Juneau, Alaska (KINY) - The Juneau Huskies continue to find ways to impress the football world on high school Saturdays as they overcame another powerful rival on the road in a 27-14 display of pigskin dominance over the Bartlett Golden Bears in Anchorage.
Senior Noah Chambers showed what big-time quarterbacks do, senior James Connally showed off the speed that major colleges look for in wide receivers, senior Wallace Adams’ displayed scholarship kicking and safety skills, senior Gaby Soto and junior Jamal Johnson doubled at running back and linebacker, showing they can play either position at the next level and both Huskies lines claimed another gridiron field as their own.
Perhaps the most electrifying showing was on defense as Juneau stopped the Bartlett offense on first-and-goal possessions twice and dealt with a larger offensive line and a bruising Bartlett running game.
“Jamal Johnson had a lot of great tackles today,” Juneau coach Rich Sjoroos said. “Lucas White, Wyatt Harvey, Jarrell Williams, Hunter Derr, Mathias Wiederspohn… Wallace Adams had a ton, Sam Sika, Jack Gregson, there were a lot. At the end of the game I said, ‘Raise your hand if you were in on a tackle today.’ About every hand on the team went up. Then I said, ‘Raise your hand if you tackled a guy that was bigger than you today.’ All those hands pretty much stayed up. The defense did a phenomenal job. Definitely undersized, we hear that every week, but the kids played hard all the way through.”
Bartlett took the first kickoff and the Juneau defense held the Golden Bears to a failed fourth down in the Huskies half of the field.
The Huskies took their first drive from their own half of the field across to the Bartlett half with Soto moving on the ground and Chambers connecting to White, a senior, for a good chunk of passing yardage. But the Golden Bears forced a change of possession and held it into the next stanza.
In the second quarter, Bartlett senior quarterback Mareko Utuga would grind the ball down the field for the first score of the game on a six-yard run from junior Niko Alailefaleula and junior Marty Burton, a kicker on the Golden Bears girls soccer team, connected for the extra point.
Juneau would lose their drive again and Bartlett moved the ball across midfield.
Then the Juneau defense turned into a concrete wall as Johnson, a junior, forced a fumble, and Juneau took possession.
“We had to change approaches,” Sjoroos said. “They showed us pretty early on that our power running game wasn’t going to do what we wanted it to do against them. We kind of knew that going in which is why we prepared to do some spread stuff and the kids executed it really well. We had the plan B. Even though we got a few first downs on our first drive we knew that wasn’t going to be our recipe for success so we came out on our second possession in spread formation and were able to get some great catches.”
Chambers worked the spread offense with a short run, an eight-yard pass, and then connected with Adams on a 54-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 7-6. Juneau coaxed Bartlett offside on the extra point and drew a five-yard penalty but the Huskies failed on a two-point conversion attempt.
Bartlett would gain strong momentum, moving down the field into Juneau’s half and looking at first and goal inside the five.
Juneau’s defensive line put in their toughest stand to date stopping four Bartlett first-and-goal plays and retaining possession on their own one-yard line, setting the stage for Juneau history.
Chambers dropped back to pass and found Connally for 99 yards and the longest scoring play in the Huskies record books, including the Crimson Bears and Falcons lineage. Adams would continue his perfect streak of extra points for a 13-7 lead.
“It was like 99 and a half,” Sjoroos said of the pass play. “There wasn’t much room between the ball and the end zone on that. That was big. It got momentum and got the crowd quieted down.”
Connally now adds that record to his 100-meter track time record on the JDHS wall.
“I’m feeling great,” Connally said. “It was just a great experience because I didn’t celebrate it myself. I got to celebrate it with my team. That just made it that much better. They just make the game that much better, a lot more fun. We just have to stay disciplined and do our best.”
Juneau would stop Bartlett on the next possession and Chambers would orchestrate another drive that ended with junior Chris Harris catching a 25-yard pass for a 19-7 advantage and Adams kicking through point 20 before the half.
“Noah had a great game,” Sjoroos said. “Especially that drive in the third quarter that led to a touchdown. I told him that was his best drive of his entire high school career.”
