There is an old sports adage that says simply: You can’t have a rivalry until the other team beats you.
The capital city now has an official rivalry.
With the Juneau-Douglas High School crowd on his back all night long, Thunder Mountain High School junior Matt Seymour rose into the air just feet away from their exuberant cheering, pointed his elbow towards the rim, rolled his wrist to let the 22-ounce basketball leave his finger tips, and pointed his index finger high into the sky as the orange orb settled into the net for a Falcons 57-56 lead with six seconds remaining in the game.
“I knew that was in,” Seymour said of the shot. “I flicked my wrist and I was like, ‘oh my gosh, that is in.’ To do this for my senior classmates makes me pretty happy. It feels awesome. Our first win against JD. This is what we have been working for.”
For four long years, Seymour’s senior classmates have been the second school in town. On Friday night they became visible on the radar.
When JDHS’ Gary Speck missed a layup in the last seconds and Adam Empson missed the follow and Keith Ainsworth lost the ball out of bounds, time expired and Falcons’ fans stormed the court.
“It is a pretty exciting feeling,” TMHS coach John Blasco said as fans and players celebrated around him. “Of course it is a hell of a win, but to win in these conditions is a lot of fun. I don’t know... I am speechless.”
Those conditions included a near-capacity crowd, a noise level that required teams to use hand signals and officials to gesture more forcibly after each whistle.
“Thunder Mountain really worked their butts off to get back into this game,” JDHS coach Robert Casperson said. “Hats off to them, they did not quit.”
Seymour’s last second heroics almost never materialized.
The Falcons trailed by 10 at the half, 27-17, as JD used a 15-4 run to ease into the break. The lead was 11, 45-34 at the end of the third period.
With three minutes remaining in the fourth quarter the Crimson Bears had a 53-39 lead, control of the game, and the ball.
“I just said guys we have been in this position before,” Blasco said. “You are seniors. It is your turn to just keep working hard and make it happen. I am going to leave all of you on the floor until the end of the game. They played with a lot of heart tonight. I am proud of them.”
A JDHS turnover on a forced pass inside resulted in junior Ben Jahn being fouled on the other end and hitting one of two.
The Falcons’ full-court pressure forced another missed pass by JDHS and Jahn scored inside on an assist by senior Sam Jahn.
B. Jahn scored again and senior Josh Tupou stole the ball and scored.
With 2:09 left, the Falcons trailed 53-47 and S. Jahn was called for his fourth foul as JDHS senior Aquino Brinson drove to the bucket.
Brinson hit both free throws and the lead was eight, 55-47.
After a Falcons’ turnover, Seymour stole the ball back and hit a deep three, making the score 55-50 with 1:36 remaining. JDHS turned the ball over in the press again and S. Jahn made it a three-point game with 1:15 left.
“We dribbled into trapping areas when they were in trapping situations,” Casperson said. “The pressure of the moment seemed to have gotten to us at times and we made poor decisions with the ball. Guys were hiding it seemed, instead of being confidant in their abilities. Our timing was bad; guys didn’t work to get open. Reality being, we allowed too many points in the fourth quarter. We had been patient all game long and then they forced us to take quick, bad shots.”
JDHS missed a free throw on their next possession and B. Jahn grabbed his ninth rebound of the game.
On the Falcons’ end, B. Jahn scored on a put back of his own shot with 14.5 seconds left, making the game 55-54.
Speck hit one-of-two free throws for a 56-54 Crimson Bears lead with 13.6 seconds left and Seymour found himself unattended in front of the JDHS fan base to drain the game winner.
“Now we go take a deep breathe,” Blasco said. “We wake up tomorrow and think about tomorrow, tomorrow.”
S. Jahn led the Falcons with a game-high 27 points, B. Jahn added 12, Seymour 10, J. Tupou and Vili Tupou four apiece. TMHS hit 12-21 at the charity stripe, JDHS went 10-12.
“You can not worry about how the game is called,” Casperson said. “It comes down to we have to execute. There is not a referee in the game that does not block out or allows his man to score or turns the ball over. We had every opportunity to seal the game.”
Ainsworth led the Crimson Bears with 20 points, Brinson added 15, Speck 11, Nathan Klein six, and Empson four.
“I am so glad for our team,” Vili Tupou said. “The first to beat JDHS. We have been wanting this since we first started the program. We have been waiting so long for this opportunity and now we got it. Everybody knows that Thunder Mountain doesn’t mess around any more.”
On Saturday the Falcons went on an 8-0 run and never trailed in the game enroute to a 68-49 win. TMHS opened a 20-11 first quarter advantage as Seymour knocked down 12 of his game-high 26 points, including three from beyond the arch, in the stanza.
TMHS followed with 18 points in the second quarter, including three more triples (two by Ty Grussendorf and one from Jacob Calloway) and led 38-23 at the break.
Jeffrey Pusich and Adam Empson each scored eight of their 10 and 12, respectively, game points in the first half to keep the Crimson Bears with a little momentum coming into the second half.
JDHS would play almost even over the final 16 minutes but the Falcons went 12-17 from the charity stripe in the final two quarters and 18-22 for the game.
JDHS hit 15-21 (11-13 in the second half) from the line but had 12 turnovers.
Pusich, Jackson Lehnhart and Kevin Guimmayen scored the only field goals for the Crimson Bears in the second half.
The Falcons led by 20, 64-44, with three minutes remaining in the game and the end was almost official when fans chanted for TMHS’ Rohan Kishore to be let off the bench and onto the floor.
“It shows a lot of character,” Blasco said. “This is our first cycle of freshman to seniors, there is a lot of chemistry. We obviously showed a lot of heart last night pulling off that one point win. Tonight the guys were focused and played much better for 32 minutes and everybody stepped up in a big way.”
Calloway added 11 points for the Falcons, Grussendorf and S. Jahn eight apiece, B. Jahn seven, V. Tupou six, and J. Tupou two.
Brinson added 10 points for the Crimson Bears, Lenhart five, Ainsworth four, Guimmayen and Klein three each, and Jones two.
“Friday was an emotional situation for us,” Casperson said. “That was evident in how we started tonight. The disappointment seemed to carry over for us and the confidence seemed to carry over for them. I was proud of our guys for the way they came out and competed in the second half. They scraped, they clawed, they fought, they tried to stay in it. I thought they conducted themselves with class on the floor. I felt they were respectful to their opponent and to the officials at all times, and that is important. It was easily a situation where they could have let their emotions get in control of their intelligence.”
TMHS (9-5, 3-1 southeast) take the top spot in the conference from Ketchikan (2-2) while. JDHS (5-9, 1-3) hosts Wasilla on Monday, the Falcons host Wasilla on Tuesday.