. It felt like they ran 20 plays on first-and-goal. A couple times they got a first down by getting to the one yard line and then they had four shots.”
The run heavy Bartlett Golden Bears would need more than those four shots as Juneau’s defense continues to dominate opposing lines.
Sjoroos listed juniors Jamal Johnson, Lucas White, junior Jarrell Williams, Hunter Derr, Sam Sika and seniors Mathias Wiederspohn, Jack Gregson, Gaby Soto, Wyatt Harvey, and Wallace Adams as key defensive players before stating that “any player we had on the defensive side of the ball played outstanding, physical and smart football.”
The defensive stops were momentum for the offense.
HUSKIES STATS VS BARTLETT
Passing: Noah Chambers was 12-18 for 344 yards and three touchdowns.
Rushing: Gaby Soto rushed 11 times for 94 yards and one touchdown. Jamal Johnson rushed two times for 17 yards. Jarell Williams rushed one time for no gain. Noah Chambers rushed two times for minus six yards.
Receiving: James Connally caught two passes for 130 yards and one touchdown. Wallace Adams
caught one pass for 56 yards and one touchdown. Chris Harris caught three passes for 50 yards and one touchdown. Payton Grant caught two passes for 46 yards. Gaby Soto caught three passes for 41 yards. Lucas White caught one pass for 21 yards.
Interceptions: Juneau - Wallace Adams one.
Turnovers: Juneau one. Bartlett two.
Sjoroos also credited senior Noah Chambers for creatively directing the offense, calling him “Houdini-like” on his scrambles that allowed receivers to get open as the plan was to go away from their traditional power running game and implement a more spread set.
“One play he avoided a sack twice, and just came out and connected with a receiver down field,” Sjoroos said. “Once he did that to Payton Grant for a big gain and another was to Gaby Soto that got us down inside the 10…”
With three passes Chambers totaled 178 yards and three touchdowns. He would total 344 yards in the game. Big time numbers to receivers that play on both sides of the ball.
The Huskies ran the fewest number of plays this season, due to Bartlett’s slow, grinding, ball possession run game.
“We knew our drives would be limited because they are slow tempo, very deliberate on offense,” Sjoroos said. “They get you to third-and-one or third-and-two.”
Sjoroos said it came down to guys making plays.
“And our guys made a lot of plays today,” he said. “It was a very gratifying win for Juneau Huskies football. It gets us a home playoff game, keeps us in the hunt for a conference title and some of those things that you want to put yourself in the best position going into the playoffs.”
The win means Juneau is ensured of a first round playoff game.
The playoffs also mean, as all eight conference teams receive placing, that opponents will have faced each other once this season.
“You’re going to have to improve and play better the second time around,” Sjoroos said. “You would just rather set yourself up to be at home if possible and some of the benefits that go along with that.”
The quarterfinals and semifinals are at the home field of the higher seeded team. The ASAA state championship game will be held at Service High School.
Juneau has never hosted a state semifinal but the playoffs are secondary right now as the South Anchorage Wolverines come to Juneau on Saturday and the Huskies can clinch the Cook Inlet Conference title with a win. Varsity game time is scheduled for 3 p.m. The Huskies senior players will be honored at 2:30 p.m.
Sjoroos said the Huskies have a lot to work on before the playoffs.
“I think being able to transition within our offense from run to pass and back to run in different sets and things like that,” Sjoroos said. “Just getting a little more fluidness in that would be good. Still find a way to stay on blocks and defend the edge better, seal up the edge better. Ball security. Knowing when to fight for inches and when to take what they gave you… there are always little things. Staying hungry, we talked about that today. I think we have shifted from being the hunters to being the hunted and that carries with it a whole different set of things you have got to do if you want to stay high up there.”
Sjoroos said he sometimes wishes teams would not be ranked.
“It sometimes gives you the impression you are better than you are,” he said. “Especially since the rankings don’t reflect the dynamics you have to go through as far as travel, with teams having to travel to Juneau and things like that. It makes it pretty tough to get a fair gauge sometimes… they aren’t taking into account injury reports and things like that. It’s fun for fans but it is challenging sometimes to keep everybody’s eyes going forward.”
With the Huskies doing something extraordinary every week, Sjoroos said the coaching staff needs to be aware of possible complacency.
“It’s definitely something you have to be aware of,” he said. “Two years ago we won a big game at Chugiak and then the following week we went to Colony and just didn’t play nearly at the same level we did the week before. I have told them, ‘guys you can’t say this team is like any other team, but all I can do is give you history lessons that I’ve endured and give you that information and you decipher it how you feel will best serve you to play your best football.’ That’s really what I try and do.”
That history book includes 28 years of teachings in chapters as diverse as Juneau Youth Football League and junior varsity games; over a baker’s dozen of varsity state tournament appearances and playoffs every year; seven varsity conference titles with number eight possible on Saturday; nine varsity state championship semifinals, five varsity state championship finals resulting in two state titles and three runner-up trophies.
“I have been very blessed to have lots of great kids and coaches,” Sjoroos said. “We just try to put them into position to be the most successful that they can be and so far this year they have really risen up to every challenge we have thrown at them. This one is another big one on Saturday with South coming in. South has a lot of seeding stuff to be playing for. South beat us two years ago in Juneau in the playoffs. So I think people will have an opportunity to rectify that and it is also going to be our senior night so we will have all those emotions going on as well. Just a lot of challenges every week but so far this group has embraced everything we have thrown at them and done a remarkable job.”
In other CIC action last weekend, East (5-1) defeated West (4-2) 35-21, Colony (4-2) topped Dimond (0-6) 21-14, and South (3-3) buried Service (1-5) 64-12.
Poll ranking and Cook Inlet Conference scores:
No. 1 Juneau has defeated Bartlett 27-14, Service 49-12, East 39-28, Colony 53-12, Dimond 35-6 and lost to West 49-23. Juneau hosts South next and then has a bye.
No. 2 East defeated West 35-21, Colony 50-26, Lathrop 50-26, South 59-22, Service 45-22 and lost to Juneau 39-28. East hosts Bartlett next, then Dimond.
No. 3 West defeated Dimond 35-9, Juneau 49-23, Bartlett 33-9, Service 35-6 and lost to South 46-34 and East 35-21. West plays at Lathrop next, then hosts Colony.
No. 4 Colony defeated Dimond 21-14, South 34-31, Wasilla 34-14, Bartlett 40-13 and lost to Juneau 53-12 and East 35-12. Colony hosts Service next, then plays at West.
No. 5 South defeated Service 64-12, West 46-34, Dimond (forfeit) and lost to East 59-22, Colony 34-31 and Bartlett 30-22. South plays at Juneau next, then hosts Soldotna.
No. 6 Bartlett defeated South 30-22, Palmer 22-15 and Dimond 14-8, and lost to West 33-9, Colony 40-13 and Juneau 27-14. Bartlett plays at East next, then at Service.
No. 7 Service defeated Dimond 26-20, and lost to East 45-22, West 35-6, Soldotna 48-34, Juneau 49-12 and South 64-12. Service plays at Colony next, then hosts Bartlett.
No. 8 Dimond has lost to South (forfeit), Juneau 35-6, Bartlett 14-8, Service 26-20, West 35-9 and Colony 21-14. Dimond hosts North Pole next, then plays at East.
The ASBN poll for DII/III lists their top five as Lathrop 4-1 hosting North Pole; Soldotna 5-1 hosting Wasilla; Redington 5-1 at Homer; Eagle River 4-0 at Kenai; and a tie with Monroe 4-1 hosting Eielson and North Pole 4-1 at Lathrop.