ANCHORAGE - The Juneau-Douglas High School football team started their trip to the state playoffs by going to the movies. The Crimson Bears finished their first-round game with a Hollywood ending.
When the Crimson Bears arrived in Anchorage on Friday afternoon, they went straight from the airport to the movie theater to watch "Friday Night Lights" - a movie about high school football in southwest Texas.
On Saturday afternoon, they edged defending state champion East Anchorage 27-26 at Anchorage Football Stadium, rallying in the game's final two minutes after letting an early lead slip away in the fourth quarter. It was Juneau's second victory in the past three weeks where the Crimson Bears needed a game-winning drive in the final two minutes.
"We practice the 2-minute drill every practice," said junior fullback Josh Lehauli, who caught the game-winning 36-yard touchdown pass over the middle from sophomore quarterback Chris Hinkley with 1 minute, 20 seconds left in the game. "At first, I looked around and didn't see the ball. But then I saw the ball wobbling over my head. Hinkley was underthrowing the ball, and I told him to throw it so I could chase it down."
"It got suspenseful there at the end," Hinkley said. "We've got a great team and we made some big plays. We've just got a lot of big-time athletes, and when the game's on the line everyone wants the ball. Coach (offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos) asked who wants the ball, and everyone raised their hands. I thought we might have scored too fast."
The Crimson Bears advance to play North Pole in the state semifinals at noon this Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium. The Patriots crushed the Palmer Moose 53-7 at North Pole on Saturday night.
The 2003 state champion Thunderbirds (7-2 overall) scored two touchdowns in the game's final 3 1/2 minutes, and they had three fourth-quarter touchdowns as they rallied to take a 26-21 lead late in the game.
But they left 2:09 on the clock when Juneau got the ball. That was more than enough time for the Crimson Bears (6-3 overall) to score the winning touchdown.
"We had our defense called perfectly, but Juneau made a great play," East coach Roger Spackman said. "They went out and won it."
After a 16-yard kickoff return by Jake Ritter, a lineman who fielded the squib kick, Hinkley moved Juneau on an efficient five-play, 58-yard drive. He hit Lehauli for a 10-yard gain, with Lehauli finding the sidelines after getting the first down. Following an incomplete pass, Hinkley found senior C.J. Keys for an 11-yard gain and another first down.
Fortune smiled on the Crimson Bears on the next play, as Hinkley hit Lehauli with a short screen pass - but Lehauli fumbled the ball and lineman Justin Behrends recovered it for Juneau. Keys was hurt on the play - he said he got hit in the throat, not a cheap shot, and had trouble breathing - and play stopped while medics tended to Keys.
On the sidelines, there was a debate over what play to call next, and Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said the debate reminded him of a storyline from a basketball movie. He said Hinkley decided what play to call.
"It reminded me of the end of 'Hoosiers,' where the coaches humbled themselves and let the kids play. Chris had that same look in his eye," Richey said, referring to the scene where Jimmy, the star player for small-town Hickory High School, told his coach - played by Gene Hackman - that he could make the game-winning shot in the Indiana state basketball tournament.
"I'm just real happy; the coaches and players did a great job," added Richey, who spent four nights in a Seattle hospital earlier in the week. "We made a lot of mistakes and the penalties killed us. But we showed a lot of character and we didn't give up."
After Juneau regained the lead, it was up to the defense to stop East. T-Bird quarterback Sonny Lavea completed a screen pass to running back Allen Franklin, but the play lost a yard. On the next play, Juneau senior defensive tackle Jesse Vaughn forced a fumble while sacking Lavea and senior defensive end Mychal Hutcherson recovered the ball for the Crimson Bears.
"I saw the ball bouncing on the ground, and I knew I had to grab it. It was do or die," Hutcherson said. "I think that drove us, that they beat us last year (33-15 in the state championship game)."
"I had to make up for that last TD, where their quarterback got around me," Vaughn said. "We've got class and we play as a team. I messed up, and I had to make up for it."
