It was only a matter of time before the Juneau-Douglas High School football team needed to prove it could throw to win.
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That moment occurred in the second half of Saturday's 13-12 win at Wasilla. Down 6-0, the Crimson Bears needed senior quarterback Ryan "Bubba" Larson to make a play in the second half.
Larson didn't just make one play, he made five. Larson completed five passes, including two touchdown passes to Alex Fagerstrom, after halftime for JDHS (5-0, 4-0 Railbelt).
On the game, Larson was 7-for-9 for 201 yards in wretched weather conditions.
"He was 7-for-9 in blowing wind and rain. That was awesome," JDHS defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes said. "He was huge."
As mud and rain made the middle of Wasilla's field a sloppy mess, JDHS offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said his team had to get to the better ground along the sidelines
To do that, Larson, a converted basketball player known for his long-distance shooting, needed to get the ball to the outside with accurate passes.
With the fate of the offense, and possibly the game, resting on his shoulders, Larson delivered a masterful performance.
"I really believe it started with the first play in the second half," Sjoroos said. "It wasn't a very good throw but Alex made a great catch. (Larson) exhaled finally and made his next four throws and they were beautiful and textbook. A long pass to Alex on the sideline where he led him and hit him in stride. He hit him again for a score. He hit Jesse West down the middle and Alex again. It was like a guy getting hot shooting 3-pointers, which he does. He was dropping them in there."
In previous games, Larson hasn't put up gaudy numbers but hasn't made any mistakes either. On the season, Larson has completed 21 of 48 passes for 460 yards, three TDs and just one interception.
"I know we didn't get a lot of scores," Sjoroos said, "but just to see the other parts of the game develop will pay dividends."
One factor in Juneau-Douglas' success that cannot be discounted, however, is the health and play of the offensive line.
Matt Lehrbach, Phil Moser, Faifo Levale, Lawrence Fenumiai and Jake Nelson have improved with each game. Line coaches Nick Lammi and Emil West deserve credit for molding a crew that hasn't played a game together before this season into a reliable force.
Defensively, Juneau-Douglas' run defense continued to impress.
Defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes' crew limited Wasilla to just 42 rushing yards on 32 carries. On the season, the Crimson Bears are limiting opponents to a paltry 55.2 rushing yards per game.
"I was very proud of the defense," Brakes said. "(Middle linebacker) Donovan (Wilson) was a man-child. He was in on so many tackles. He was a one-man wrecking crew.
In addition to Silver Maake's game-saving hit on a two-point conversion late in the game, Brakes said defensive lineman Dominic Smith and cornerback Lincoln Maka played well.
Wasilla got the bulk of its yards on a 55-yard TD pass in the second quarter and a drive late in the fourth quarter where the Warriors converted two 4th down plays.
Those few plays proved the only smudges on an otherwise impressive performance. For Brakes and the defense, however, those couple of smudges serve as motivation to get better.
"They're not satisfied ever," Brakes said. "They want to play that perfect game. That's the motivation and hunger we need for the whole season."
Up next for JDHS will be Colony (3-2, 2-1) at 8 p.m. Friday. The Crimson Bears can wrap up the Railbelt Conference title, a top seed in the postseason and a home playoff game in October with a win.
Contact sports editor Tim Nichols at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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