Idaho won the battle of the defending state champions Saturday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, knocking off the Crimson Bears 27-7 and ending Juneau's 13-game winning streak.
Both teams came into the game highly ranked again this season with Juneau (2-1, 2-0) No. 1 in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network's large school poll. The Broncos (1-0) were ranked No. 6 in Idaho's preseason prep football poll.
"We find out that there's a different brand of football played in the Lower 48," Juneau head coach Bill Chalmers said. "It's a good loss if there's such a thing. The last time I coached a losing venture against a team from down below, we went on to win a state championship. That's kind of what we're looking for here."
It was one big play and one big mistake that made the difference in a game played much closer than the scoreboard showed.
The big play came midway through the second quarter. The Bears were threatening on the 3-yard line and facing fourth down. But instead of going for a chip-shot field goal, Juneau gambled and the Broncos' defense stuffed Juneau in the backfield.
Two plays later, Blackfoot quarterback Doug Wixom ran 92 yards for the first score of the game and the Broncos led 7-0 at the half.
The third quarter was all Blackfoot as they capitalized on good field position following a couple of short Juneau punts. Blackfoot went up 14-0 on a short run by Wacy Johnson at the 9:18 mark.
Four minutes later, Blackfoot struck again on a 1-yard touchdown run by Christopher Percy. The drive was highlighted by a diving 30-yard reception by Ruben Hernandez at the 2-yard line. The Bears blocked the extra point attempt to keep Blackfoot's lead to 20-0.
The big mistake happened with just over a minute to go in the quarter when the Bears fumbled in the backfield deep in their own territory. The Blackfoot defense recovered, and on the next play Johnson scored his second touchdown from five yards out to give his team a commanding 27-0 lead.
"We kind of played on our heels in the third quarter," Juneau offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said. "We couldn't get out of that hole, and we kept giving them the ball in a short field."
"We had some fatal errors," Chalmers said. "I think if we played them 10 times, we might be able to pull out four out of the 10."
The Bears did not give up. Sjoroos got crafty in the fourth quarter, moving standout receiver Alex Fagerstrom to quarterback. The adjustments paid off as Fagerstrom led the Bears down the field and scored on a 3-yard run. Joe Slagle's extra point made it 27-7
"We have to get the ball in his hands," Sjoroos said. "We were struggling to get him the ball in the passing game. They had a nice over-under coverage on him. They weren't going to let him beat them deep. We took three or four shots deep, but when a team has good athletes like they do, then we need to find another way to get him the ball."
"You don't have to be much of a football aficionado to see that Alex Fagerstrom worked pretty well as a running back when we put him in as a quarterback as opposed to receiver," Chalmers said. "He continues to amaze me at the athletic ability he has."
The momentum swing was evident on Blackfoot's next possession when the Crimson Bears defense overwhelmed the Broncos, highlighted by a crushing sack by junior lineman Eric Sele.
Chalmers praised his defense. "Buzzy Hotch and Eric Sele on defense were outstanding. Jack Perkins got dinged up a little bit in the second half, but he was outstanding at his linebacker spot," he said.
Fagerstrom's quick feet continued to entertain with long runs, but there simply was not enough time to come back. He finished the game 88 yards rushing on 13 attempts. Lincoln Maka finished with 54 yards on 13 rushes, and Silver Maake gained 47 yards on 12 carries.
"Our defense worked except for one play, and in the fourth quarter our offense worked," Chalmers said. "Our offensive line worked pretty well all game. Where we fell apart was our special teams, our kickoff returns and our punts - something we need to work on. And of course turnovers always hurt."
The Juneau junior varsity completed a doubleheader over the weekend by defeating visiting Sitka 30-6 on Friday. The Bears JV followed with a 36-0 win on Saturday in a game that was tied 0-0 at halftime.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at email@example.com.
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