The Crimson Bears jumped out to a 14-0 lead in the first quarter, as Hinkley completed an 82-yard touchdown pass to Keys and senior running back Brian Felix scored on a 14-yard run off the right tackle. But things went sour for Juneau at the end of the quarter, as the Crimson Bears were called for 135 penalty yards in the first half, including 75 yards on one Juneau drive. Juneau was called for 179 penalty yards on the game.
"I got behind the defense, and Hinkley threw the pass of his life," Keys said of his touchdown, before switching topics to the penalties. "On that one drive, we went from their 10 to our 10. We were like driving the wrong way."
"It wasn't just the penalty yards that hurt us. We had big gains on a lot of those plays," Richey said.
Despite the flying penalty flags, Juneau kept East out of the end zone until the last minute of the half. After Lehauli shanked his punt out of bounds, giving the T-Birds the ball on Juneau's 44-yard line, East wide receiver Kylan Robinson threw a 42-yard option pass to Tate Knutson - the only catch of the day for the state's leading receiver. On the next play, fullback Jonathan Pili ran it in for a 2-yard score.
Juneau took a 21-7 lead with 1:40 left in the third quarter, when Felix scored on a 4-yard run one play after Hinkley hit Lehauli with a 30-yard pass on fourth-and-8. But East's offense, which sputtered early in the game with two interceptions by Keys and a fumble recovered by Ryon Pratt, started to move in the fourth quarter.
Lavea found Richard Martinez with a 20-yard scoring pass as he was being hit by Juneau defensive lineman Jonathan Shilling, making it 21-14 with 9:47 left. Then Franklin scored on a 5-yard run with 3:29 to play, but kicker Matt Pennington pulled his point-after kick wide left and Juneau held a 21-20 lead.
The Crimson Bears went three-plays-and-out on their next drive, and East got the ball back on Juneau's 47-yard line with 2:25 left. Franklin broke off left tackle and ran 44 yards to the 3-yard line, then Lavea scored on a scramble to the right with 2:09 left to play. On the two-point conversion, Hutcherson sacked Lavea, making the score 26-21 for East.
While Juneau faces North Pole this weekend, the other semifinal, which takes place at 6 p.m. this Friday at AFS, will pit the top-ranked and undefeated West Anchorage Eagles against the Colony Knights. West beat Chugiak 44-30 at AFS and Colony edged Lathrop 21-14 at Colony on Friday night.
The Juneau-East boxscore can be found on Page B2.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
CRIMSON BEARS 27, THUNDERBIRDS 26
Saturday's state playoff game from Anchorage Football Stadium
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 14 0 7 6 - 27
EAST ANCHORAGE 0 7 0 19 - 26
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 82 pass from Hinkley (Ashe kick), 7:26.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 14 run (Ashe kick), 2:21.
East Anchorage - J. Pili 1 run (Pennington kick), 0:21.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 4 run (Ashe kick), 1:40.
East Anchorage - Martinez 20 pass from Lavea (Pennington kick), 9:47.
East Anchorage - A. Franklin 5 run (kick failed), 3:29.
East Anchorage - Lavea 3 run (pass failed), 2:09.
Juneau-Douglas - Lehauli 36 pass from Hinkley (pass failed), 1:20.
First downs 14 11
Rushes-yards 40-160 36-170
Passing yards 243 93
Return yards 62 125
Comp-att-int 9-19-0 7-15-2
Sacked-yards lost 1-2 2-10
Punts-ave 7-28.7 4-32.8
Fumbles-lost 4-0 5-2
Penalties-yards 20-179 7-40
RUSHING - Juneau-Douglas: Felix 16-76, Lehauli 7-52, Keys 9-39, Saldivar 1-3, Hinkley 7-(-10). East Anchorage: A. Franklin 19-104, Giddins 5-29, Lavea 8-18, K. Huntsman 3-18, J. Pili 1-1.
PASSING - Juneau-Douglas: Hinkley 9-19-0 - 243. East Anchorage: Lavea 6-14-2 - 51, Robinson 1-1-0 - 42.
RECEIVING - Juneau-Douglas: Keys 4-124, Lehauli 4-77, Katasse 1-42. East Anchorage: Martinez 2-32, Macon 2-16, Knutson 1-42, Giddins 1-9, A. Franklin 1-(-1).
MISSED FIELD GOALS - None.