The Juneau-Douglas football team had time to rest after its disappointing 21-18 loss to West High School on Saturday night, but coach Rich Sjoroos said he got no sleep.
"I had a night to think about it," he said. "The kids competed so hard. Yeah we didn't come out on top, but, gosh, I'm proud of the way they prepared. We just came up a little short."
The Crimson Bears outplayed the Eagles in virtually every aspect of the game, outgaining West by 287 total yards. But Juneau-Douglas' four turnovers - including an interception return for a first-quarter touchdown - were too much to overcome, and three missed field goals in the final six-plus minutes sealed the Bears' fate. Still, Sjoroos said the loss wasn't for lack of effort.
"Even when (West) took the lead, nobody was hanging their head. The kids continued to grind all the way to the end," Sjoroos said. "We just couldn't get ahead on the scoreboard. I would take those kids into any game against anybody, anywhere, anytime."
Sjoroos also said after looking at the final box score, he would have guessed his team had won.
"I would have thought by three touchdowns," he said. "I didn't even realize how much we had dominated until halftime when we were filled in on the disparity in the stats between the two teams.
"Statistically, we had our way with them. But not on the scoreboard."
And the statistics were impressive. Quarterback Phillip Fenumiai's 301 yards passing were a single-game Juneau-Douglas school record, beating the old mark of 292, and Colin Gozelski broke the single-season record in both receptions and receiving yards. His 50 catches for 953 yards surpassed former Bears receiver Ryan Fagerstrom's 49 receptions and 791 yards in 2005.
Still, Sjoroos said both of those guys would have traded their performances for a victory.
"I told them to go ahead and get their emotions under control, because it's tough," he said. "Nobody likes to see the season end that way, granted, we almost got to the end. I said, 'Once you have time to reflect, you'll realize we accomplished an absolute ton this year.'"
Sjoroos said considering how tumultuous this season has been, he was thrilled with the way his team reinvented itself after losing several key players to injury and suspension throughout the year.
"This was like several seasons wrapped into one. Early on, we thought we had some guys we could lean on, then they weren't there," he said. "Then we lost Eric Fagerstrom who's our go-to guy. His play early on really helped us get a home playoff game, so he can look back and know that he contributed a lot."
And while Gozelski and Chris Holloway stepped in and made their marks on the season in a big way, both are part of the departing senior class in 2011. But even though Juneau-Douglas will lose several key players to graduation, Sjoroos is optimistic about his returning players.
"(Playing time is) going to be determined on how much effort the kids put in this offseason," he said. "These are good kids - not only the ones leaving, but the ones coming back. There's a lot of potential there, but it's one of those deals where they're going to have to buckle down and put in a lot of work."
Sjoroos said he expects hard work in the offseason, not only because of the high standards of JDHS football, but because the Railbelt Conference has gotten better.
"It's gotten a lot tougher. There are quality teams from top to bottom, and I imagine that's going to stay the same," he said. "So the bar continues to be set higher, not just by us, but by the other teams in our conference. So to keep pace we're going to have to really work hard."
The Bears may not have accomplished their ultimate goal of winning a state championship, but Sjoroos said they have plenty of reasons to be proud, especially after their come-from-behind win over Chugiak in the opening round of the playoffs.
"I thought it was a great week of preparation for (West), we just came up a little short," he said. "I wouldn't change a thing. I really wouldn't. Everything all the way up to the very end I wouldn't change anything.
"Hats off to them because that's what good teams do," he continued. "They are undefeated and they found ways to win games. So credit to them, their staff and their kids, but I sure like our guys. I'm sure going to miss the ones that are gone, but I'm looking forward to the ones that are coming back."
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