That drive came after the Golden Bears opened the second half with an onside kick that Juneau recovered. However, Bartlett was offside. A high school rule doesn’t allow for a team to decline that penalty so Bartlett was moved back five yards and kicked again. This time they recovered on the Juneau 42.
Bartlett running back Alailefaleula pounded the ball down the field for first and goal but Juneau stopped four straight runs by two different sized Golden Bears running backs inside the three yard line to take over on downs at the one.
Chambers orchestrated another drive with Connally on the right side and Harris on the left and threw to junior Payton Grant for a big gain. The same alignment set up Johnson for a run up the middle followed by Soto being on the receiving end of a Chambers scramble and pass.
“Noah evaded a sack twice,” Sjoroos said. “Just did total, like, Houdini moves and came out and found open receivers down the field. And he did get sacked once on that drive, got hit pretty hard, but he showed some real veteran senior leadership.”
Soto would cap the drive with an eight-yard run into the end zone and Adams added the extra point for a 27-7 lead.
“That kind of gave us a little bit of separation,” Sjoroos said. “But it was a very, very physical football game. When Noah came off I told him, ‘You and I have been together since seventh grade. That’s the best drive of your high school career right there.’ I was just really proud of him. He made some phenomenal plays on that drive, just phenomenal.”
Bartlett fought on as quarterback Utuga drove the Golden Bears down the field for a score in the top of the fourth quarter, connecting with junior Joseph Afe on a 33-yard passing touchdown and an extra point by Burton to trail 27-14.
Then Bartlett senior Roger Bingham put a solid hit on a Juneau player to strip and recover a ball on the Huskies next possession and the Golden Bears looked to move past midfield.
Juneau’s Adams preserved the game with an interception inside the Huskies own 20 yard line with just under seven minutes remaining to play.
Chambers moved the Huskies with a mix of power on the ground and a pass to Connally to cross midfield but the drive stalled.
Bartlett took possession and had a big pass from Utuga to senior Isaiah Walker to get inside the Huskies 20. But Juneau senior Wyatt Harvey stifled the next play. Huskies safeties Connally and Adams stopped the next passing attempt to force a fourth down and the Juneau defensive line held the field for possession with just 1:49 remaining to play.
Soto had the ball stripped on his next run but junior lineman Brandon Campbell fell on the recovery to save possession. Johnson rushed ahead for a first down and the Huskies celebrated their fifth win of the season and remain atop the Cook Inlet Conference at 5-1.
Bartlett falls to 3-3 on the season. In other CIC action, East (5-1) defeated West (4-2) 35-21, Colony (4-2) topped Dimond (0-5) 21-14, and South (3-3) buried Service (1-5) 64-12.
“It was just a very tight, intense and physical football game,” Sjoroos said. “Bartlett is an up-and-coming team in our conference. They had won three in a row. They beat South last week and were feeling pretty good going in. They were good at some things we were unproven in, like stopping the run and stuff. I thought our guys did a good job.”
SCORE BY QUARTER
Juneau 0 - 20 - 7 - 0 = 27
Bartlett 0 - 7 - 0 - 7 = 14
HOW THEY SCORED
10:17 - Golden Bears - Alailefaleula 3-yard run. Burton PAT 7-0.
7:30 - Huskies - Chambers 54-yard pass to Adams. 2-pt conversion fails. 6-7.
5:50 - Huskies - Chambers 99-yard pass to Connally. Adams PAT. 13-7.
1:17 - Huskies - Chambers 25-yard pass to Harris. Adams PAT. 20-7.
3:01 - Huskies - Soto 8-yard run. Adams PAT. 27-7.
8:45 - Golden Bears - Utuga 33-yard pass to Afe. Burton PAT 14-27.
Above - Juneau Huskies senior receiver James Connally (10) shown against East earlier this season, had a 99-yard catch and run for a touchdown on Saturday against Bartlett High School, the longest in Juneau football history.
Below - Members of the Juneau defense, shown against East earlier this season, again proved to be the deciding factor in Saturday's 27-14 win over Bartlett High School on Saturday in Anchorage.