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Emotions were flagging on the Juneau-Douglas High School sidelines as the fourth quarter opened in Juneau's home opener with the Chugiak Mustangs Friday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
The Crimson Bears were trailing by four points, and Juneau was starting to lose the battle in the trenches against the larger Mustangs. Juneau needed something, now, to spark the team to its first-ever victory over the Mustangs.
So Jake Dutton intercepted a pass and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown on the third play of the fourth quarter. Then, Juneau's defense held and Chugiak's center sailed his long snap well over the head of 6-foot-7 punter Riley Fitt-Chappell's head. Juneau's Rob Schenker recovered the ball at the 3-yard line and, two plays later, Sione Tupou was in the end zone and Juneau was on its way to a 27-25 victory.
"That felt good," Dutton said after Juneau held off a late Chugiak rally. "I couldn't catch a pass on offense, so I had to do something on defense. After that, we got the momentum. I was playing deep because I didn't want to get beat."
"Oh, yeah, that was big," Juneau quarterback Brett Fairchild said of Dutton's interception. "You could tell the newer kids on the sidelines were getting down, and that picked them up."
The victory was Juneau's sixth straight at home. But it had even bigger implications. Juneau entered Friday's game having never beaten Chugiak in the history of the Crimson Bears football program, an 0-7 record dating back to 1991. Both teams reached the state semifinals last year, but Chugiak beat Juneau 31-0 during the regular season.
Last year's game, which came when Juneau had several key players injured, was lopsided but over the years the Crimson Bears had lost some heartbreakers against the Mustangs. In 1993, Juneau kicked a field goal in the game's last minute to take the lead, but Chugiak ran back the kickoff for a 33-29 victory. In 1998 Chugiak won 31-28 and in 1995 Chugiak won 14-12, both games the Crimson Bears felt they could win.
Juneau began to worry another loss was coming when Fitt-Chappell scored on a 10-yard pass with 1:07 left and the Mustangs made the two-point conversion to pull within two points. But, Aaron St. Clair recovered Chugiak's onside kick and Juneau ran out the clock to clinch the victory.
"I'm so happy, I never felt we were out of this game," said Juneau four-year starter Jason 'Train' Kaeser, who had tears streaming down his face after the teams shook hands at midfield. "This even outclasses our victory over Dimond last year, because we'd never beat Chugiak before. Our team played every minute of every down. It was true Friday Night Lights."
"Juneau played real good, hard-nosed defense," said 6-foot-2, 260-pound Chugiak quarterback Jared Williamson, who was 14-for-39 passing for 163 yards with three touchdowns and three interceptions. "They were able to execute and they took advantage of a couple of big mistakes we made."
Chugiak (1-2 overall and 0-2 in the Cook Inlet Football Conference) outrushed Juneau 124 yards to 73 and outpassed Juneau 163-53, but the Crimson Bears (1-1 overall and CIFC) came up with big plays when it counted. Juneau had three interceptions and forced two fumbles, and the Crimson Bears had 206 yards in returns to just 47 by the Mustangs.
Juneau wide receiver-punter-defensive back Chris Connally was held to just one yard rushing and no yards receiving, but he had 93 yards in kickoff returns and another 56 on two interception returns. Juneau tight end-defensive end Justin Rose played much of the second half with his right hand taped up because of pulled or torn tendons early in the game, but he was a force defensively late in the game. He drew special mention from both Juneau coach Reilly Richey and Chugiak coach Travis Cantrell.
"I ripped the tendons on my second finger in the second quarter," Rose said. "It was kind of hard to catch balls when you can't open your hand. I couldn't wrap up (on tackles) and I couldn't catch the ball, so I was relying purely on hitting at the end of the game."
Juneau also dusted off an obscure offense called the double-wing, designed in the 1920s by Glen "Pop" Warner, and used it to score three touchdowns and to slow down Chugiak's trio of huge defensive linemen -- Fitt-Chappell (6-7, 250), Zach Jenkins (6-3, 260) and Nick Bradley (6-2, 250).
