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The Juneau-Douglas High School football team led Palmer 14-7 at halftime despite amassing just one first down and 20 yards of total offense Friday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Field.
While the Crimson Bears struggled to move the ball early, exceptionally strong special teams and defensive led the team to a 28-7 victory over the Moose.
"High school football is such a tenuous thing," JDHS coach Bill Chalmers said. "One play can change the complexion of the game."
The Moose (1-3, 1-1 Railbelt) kept Juneau's offense in check in the first half, but one defensive and one special teams play gave JDHS the lead.
Juneau's 280-pound nose tackle, Faifo Levale, scored the game's first touchdown in the first quarter. Defensive end Zach Heppner sacked Palmer quarterback Conrad Smith, forcing a fumble which Levale picked up and rumbled five yards for his second defensive TD this year.
Levale made his presence felt again in the second quarter by blocking Mitch Swetzof's punt. Defensive tackle Chance Galletes recovered the loose ball at the Palmer 1-yard line, setting up Tuavao Maake's TD run to put JDHS (4-0, 3-0) ahead 14-0.
"Your head just has to be on a swivel and you have to look for those plays," Levale said. "Luckily on all these plays the ball was just right there."
Palmer got its offense rolling late in the first half. Moose fullback Shannon Sawyer capped a 12-play, 75-yard drive with a 2-yard TD plunge.
The drive appeared to give the Moose momentum, but JDHS countered to stymie Palmer's attack after halftime.
"We had things going pretty good," Palmer coach Rod Christiansen said. "We were confident at halftime we'd come out and take it to them. Obviously it didn't work out that way."
Juneau-Douglas made a key adjustment on its defensive line at halftime. Quick defensive tackle Phil Moser moved to nose guard while Levale switched to strong-side defensive tackle.
The move helped the Bears stop Sawyer inside, while allowing linebackers Donovan Wilson and Tuavao Maake to track down Palmer running backs Brennan Bohman and Devin Konkler.
JDHS limited Palmer to just 26 yards of offense after halftime. In all, the Moose amassed just 99 yards, all but 4 yards coming on the ground.
"What I think it did was it made the Moose go the opposite way," Levale said of the defensive adjustments. "I plugged the hole and had two guys on me and that made the linebackers come up and hit them. It was a good adjustment."
Offensively, JDHS made another key adjustment by installing Alex Fagerstrom at quarterback and putting running back Silver Maake back into the game.
Fagerstrom took over for Ryan Larson late in the first half and gave the Bears an outside rushing threat. Maake, six days removed from separating his right shoulder, also entered late in the first half to give JDHS some inside power.
On the team's first possession of the fourth quarter, Fagerstrom and Maake both kept it on the ground for a score. Fagerstrom's 3-yard TD run capped an eight-play, 78-yard drive.
The duo then iced the game on a gutsy call.
Facing a fourth-and-1 from their own 37-yard line with less than four minutes remaining, Bears offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos and Fagerstrom coaxed head coach Chalmers to go for the first down rather than punt.
"I had to convince coach Chalmers," Sjoroos said. "He wanted to punt. But Alex was the guy who convinced him and he looked him dead in the eye and said, 'Coach, I can get this.'"
"Rich never wants to punt," Chalmers said with a smile. "He wants to go for it all the time."
Sjoroos responded by calling a play he said he hasn't called in his eight-year tenure - a naked bootleg.
All of Juneau's blockers and Palmer's defenders surged left as Fagerstrom faked a handoff and rolled right for a 20-yard gain. Maake, the state's large-school rushing leader, sealed the victory on the very next play by taking a handoff 43 yards for a TD. Maake finished with 109 yards on 12 carries.
One player who also proved crucial in the victory was Dominic Smith. The senior recorded a sack and forced fumble at defensive end, but he did his real damage with his leg as a kicker and punter. He repeatedly pinned Palmer back in its own territory.
Palmer's average starting field position was on its own 27 yard line. On the Moose's first seven possessions, the team's average starting field position was on their own 12.
On the other hand, JDHS started on average on its own 46 yard line.
"High school football is about field position, and obviously we lost that battle today," Christiansen said.
Juneau-Douglas will travel to Wasilla (3-1, 1-1) next Saturday while Palmer hosts Colony (3-1, 2-1).
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 28, PALMER 7
JDHS 7 7 0 14 - 28
Palmer 0 7 0 0 - 7
JDHS - Levale 5 fumble return (Smith kick), 4:08.
JDHS - T. Maake 1 run (Smith kick), 9:07.
Palmer - Sawyer 2 run (Ott kick), 4:07.
JDHS - A. Fagerstrom 3 run (Smith kick), 6:38.
JDHS - S. Maake 43 run (Smith kick), 2:14.
First downs 9 10
Rushes-yards 34-201 50-95
Passing yards 19 4
Return yards 86 121
Passes (comp-att-INT) 1-3-0 1-2-0
Punts 5-36.8 5-31.0
Fumbles-lost 4-2 5-2
Penalties-yards 7-52 4-27
RUSHING - JDHS: S. Maake 12-109, A. Fagerstrom 15-74, N. Wilson 1-16, T. Maake 3-3, Maka 1-1, Larson 2-(-2). Palmer: Sawyer 15-57, Konkler 16-50, Bohman 5-16, Lechiminant 2-6, Swetzof 2-(-4), Smith 10-(-20).
PASSING - JDHS: A. Fagerstrom 1-2-0-19, Larson 0-1-0-0. Palmer: Smith 1-2-0-4.
RECEIVING - JDHS: E. Fagerstrom 1-19. Palmer: Draughon 1-4.
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.