Juneau-Douglas High School head football coach Bill Chalmers proclaimed Friday night's matchup against North Pole as the most important non-playoff game to have ever been played in Juneau. The game turned out to be more important to North Pole as they shut out Juneau 25-0.
"It was and North Pole came to play it," Chalmers said after the game. "They are a fine football team and they were fired up to win. When you're 5-0, it's easy to get fired up. When you're 2-3, it takes a lot of firing to get fired up. But we still have some classy kids and we're going to do okay."
It was the first time Juneau was shut out since 2002 and ended its hopes of a first-round home playoff game.
The Bears, who fell to 2-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play, went into the game on the heels of three straight losses, two of which came against top-rated teams from the lower 48, suggesting the defending state champs were better than their record showed.
The Patriots (6-0 overall, 4-0 conference) came to town ranked second in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network poll and sitting alone atop of the Railbelt Conference standings. They wasted little time showing the Bears that you don't need to travel outside of the state to face a tough team.
Juneau's Alex Fagerstrom, last season's team MVP, got the start at quarterback, but couldn't get anything going as the swarming North Pole defense limited Juneau to three plays and a punt in its first three offensive series.
"We were up against some of the best defensive linemen and linebackers we've seen," Chalmers said. "We just couldn't handle it very well. If you can't get to the line of scrimmage, you can't get beyond it."
North Pole got on the scoreboard on its second drive when Lee Jones connected on a 22-yard touchdown pass to Steve Wright with just under seven minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Two minutes later, North Pole's Dane Ebanez returned a punt 50 yards for a touchdown. After a failed two-point conversion attempt, North Pole led 13-0.
Things quickly got much worse for the Bears when the Patriots recovered a fumble on the ensuing kickoff, leading to a 21 yard touchdown run by Jones. Another failed two-point conversion gave the Patriots a 19-0 lead with 1:29 remaining in the first quarter.
The Bears didn't threaten to score until late in the second quarter on a drive highlighted by a 16-yard Silver Maake run that drew a roar from the crowd at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Field for the first time in the game. Maake left the game with a leg injury in the third quarter and did not return.
Juneau got as close as the 13 yard line, but turned the ball over on downs when Lincoln Maka couldn't haul in Fagerstrom's pass in the end zone on a fourth-and-seven play.
Juneau put together another drive midway through the third quarter as Fagerstrom seemed to find his passing touch with completions to Jack Perkins and Nate Wilson, but ended with an interception by Wright.
"Every time we threatened to score, we figured out a way not to [score]," Chalmers said. "Alex Fagerstrom is a great competitor and it was difficult circumstances because they were keying on him."
It was the first of four second-half interceptions for North Pole that, essentially, squashed every Juneau attempt to get on the scoreboard. The Patriots added another score late in the fourth quarter on a 2-yard run by Taylor Lewis after Juneau turned the ball over on downs at its own 22 yard line.
Juneau's final, desperate attempt to put points on the board in the final seconds was stopped by Ebanez's second interception of the night.
Despite four-straight losses, all is not lost for Juneau. Although the possibility of a home playoff game is remote, the Bears can still clinch a playoff spot with a win over Lathrop next week at home or at Colony in their final game of the regular season.
"I told the North Pole players and coaches that we'll see you again this year," Chalmers said. "They're standing in our way of where we want to go and we're going to get there."
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
JDHS 0 0 0 0 - 0
NP 19 0 0 6 - 25
6:55 NP: TD Steve Wright 25 yard pass from Lee Jones (kick good)
4:49 NP: TD Dane Ebanez 50 yard punt return (2-pt conv. failed)
1:29 NP: TD Jones 21 yard run (2-pt conv. failed)
1:22 NP: TD Taylor Lewis