After not making much ground on their first drive, the Crimson Bears used the formation exclusively on their second drive, a six-play, 64-yard romp that ended with a 23-yard touchdown by Tupou. Juneau went back to its more traditional sets -- the power-I, the spread, the shotgun, the wing-T, etc. -- on its next series, but the Crimson Bears continued to mix in the double-wing to keep Chugiak's defense off-balance. Jason Cameron scored a five-yard touchdown from the formation in the second quarter to make it 13-0 Juneau, and Tupou used the formation for his second touchdown after Chugiak's bad snap.
"I thought Coach (Mike) Hutcherson (Juneau's offensive coordinator) did a great of mixing it up and keeping Chugiak off-balance just enough," Richey said. "Down south people use it (the double-wing) for its surprise value. All the credit goes to Hutch for getting us ready to use it."
After Juneau jumped out to a 13-0 lead, Chugiak rebounded as Williamson connected with Bryce Weight for two second-quarter touchdown passes of 14 and 31 yards to make it 14-13 at halftime. Chugiak made it 17-13 in the third quarter when Chris James kicked a 41-yard field goal. That's where the score stood when Dutton made his interception just 38 seconds into the fourth quarter, giving Juneau a 20-17 lead. Then came the bad snap and Tupou's touchdown, making it 27-17. Chugiak recovered a fumble with 3:11 left and Williamson, who had been 9-of-32 passing, strung together a drive that ended with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Fitt-Chappell.
"They came out and tried to bull us," Cantrell said. "The double-wing didn't really turn the game on us. That (the Dutton interception) and the snap over the punter's head were what killed us. If we'd been prepared, we'd have had him kick it through the end zone for a safety. But we didn't practice for that. We've got to prepare for every situation. We've got the talent to win some games."
Juneau will host Lathrop in a non-conference game this Friday night at Adair-Kennedy, while Chugiak takes on East Anchorage on Saturday. Juneau will also send a junior varsity team to play Sitka's varsity for Juneau's first JV game in school history.
CRIMSON BEARS 27, MUSTANGS 25
CHUGIAK 0 14 3 8 -- 25
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 7 6 0 14 -- 27
Juneau-Douglas -- Tupou 23 run (Ritter kick), 5:33.
Juneau-Douglas -- Cameron 5 run (pass failed), 7:52.
Chugiak -- Weight 14 pass from Williamson (James kick), 4:18.
Chugiak -- Weight 31 pass from Williamson (James kick), 2:37.
Chugiak -- James 41 FG, 9:34.
Juneau-Douglas -- Dutton 34 interception return (Ritter kick), 11:22.
Juneau-Douglas -- Tupou 1 run (Ritter kick), 9:09.
Chugiak -- Fitt-Chappell 10 pass from Williamson (John run), 1:07.
First downs 15 9
Rushes-yards 41-124 37-73
Passing yards 163 53
Comp-att-int 14-40-3 6-19-0
Return yards 47 206
Punts-ave 4-37.5 7-29.4
Fumbles-lost 4-2 5-2
Penalties-yards 14-85 12-80
Sacked-yards lost 1-7 2-19
RUSHING -- Chugiak: Chatman 17-74, John 12-33, Lance 4-18, Lockwood 1-14, Williamson 2-7, Jenkins 1-3, Nix 2-(-1), Fitt-Chappell 2-(-24). Juneau-Douglas: Tupou 13-63, Cameron 13-36, Ritter 2-3, Connally 1-1, Bre. Fairchild 8-(-30).
PASSING -- Chugiak: Williamson 14-39-3 -- 163, Fitt-Chappell 0-1-0 -- 0. Juneau-Douglas: Bre. Fairchild 6-17-0 -- 53, Connally 0-2-0 -- 0.
RECEIVING -- Chugiak: Weight 7-93, Fitt-Chappell 3-33, John 2-23, Lockwood 1-9, Chatman 1-5. Juneau-Douglas: Rose 3-46, Connally 2-0, Dutton 1-7.
MISSED FIELD GOALS -- Chugiak: None. Juneau-Douglas: Ritter 38, 35.