PALMER - Whatever Juneau-Douglas High School head football coach Bill Chalmers told his team during halftime on Friday worked.
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After trailing the host Colony Knights 13-7 at halftime, and losing starting wide receiver Jesse West, who was carted off in an ambulance with a broken right arm, the Crimson Bears dominated the final two quarters to score a 22-13 win over the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network's top-ranked team.
Juneau-Douglas (5-1, 4-1 Railbelt) did it mostly on defense, but also with a little help from the Knights. The Crimson Bears limited Colony to just 95 yards of total offense. Colony's Chebon Jimenez, who entered the contest averaging 185 rushing yards a game, was held to 40 yards on 15 carries.
"They played like the defending state champions," Colony head coach Jamie Mayo said. "And we didn't play like the No. 1 team in the state."
So what was the secret message Chalmers used to inspire his team that trailed 13-7 at halftime?
"Coach just told us to play together as a team" JDHS defensive end Faifo Levale said. "We weren't doing that, and Colony was able to get their offense going."
Refocused after giving up a pair of first-half touchdowns, Juneau's defense capitalized on a series of Colony penalties to set up a momentum-swinging play.
The Knights (5-1, 3-1) - whistled for an illegal block in the back, illegal procedure, delay of game and offensive pass interference on its first possession after halftime - faced a fourth-and-49 from its own 18-yard line.
Colony punter Xavier Irwin took the snap at the 5-yard line and kicked the ball into the chest of Juneau linebacker Alex Robinson, who slipped through a gap in the line. Levale swept in from his defensive end position to scoop up the loose ball and stumble into the end zone for a touchdown. Dominic Smith's extra point put JDHS ahead 14-13.
"That really changed the game," Mayo said. "I told the kids all week that Juneau liked to come up the middle and try to block punts. They did it against North Pole. We saw it on tape. In fact the same kid scored on that block."
The combination of the blocked punt and the loss of starting quarterback Teddy Babcock, who was injured in the second half's second play, knocked the Knights' mental focus out of whack.
"We just never recovered from that," Mayo said. "Now we have a chink in our armor and will have to work to get back to the level of intensity Juneau showed tonight."
The Crimson Bears capped a 69-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run by quarterback Chris Hinkley early in the fourth quarter. Hinkley connected on a pass to Daryl Lew for the two-point conversion to give JDHS a nine-point advantage.
With Babcock sidelined, reserve quarterback Brad Truax failed to lead the Colony offense back into the end zone.
That's something Mayo credited to the Juneau defense.
"I said that they were going to put a bunch of bodies at the line of scrimmage, and that is just what they did," Mayo said. "We weren't able to back them off of the line, and that resulted in a lot of pressure up the middle on every play."
In addition to being the first team to beat the Knights this season, Juneau did something no other team had been able to accomplish in 2006. They forced Colony to play from behind for the first time as Hinkley threw a 38-yard touchdown to Ebron in the first quarter.
The shock of being behind didn't have much of an impact on Mike Zagars, who returned the ensuing kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown. A big block from Robin Minoza helped Zagars get to the end zone.
"I thought we had them on their heels after the first touchdown," Hinkley said. "But they came right back at us. That kick return took away any momentum we had."
Minoza later tied up Juneau running back Nate Wilson long enough for teammate Ryan Coffman to strip the ball away, halting a Bears scoring threat on the Colony 18-yard line.
The game was delayed for more than a half-hour after the turnover as officials waited for an ambulance to tend to West. The wide receiver broke the humerus bone of his right arm.
Once the game resumed, Babcock gave the Knights the lead by hitting Jimenez on a screen pass for a 32-yard TD. The extra point was no good, giving Colony a 13-7 halftime lead.
Juneau proved to be the better team in the second half, however, likely ending the Knights' reign as the state's top ranked team.
This season, the top ranking has been a bad omen. Bartlett lost to East in the season's second week after ascending to the top ranking. Juneau fell to Palmer two weeks ago after they claimed the No. 1 ranking. Now the Knights are the latest victim.
Juneau's victory, combined with Palmer's 48-13 triumph over West Valley, creates the possibility of a three-way log jam for the Railbelt Conference lead. With four conference wins, Juneau currently holds a half-game advantage over Colony and Palmer.
"If things end up like they are now, we're in a three-way tie for the conference title," Mayo said. "But if we fail to win our next two, we could drop to third or fourth."
Darrell L. Breese can be reached at email@example.com.
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