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PALMER - Palmer High gambled, and Juneau-Douglas came up flush.
The pivotal point in Juneau-Douglas' 17-7 Railbelt Conference football road victory Friday night came midway through the fourth quarter at Fred Machetanz Field, with the home team trying to ride its momentum and the visitors trying to knock the Moose off their second-half stride.
Palmer trailed 10-7 with 7:11 remaining when it faced fourth-and-1 at its own 44-yard line, and coach Rod Christiansen decided to go for it.
The Moose, ranked No. 4 in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network poll, ran the option to the right. Quarterback Jackson Buresh momentarily placed the ball into the belly of fullback David Sorenson, then took it out and promptly met Crimson Bears defensive back Vinh Le, who dropped him for a 3-yard loss, turning the ball over to Juneau-Douglas on downs.
Six plays later, Crimson Bears quarterback Phillip Fenumiai feathered his second touchdown pass of the game, hitting Chris Holloway in stride on a go route down the right sideline for a 23-yard score that furnished the No. 2-ranked Bears a 17-7 cushion that held.
All that was left after that was the incident report.
"Probably should have punted and let the emotion (of the moment) go away,'' Christiansen said. "My defensive captain said we could stop them. It's early in the year and you want to give them confidence. I'll take (responsibility) for that touchdown.''
Le said he didn't initially intend to jump the play because he was concerned Moose tight end Colin Christiansen would run a pass pattern. But when Christiansen blocked one of his teammates, Le said that green-lighted his aggressive play across the line of scrimmage.
"I saw the quarterback pull the ball out and he ran right into me,'' Le said. "Perfect place, perfect time. I was glad to step up because we needed a big play there.''
Juneau-Douglas took over at the Palmer 41-yard line and took just six plays and 3:03 to make the Moose suffer for their gamble.
Facing third-and-5 at the Palmer 23, Fenumiai faked play-action, then lofted a pass that hit Holloway, who had bolted past the secondary, in stride in the end zone. Fenumiai said the Moose were so concerned with Bears standout receiver Eric Fagerstrom that Holloway benefitted.
"We hadn't really looked (Holloway's) way much tonight, so they weren't expecting me to throw it to him,'' Fenumiai said. "It was a good play call and, luckily enough, I put it right into his arms.
"The defense - they had great field position for us all night.''
Juneau-Douglas jumped to a 10-0 halftime lead on the strength of Fenumiai's 30-yard touchdown pass to Colin Gozelski less than four minutes into the game, and Peter Jorgensen's 25-yard field goal midway through the second quarter.
Gozelski's touchdown catch rocked the Moose. Running a deep route on the left side, he adjusted when Fenumiai came up short on his pass. Gozelski reached over the top of Buresh and plucked the pass from in front of the defender's face mask.
"Spectacular,'' Fenumiai said. "That's top 10.''
Palmer's defense proved stubborn enough to keep it in the game. The Moose held the Bears to that Jorgensen field goal after Juneau-Douglas enjoyed first-and-goal at the 7 following La Fifita's blocked punt. And Palmer held Juneau scoreless in the waning seconds of the first half when the Bears enjoyed first-and-goal at the 1.
The Moose closed the gap to 10-7 midway through the third quarter. They held the Bears to a three-and-out to start the half, then marched 64 yards in six plays with Douglas Chadwick capping the drive on a 25-yard run.
But despite that resurgence and the Bears' penchant for penalties - JDHS was flagged 13 times for 123 yards - the Crimson Bears persevered.
"Our mentality is that if something bad happens, keep your head up and do something the next play,'' Le said. "We did that.''
Justin Brooks led the Crimson Bears with 77 yards on 12 carries, and Kelepi Maka added 57 yards on 12 carries. Fenumiai finished 12-for-20 for 154 yards passing with two touchdowns.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.