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The Juneau-Douglas High School football team suffered its fifth straight loss Friday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
But the Crimson Bears, who were missing five starters to injuries, left the field following their 17-12 loss to the state's No. 2-ranked Chugiak Mustangs with enough positives that it almost felt like Juneau won the game - or at least turned the corner on its losing streak.
Among Juneau's list of highlights:
Lee Sullivan kicked what is believed to be a state-record 48-yard field goal late in the first quarter (No official state records are available, but the longest kick the Juneau Empire and Anchorage Daily News could find in their archives was a 43-yarder in 1989 by East Anchorage's Jamie Ertischek. Chugiak coach Travis Cantrell said he thought he knew of a 45-yarder by a Service kicker, but that kick could not be found in the archives).
Brian Felix ran for 147 yards on 29 carries and one touchdown, the first 100-yard rushing performance of the season for a Crimson Bear and only the second in two years. Felix, who now has 364 yards rushing this season, also had a touchdown called back by a holding penalty.
Leo Winn had two interceptions of passes thrown by Chugiak quarterback Cory Wardrope, only the second and third interceptions of the season by Juneau defenders.
Juneau's defense held Chugiak scoreless in the second half, which gave the Crimson Bears a chance to steal the game.
Juneau's patchwork offensive line of Jimmy Brown, Mark Shilling, Alika Bradley, Jake Ritter, Keith Koruna and Jesse Vaughn cleared enough holes that the Crimson Bears were able to outrush their first team this season, 178 yards to 150.
But even with the highlights, Juneau still lost and remains winless in Cook Inlet Football Conference action this season (1-5 overall, 0-5 CIFC). Chugiak improved to 5-1 overall and 3-1 CIFC.
"We played with pride today," said Juneau nose tackle Ryan Hayes, who blocked a Chugiak punt in the first quarter.
"We put it together," added Ritter, who was in on two Juneau sacks where three defenders gang-tackled Wardrope.
Sullivan's kick was the one highlight the Juneau players, and even some of the Chugiak players, talked about after the game. It easily broke the Juneau team record of 41 yards set by Sullivan last year.
Sullivan was last year's first-team all-state selection at kicker, but a quadriceps injury limited his action earlier in the season and Friday's record kick was his first field goal of the season. The 48-yarder would have been good from at least another two yards out, and Juneau declined a Chugiak running-into-the-kicker penalty to keep the record in the books. Sullivan missed two field goal attempts in last week's loss to West Anchorage, so he was pleased to finally make a kick on Friday.
"It would have been a nice way to cap off the record with a win," said Sullivan, who also kicked a 29-yarder and missed short on a 43-yarder on Friday. "I almost got it last year when I missed a 42-yarder, so I've been shooting for the state record ever since. Missing two kicks against West last week was a really humbling experience, so I really trained hard this past week. Half of the kick is the holder, and Willy Dodd did a good job getting the ball down so I could kick it that far."
"The ball was really dry today, they did a good job keeping them dry," Dodd said. "The snap was a little high, but I got it down. It was straight and long enough. It's always nice to get some points on the board."
Things didn't look good for Juneau early in the game, especially when backup quarterback Sterling Henderson was lost for a couple of plays after the wind was knocked out of him. Juneau was already missing starting quarterback Chad Dubois, running back-linebacker Jason Cameron, lineman Donnie Browning and lineman Charlie Moline to assorted injuries, and fullback-linebacker Nick West played but was still hurting from an abdominal pull that sent him to the hospital last weekend.
Chugiak took a 3-0 lead midway through the first quarter when Chris James booted a 30-yard field goal. Just over a minute later, one play after a Juneau fumble, Chugiak struck for a 25-yard touchdown pass from Wardrope to John Grohol to give the Mustangs at 10-0 lead with nearly five minutes left in the first quarter.
But Juneau's defense stiffened and Sullivan kicked his 48-yarder with 1:47 left in the first quarter. The national record of 68 yards was set in 1985 by Dick Burgognone of Reno, Nev.
Sullivan missed short on a 43-yard field goal attempt early in the second quarter. The first of Winn's two interceptions was one he nearly broke for a touchdown in the second quarter, but Winn lost his footing at the 16-yard line and Juneau fumbled the ball back to Chugiak two plays later. Five plays after the fumble, the Mustangs took a 17-3 lead as Brad Lozano scored on a 26-yard run off left tackle.
"I watched to see what side they were throwing to, like any safety does," said Winn, whose other interception came early in the third quarter. "I was just lucky I was there. We just need to keep going in practice."
Felix ran for what appeared to be a 16-yard touchdown run with 1:08 left in the half, but a clipping penalty took the score off the board. Juneau's drive stalled when it lost more yardage on an offensive pass interference penalty and Chugiak declined a holding penalty to force a Juneau punt as time ran out in the half.
"We knew they could come back," Lozano said.
"We knew they had nothing to lose," Chugiak's Michael John added. "They were pumped up a little more than when we saw them against Bartlett. I thought they'd come back on us. You can't rely on the defense the way we've been relying on them."
In the second half, Juneau closed the margin to 17-6 as Sullivan booted a 29-yard field goal with 5:11 left in the third quarter. Late in the third quarter, C.J. Keys returned a punt 42 yards to the Chugiak 3-yard line, then recovered his own fumble. Three plays later, Felix scored on a 2-yard dive to make it 17-12. Juneau attempted a two-point conversion, but a holding penalty erased a conversion run by Henderson and his pass attempt to Colin Conerton resulted in a tug-of-war for the ball with John that was ruled a no-catch.
In the fourth quarter, Juneau's longest drive went to the Chugiak 27-yard line before the Crimson Bears turned the ball over on downs. Juneau had another drive end when Lozano intercepted a Henderson pass on the Juneau 26-yard line, but Juneau's defense held and Chugiak's James missed a 41-yard field goal attempt wide left.
"We were all hitting hard," Vaughn said. "That's beyond the best that we've played this season."
"Our team was never this pumped up earlier in the season," Sullivan said. "We had that interception and a touchdown called back. We know we can play with the best teams in the state."
In the junior varsity game, Juneau held a 14-10 lead in the fourth quarter but ended up falling to Chugiak 36-14. Chugiak running back Robbie Van Hasstert ran for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter and quarterback Jake Leemhuis threw two touchdown passes in the game. Juneau was led by Angelo Katasse, who scored on a 65-yard run on the first play of the game. The Crimson Bears (4-2 overall) also had a 75-yard touchdown pass from Pat Kohan to Derek Antrim.
In other action involving Southeast teams, Nikiski ended a four-game scoreless streak to blank Sitka 47-0 on Friday as Billy Anderson ran for two touchdowns and 119 yards on just four carries. Anderson also had a 79-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, while teammate Josh Winters added two rushing touchdowns for the Bulldogs. Ketchikan High was scheduled to play an exhibition game against the Ketchikan Volunteer Fire Department on Saturday, but a score was not available.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.