Palmer High School’s James Nisbett was a handful for visiting Juneau-Douglas on Friday night, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter to open a 13-0 first quarter score as the undefeated Moose (7-0, 4-0 conference) clinched the Railbelt Conference Championship with a 40-14 home win over the Crimson Bears.
“They jumped on us pretty early,” Juneau-Douglas High School football coach Rich Sjoroos said. “They have a pretty powerful running game and strong line. A lot was at stake for them. They found a variety of ways to run it.”
Nesbit rushed for more than 100 yards in the first half and added a third touchdown in the third quarter. His scores came from 43, 11, and 5 yards.
The first touchdown came less than two minutes into the game.
The Crimson Bears played without injured players Dorian Isaak, Trey Williams and George Sua. Their absence was felt as Juneau was held to only six offensive plays and without a down in the first quarter and a six-play drive in the second quarter ended with a Crimson Bears’ fumble.
“This is just one of those years where we seem to find the injury bug,” Sjoroos said. “It has affected a lot of guys at different times and with different severity.”
JDHS lost star quarterback Phillip Fenumiai for the season in the team’s opener against Thunder Mountain.
The Crimson Bears’ first score on Friday came on a Demetrius Campos run at the 4:29 mark of the second quarter. The drive started on Palmer’s 35-yard line.
“We did play a good second half against these guys,” Sjoroos said. “Obviously they had a big lead but we came out and competed hard in the second half. It was unusual we did not start the game with energy, we have been playing with lots of energy in the last games. We just came out flat and Palmer stepped on us. There were times I thought we were tackling them and stopping them and it would still be a five or six yard gain.”
JDHS found the end zone late in the fourth quarter when Trevor Pfaff found Kris Hill for 36 yards. Jackson Lehnhart kicked his second extra point of the night.
For Palmer, the win was their first conference title since 2003 and their first win against JDHS since 2006. The Moose are 0-3 against JDHS in post-season play.
With the win Palmer will host a first round playoff game against the number four seed from the Cook Inlet Conference, which looks to be Dimond or East. The Crimson Bears need to win Friday’s last conference game at West Valley to stay in playoff contention.
North Pole also has clinched a playoff berth as either the two or three seed. West Valley, Colony and JDHS are battling for the third and fourth Railbelt spots.
“We control our own destiny,” Sjoroos said. “If we win we are the three seed. The bottom line is you have to be in the playoffs to have a chance at the state title, home playoff or not, you have to win.”
If Colony (3-2 conference) beats North Pole (4-1) this weekend the Knights are in, and if JDHS (3-2) beats West Valley (2-3) the Knights and Crimson Bears are in. If North Pole wins, the Patriots are the two seed. If NP and JDHS both lose the Patriots drop to the three seed and Colony two.
The Wolfpack could have improved their chances on Friday but fell to Colony 23-19. If West Valley beats JDHS this weekend the Wolfpack can still be in the playoffs in a point scenario. Palmer plays Wasilla (0-5) this weekend and Lathrop (1-5) plays at 3A Eielson. Going into the final week of the season Service is number one in the CIC, South is two, and West is three.
“We are going to have to play some good football and prepare well,” Sjoroos said. “We want to win and go into the playoffs with some momentum. It is nice to have the games at the end of the year mean something. I knew our conference was going to be tough.”
How They Scored (courtesy of Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman)
Palmer — Nisbett 43 run (Kahler kick) 10:13.
Palmer — Nisbett 11 run (kick failed) 4:34.
Palmer — Heun 10 run (pass failed) 7:57.
Juneau — Campos 1 run (Lehnhart kick) 4:29.
Palmer — Christiansen 43 run (Nisbett run) 2:01.
Palmer — Merritt 3 run (kick failed) 0:16.
Palmer — Nisbett 5 run (Kahler kick) 4:34.
Juneau — Hill 36 pass from Pfaff (Lehnhart kick) 3:59.
RUSHING — Juneau: Palmer 14-74, Campos 8-34, Pfaff 8-14, Vance 2-2; Palmer: V. Aumavae 16-67, Heun 13-82, Nisbett 13-125, Merritt 3-17, Pempek 3-12, Christiansen 2-43, Myers 2-2, Morrison 1-7, B. Aumavae 1- (-1).
PASSING — Juneau: Pfaff 4-10-0—60; Palmer: Christiansen 3-5-0—92.
RECEIVING — Juneau: Speck 2-26, Hill 1-36, Brassfield 1-(-2); Palmer: Myers 1-50, DeLay 1-39, Heun 1-3.