Exhaustion painted the face of Juneau-Douglas High School quarterback Chris Hinkley after Friday's 16-13 victory over Wasilla at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
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The defending state champion Crimson Bears (4-1, 3-1 Railbelt) didn't so much beat the Warriors, but survived a determined Wasilla team prepared to win.
"I'm tired," Hinkley said. "We gutted it out. It's a good win under the circumstances, but obviously anyone who watched the game tonight knows we didn't play anywhere near the form we need to play to take into the postseason. ... But you have to give credit to Wasilla. They're coaching staff has done a great job for them."
The Warriors (2-3, 1-2) twice led the game and used an explosive passing offense to catch the Bears off guard, especially in the first half.
Juneau's defense reacted in the second half. After giving up 183 passing yards in the first half, the Bears held quarterback Hunter Scholtz to just 13 yards in the final two quarters.
Hinkley struggled offensively, completing 3 of 14 passes for 41 yards with two interceptions. The senior did, however, set up the game-winning play.
Juneau's coaching staff used Hinkley at defensive end last week in Palmer and played him on special teams on Friday. With the score knotted at 13-13 early in the fourth quarter, Hinkley blocked Vladmir Dahl's punt and recovered the loose ball at the Wasilla 19-yard line.
"It was actually a miscommunication there," Hinkley said. "The coaches wanted me to come up just a little bit and watch the ball but I thought they were yelling at me to go for it. It worked out."
Seven plays later, Dominic Smith nailed a 25-yard field goal to put JDHS ahead.
Smith, a standout soccer player, joined the football team two weeks ago and suited up for the first-time every on Friday.
"I was like, 'If I don't make this, then I'm letting the team down,'" the soft-spoken Smith said. "I can't do that to the Crimson Bears."
Smith's field goal set up a wild final eight minutes of play.
A holding penalty negated a would-be 75-yard touchdown pass from Scholtz to Dexter Pearce.
After a Wasilla punt, A.J. Schirack recovered a Hinkley fumble to give the Warriors' the ball at the 24-yard line. Scholtz drove the team to the 17 yard line but threw an interception to Alex Fagerstrom on third down to end the threat.
"The second half was defensive survival," Hinkley said. "But our team showed a lot of heart to pull it out at the end."
Following the game, Wasilla coach Jim Shetter said his team played with heart but was clearly frustrated by the officials. Shetter said he felt the crew of referees acted in an unprofessional manner.
"We just scouted them well," Shetter said. "The kids just played hard-nosed football. The kids all played well. I just thought it was a poorly reffed game."
Wasilla, who fell 59-7 to Juneau last year, appeared primed to shock the state.
On the game's third play, Pearce made a one-handed catch and jetted 75-yard for a score. After Fagerstrom's 22-yard TD run tied the game at 7-7 late in the first quarter, Pearce intercepted a Hinkley pass to set up Dahl's 33-yard field goal. The kick put Wasilla ahead 10-7 in the second quarter.
In the waning seconds of the first half, Champion hauled in a Scholtz pass and jetted to Juneau's 1. The Crimson Bears' defense stiffened, however, and forced Wasilla to settle for a 23-yard Dahl field goal.
"It looked like they came in with a team that was bigger, stronger and faster," JDHS coach Bill Chalmers said of Wasilla. "Those pass plays, once they got behind us we couldn't catch them."
In the third quarter, Juneau's defense adjusted as Carlo Ebron intercepted a pass to set up Hinkley's 3-yard TD run. Wasilla blocked the extra point to keep the score tied at 13.
For Wasilla, Scholtz completed 7 of 19 passes for 196 yards with a TD and two interceptions in the loss.
Up next for Juneau-Douglas is a showdown at Railbelt Conference-leading Colony. The Knights (5-0, 3-0) upended Palmer 32-2 on Friday.
"We knew this was a big win," Chalmers said. "This one we've been looking forward to all year because we knew last year they were going to be very strong because they've got everyone back and they've grown."
Tim NIchols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.