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One play erased a wealth of mistakes for the Juneau-Douglas High School football team in its season-opening 8-6 victory over the Kenai Central Kardinals in a non-conference game Saturday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
A sputtering offense, some stupid penalties and a missed coverage on defense had the Crimson Bears trailing 6-2 late in the game, but then came a play called "Five and Go."
The fourth-down play resulted in an 87-yard touchdown pass from Chad Dubois to Ernest Monts with 1 minute, 3 seconds left in the game, giving the Crimson Bears their first offensive touchdown in 11 quarters dating back to last season.
Juneau lined up with Monts wide to the right side. The slot back went into motion and that drew one of the defenders out of position while Monts sprinted down the right sideline. Dubois threw the ball and Monts still was behind two defenders, but he zoomed past them and started stumbling as the ball floated into his outstretched arms about 20 yards beyond the line of scrimmage. Monts caught his balance and sped toward the end zone, eluding a tackle at about Kenai's 21-yard line by defensive back Cory Janson, who fell face first into the turf as Monts scored.
"I was scared there," Monts said about his stumble. "But the pass sat in my basket and I just ran. I just saw a beautiful ball and I had to pick it up."
"We made a lot of mistakes, but we had one miracle play," Dubois said. "The whole line held for four seconds, and that was what we needed."
Kenai took a 6-0 lead midway through the first quarter as Matt Tunseth completed an 18-yard touchdown pass to fullback Dakota Craig on a play Juneau defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said happened because one of his players misread the coverage. Tunseth's conversion pass attempt to Tyson Jollifle was complete, but Jollifle wasn't able to get into the end zone.
Kenai's touchdown was set up by a botched snap on a Juneau punt five plays earlier, where the only thing punter Colin Conerton could do was fall on the ball at the 24-yard line to keep Kenai from scoring.
The score stayed at 6-0 through the rest of the first half as both teams struggled to move the ball. Janson, who was the state's top rusher in the regular season and ranked third through the end of the playoffs, had only gained eight yards on eight carries for Kenai. Juneau wasn't faring much better with most of the team's yardage coming on a brief drive as time ran out in the half.
In the second half, Juneau dodged a bullet when a Kenai penalty eliminated an apparent 79-yard touchdown run by Janson, who burst through a tackle on an off-tackle play to the left side and powered his way into the end zone. But one of his teammates made an illegal block from the back and that brought the ball back to the Juneau 43, negating the touchdown and giving Janson just 51 yards on the play.
"I have no idea," Kenai coach Jim Beeson said when asked who committed the penalty. "It was just one of those things that happens in early season games. We keep telling the kids to not get frustrated if we're not gaining a lot of yardage because all it takes is for Cory to break one play, and he broke one."
"I feel great," said Janson, who was Kenai's player of the game (defensive lineman Ryan West was Juneau's player of the game). "Our main goal was to focus and everybody stay in the game. They were keying on me. We never quit and we were in it until the end."
Juneau's defense held and the score was still 6-0 entering the fourth quarter.
The Crimson Bears had their own opportunity to take advantage of a botched snap on a Kenai punt to open the fourth quarter, as Sterling Henderson was able to wrap up Kenai punter Ryann Hansen for a 26-yard loss after Hansen had to chase down the loose ball at the 10-yard line. Juneau drove to the 1-yard line, but on fourth down the running back overshot his handoff and Dubois was tackled for a five-yard loss.
"It was my first game in four years," said Henderson, a senior basketball player who hasn't played football since his days in the Juneau Youth Football League. "These people have paid their dues."
Kenai picked up a first down on its next series, but Henderson sacked Tunseth for a 12-yard loss that put the Kardinals back on their 5-yard line so Kenai took two delay of game penalties then Tunseth scrambled around in the end zone for the safety midway through the fourth quarter. But Juneau drew a 15-yard penalty on the play when Jason Cameron was called for unnecessary roughness for tackling Tunseth after he'd gone out of bounds.
After Juneau's offense sputtered once more, the ball went back to the Kardinals. Kenai drove to the 17-yard line on its next possession, but on the next play Janson fumbled and Cameron recovered the ball for Juneau. Five plays later, Monts was running for the end zone.
"We knew it was down to the wire," Juneau lineman Mark Shilling said. "We should have had those ones earlier in the game, so we knew we needed it (Monts' score). We'll watch a lot of film and hopefully we can learn from this. We had lots of missed opportunities and mistakes."
Kenai is one of the top small schools teams in the state, but Juneau has its work cut out for it when it travels to Anchorage to play two-time defending large schools state champion Dimond at 6 p.m. on Saturday. Dimond beat Juneau 31-0 in the first round of last year's state playoffs, ending Juneau's 13-game home winning streak.
"We were just trying to see what's going to work," said Cameron, who ran for 38 yards and was Juneau's leading rusher. "Our line really came through. After I saw Ernie catch that ball, I was feeling better. A win is a win. This was just a game to get the kinks out. We'll look a lot sharper next week."
"We've got a lot of work to do," Monts said. "We've got an uphill battle, but we took the first step."
Juneau's junior varsity team beat Kenai's JV 7-0 as Seve Candelaria scored a fourth-quarter touchdown on a 10-yard run.
In varsity action in Sitka, the Wolves beat the Ketchikan Kings 36-0.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CRIMSON BEARS 8, KARDINALS 6
Saturday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
KENAI CENTRAL 6 0 0 0 - 6
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 0 0 0 8 - 8
Kenai Central - Craig 18 pass from Tunseth (pass failed), 5:26.
Juneau-Douglas - Safety, Tunseth tackled in end zone, 6:43.
Juneau-Douglas - Monts 87 pass from Dubois (kick blocked), 1:03.
First downs 7 5
Rushes-yards 41-95 38-73
Passing yards 43 113
Comp-Att-Int 3-13-0 7-12-1
Return yards 39 97
Sacked-yards lost 2-22 0-0
Punts-ave 5-35.4 4-47.5
Fumbles-lost 3-2 4-1
Penalties-yards 10-55 12-70
RUSHING - Kenai Central: Janson 25-89, Craig 7-39, Tunseth 8-(-7), Hansen 1-(-26). Juneau-Douglas: Cameron 9-38, Felix 9-32, N. West 5-27, Clair 1-2, To. Talamai 1-1, Te. Talamai 2-0, Dubois 10-(-5), Conerton 1-(-22).
PASSING - Kenai Central: Tunseth 3-13-0 - 43. Juneau-Douglas: Dubois 7-12-1 - 113.
RECEIVING - Kenai Central: Cramer 2-25, Craig 1-18. Juneau-Douglas: Monts 1-87, Cameron 4-16, Winn 1-5, N. West 1-5.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - None.