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So this is how the other half lives.
One year after winning its first Cook Inlet Football Conference title, the Juneau-Douglas High School football team found itself at the bottom of the CIFC standings, looking up at the rest of the pack after losing its fourth straight game Friday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. The Crimson Bears took sole possession of last place in the CIFC standings with a 24-14 defeat to the previously winless West Anchorage Eagles.
"We didn't come to play, and we had too many penalties and mistakes," Juneau lineman Mark Shilling said.
Not only did the loss eliminate any hopes Juneau had of reaching the state playoffs for the third time in four years, but the loss ended a pair of 27-game losing streaks by West. The Eagles hadn't won any games at all since beating Soldotna 33-6 on Sept. 19, 1998. West's last CIFC victory came on Oct. 4, 1997, when the Eagles beat East Anchorage 34-24.
"There's a point in time where everything falls into place, and we've been waiting for that to happen for a long time," West sophomore Montel Massenburg said after rushing for 149 yards on 33 carries and one touchdown. "We've been playing as hard as we could, and this time we put it all together."
"It was a total team effort," said West senior lineman Tamau Tautua, who recovered one of his team's fumbles in the end zone for a touchdown. "It was a big weight off our shoulders. It was the best."
It was a rough game that sent three Juneau players and one West player to Bartlett Memorial Hospital's emergency room.
Juneau lost quarterback Chad Dubois to a concussion, middle linebacker-fullback Nick West to a pulled abdominal muscle and offensive lineman-linebacker Donnie Browning to a reinjured left knee, while West lost running back Ben Faaliga to a concussion. Both teams had other players miss parts of the game to lesser injuries.
"It hurts," said Juneau tight end-linebacker Sterling Henderson, who was forced to play quarterback after Dubois was carted off the field on a backboard. "We'll all go to the hospital to see how they're doing. Tonight was difficult, especially losing Nick who means so much to this team. There were a lot of tears after the game."
The game - played in a downpour that approached monsoon conditions at times - wasn't a thing of beauty as the ball hit the ground 15 times. Juneau only lost three of its 10 fumbles, while West lost two of its five drops. Juneau also had two passes intercepted. The two teams combined to miss three field goal attempts.
"We ask for Juneau weather a lot, but we just made too many mistakes this time," Juneau fullback-linebacker Austen Clair said about the rain, which usually works to the Crimson Bears' advantage. "We've just got to focus on next week."
Things didn't start out well for West, which lost fumbles on the first plays of its first two drives. Not only did the Eagles lose the ball on the plays, but they lost their first two ball carriers for the rest of the game as Anthony Williams suffered a hip pointer and Jared Solberg reinjured his collarbone. Faaliga was injured in the second quarter and went to the hospital at halftime.
"We run a four-back set, and after the first half we only had one starter left in our backfield," West coach Bob Garman said.
Juneau wasn't faring much better, as West picked up first downs on his first two carries, but left the game soon afterward. When the drive sputtered, Juneau punter-tight end-defensive end Colin Conerton had to recover a bad snap and was creamed by a West player as he tried to get his punt off. The punt was nullified by a roughing penalty, but Conerton was limping after the play because of an injury to his ankle and shin. Two plays later, Conerton was able to boot a 54-yard punt through the end zone for his only official kick of the day, but he was sore the rest of the game.
"This was a tough one," said Conerton, who also suffered a deep thigh bruise later in the game when he made a 26-yard reception in the fourth quarter. "You've got to give West credit. We didn't bring it today, and what we brought wasn't good enough. We had a lot of injuries and stupid mistakes, but we've got to look to next week and don't get down on ourselves."
The only time any team came close to scoring in the first quarter was when Juneau kicker Lee Sullivan, who has been out much of the season with a quadriceps injury, missed a 36-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.
West caught a break to open the second quarter, when Colin Olito punted after an Eagle drive stalled only to have Juneau's C.J. Keys fumble the return. West's Brian Leddy recovered the ball, and the Eagles were at Juneau's 24-yard line. Nine plays later, Massenburg scored from 2 yards out and Olito made the kick to give West a 7-0 lead.
Juneau only needed five plays to answer the score, though, as Dubois threw a screen pass to Henderson that Henderson broke into a 79-yard touchdown reception. But on the kick, the snap was low and holder Willy Dodd's pass attempt failed to keep West up 7-6. West closed out the half leading 7-6 as Olito was short on a 51-yard field goal attempt as time ran out.
"We always felt like we were ready to turn it around," said Olito, a senior who didn't enter high school until after West's last victory. "This is my first win in high school. A lot of it was just getting used to each other."
Juneau opened the second half with a 68-yard kickoff return by Tony Talamai, but Olito tripped him up at the 19-yard line to save the touchdown. When Juneau couldn't get any closer, Sullivan missed a 33-yard field goal attempt wide left.
Olito, who played quarterback for West last week but was a running back on Friday, scored on a 13-yard touchdown run with 4 1/2 minutes left in the third quarter to put West up 14-6. That score came three plays after Olito intercepted a pass from Dubois. Olito then made a 22-yard field goal on the second play of the fourth quarter to give the Eagles a 17-6 lead.
Juneau lost a fumble two plays later, and the Eagles got the ball again in good field position. After losing several games in their streak because of a bad bounce, the Eagles got a good bounce five plays later as Massenburg fumbled the handoff at Juneau's 3-yard line and Tautua recovered the ball in the end zone to make the score 24-6 West.
"The ball fell down," Tautua said. "I saw the ball on the ground and jumped on it."
Juneau's final score also came via a fumble recovery midway through the fourth quarter. Henderson, who moved under center when Dubois was injured on a late-third-quarter sack, threw a screen pass to running back Brian Felix, who bobbled the ball then picked up the dropped lateral for an 11-yard touchdown run. Henderson ran it in for the conversion, making the score 24-14 with 4:53 to play.
"Sterling threw it like a lateral, and I dropped it," Felix said. "I picked it up and Ernie (Monts, a wide receiver) gave me a good block."
Juneau got the ball back one more time, but Henderson's last-second pass was intercepted by Jordan Matakonis to end the game, leading to an emotional celebration by the West players as their losing streak finally came to an end. And the Crimson Bears now have a four-game losing streak of their own, with No. 3 Chugiak coming to town this Friday.
"It's a setback, but we're coming back next week against Chugiak," Shilling said. "They'd better be ready for us."
"We're just looking to have fun now," Felix said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
EAGLES 24, CRIMSON BEARS 14
Friday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
WEST ANCHORAGE 0 7 7 10 - 24
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 0 6 0 8 - 14
West Anchorage - Massenburg 2 run (Olito kick), 6:26.
Juneau-Douglas - Henderson 79 pass from Dubois (pass failed), 4:41.
West Anchorage - Olito 13 run (Olito kick), 4:27.
West Anchorage - FG Olito 22, 11:46.
West Anchorage - T. Tautua fumble recovery in end zone (Olito kick), 8:37.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 11 run (Henderson run), 4:53.
First downs 9 8
Rushes-yards 56-203 29-76
Passing yards 13 160
Return yards 109 100
Comp-att-int 1-1-0 8-21-2
Sacked-yards lost 1-2 2-15
Punts-ave 5-37.6 1-54.0
Fumbles-lost 5-2 10-3
Penalties-yards 10-90 8-55
RUSHING - West Anchorage: Massenburg 33-149, Olito 13-54, Solberg 1-4, T. Tautua 1-3, Faaliga 4-0, Williams 1-(-1), Bridges 3-(-6). Juneau-Douglas: Cameron 4-33, Keys 2-30, Felix 13-15, N. West 2-7, Henderson 1-2, Dubois 7-(-11).
PASSING - West Anchorage: Bridges 1-1-0 - 13. Juneau-Douglas: Dubois 6-15-1 - 128, Henderson 2-6-1 - 32.
RECEIVING - West Anchorage: Olito 1-13. Juneau-Douglas: Henderson 3-88, Cameron 2-12, Winn 1-28, Conerton 1-26, Monts 1-6.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - West Anchorage: Olito, 51 (short). Juneau-Douglas: Sullivan, 36 (wide left), 33 (wide left).