ANCHORAGE - The Juneau-Douglas High School football team entered Saturday's state semifinal game against the North Pole Patriots hoping for a second straight trip to the state championship game.
They left the game with a whole lot of respect for the Patriots and running back Perry Monzulla, who rushed for 253 yards and four touchdowns in North Pole's 58-30 victory at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Monzulla entered the game already having broken the state's single-season rushing record. All he did Saturday was add to his legend, even though Juneau held him to just 73 yards at halftime, when the game was still close.
"He's good," Juneau senior wide receiver-defensive back C.J. Keys said of Monzulla. "I had respect for him all along, but I have more now."
"He's really fast. He's really good," Juneau senior center-defensive tackle Alika Bradley said. "In the first half we contained him, but he turned it on in the second half."
The Crimson Bears ended their season with a 6-4 overall record, while the Patriots (9-1) advanced to Saturday's state championship game where they will play the undefeated West Anchorage Eagles (10-0). West knocked off the Colony Knights 24-14 in Friday night's semifinal game.
"That was the best tackling team I've seen. We couldn't break any tackles," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "Monzulla is the real deal, and their quarterback (Chris Powell) impressed us."
The Crimson Bears did a good job of preventing the run in the first half, but Powell found two wide-open receivers for touchdowns as the Patriots took a 23-18 lead at the break. Those two touchdowns softened up Juneau's rushing defense, and that enabled Monzulla to find the slivers of daylight he needed to break loose for a couple of long touchdowns in the second half.
"I think they were keying on the run, and Chris Powell found the open guys," Monzulla said. "That's probably what opened things up. They're a good run-stopping team."
"We're running the ball great, and our line is doing a good job," Powell said. "I saw both guys were wide open. Perry only needs like half a yard, it's close, and he gets the job done. It's nice because once we get going, it keeps going."
Keys scored the game's first touchdown, just three plays after Jordan Saceda recovered the opening kickoff. But North Pole responded as Powell hit Jacob Barthelemy for a 28-yard score and then found Charles Spencer for a 56-yard touchdown early in the second quarter as the Patriots took a 15-7 lead.
"They got behind our DBs (defensive backs) and they had really good play-action," Keys said of Powell's ability to fake the handoff, then find the open receiver.
Juneau answered with a 30-yard field goal by Dylan Ashe and a 52-yard run by Keys to take an 18-15 lead with 4 minutes, 1 second left in the half. Then Monzulla got loose for his first score, running off the right tackle for a 21-yard touchdown with 1:25 left to put the Patriots on top heading into the break.
The Crimson Bears held their ground early in the third quarter, but they were starting to lose key players to injuries.
Starting offensive tackle-linebacker Jake Ritter, one of Juneau's key run stoppers, left the game with an ankle injury early in the first quarter. Late in the second quarter, starting tight end-defensive end Mychal Hutcherson, who was in a car wreck earlier in the week, was popped in the elbow by a teammate as he wrapped Powell up for a sack, and the hit was enough to spring Powell loose for a first-down run. Hutcherson was able to return, but he said the elbow made it hard to tackle.
In the third quarter, Juneau lost linebacker Bret Van Alen, who already was playing with a heavily wrapped right hand, for the rest of the game to an injury to his left hand. Then, Juneau lost starting running back-defensive back Brian Felix for the game to a shoulder injury. About this time, Keys was telling his coaches that his legs were killing him and he eventually sat out a few plays to try and stretch them out.
"I couldn't grab anything," Felix said of his shoulder.
"Everybody was filling positions, but it was hard," said Josh Lehauli, who replaced Felix at running back.
It was still 23-18 late in the third quarter, when Monzulla split two defenders who appeared to be shoulder-to-shoulder and ran 80 yards for a touchdown, outracing Keys and Angelo Katasse for the score. Three minutes later, Monzulla scored on a 20-yard run. Then, after Lehauli fumbled on the first play of the fourth quarter, it took just one play for Monzulla to run it in 55 yards for another score to put North Pole up 44-18.
"The seniors, even though we were down, we were giving 100 percent," Bradley said. "We thought if we could do the little things we could get back in the game."
Juneau worked its short passing game for a 5-yard touchdown pass from Chris Hinkley to Keys to make it 44-24, and the Crimson Bears appeared to have momentum when Saceda recovered the onside kick. But two plays later North Pole linebacker Cam Culver intercepted a Hinkley pass and ran it back 73 yards for a touchdown to make it 51-24.
"We were practicing with our main guys all week, but once we started losing them it was hard to replace them," Juneau senior lineman Jesse Vaughn said. "We played as tough as we could. It's a bummer that's my last high school game. I though we at least had a shot at it."
"I think we had a lot of depth, but even when we were doing what we could we couldn't fill their shoes," Juneau senior lineman Mel Punongbayan said.
The Patriots closed out their scoring when Spencer ran it in for a 43-yard score. Juneau rallied for a final score, as Hinkley found Ryan Fagerstrom for a 14-yard touchdown pass late in the game.
"They stuck to their game plan, and they executed," Katasse said. "It hurts. But we will be stronger next year. We have some great players and we can fill some big roles. It all starts again on Monday."
"Losses are tough, but the kids played with their backs against the wall for the last four weeks and came through for us," Richey said. "It would have been nice to see them get one more."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
PATRIOTS 58, CRIMSON BEARS 30
Saturday's state semifinal game from Anchorage Football Stadium
NORTH POLE 8 15 15 20 - 58
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 7 11 0 12 - 30
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 7 run (Ashe kick), 10:46.
North Pole - Barthelemy 28 pass from Powell (Hurlburt run), 6:10.
North Pole - Spencer 56 pass from Powell (Powell kick), 10:43.
Juneau-Douglas - FG, Ashe 30, 8:01.
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 52 run (Hutcherson pass from P. Kohan), 4:01.
North Pole - Monzulla 21 run (Hurlburt run), 1:25.
North Pole - Monzulla 80 run (Powell kick), 4:15.
North Pole - Monzulla 20 run (Monzulla run), 1:13.
North Pole - Monzulla 55 run (kick failed), 11:39.
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 5 pass from Hinkley (pass failed), 8:54.
North Pole - Culver 73 interception return (Powell kick), 8:18.
North Pole - Spencer 43 run (Powell kick), 4:32.
Juneau-Douglas - Fagerstrom 14 pass from Hinkley (pass failed), 3:06.
NORTH POLE JUNEAU
First downs 10 14
Rushes-yards 44-391 36-157
Passing yards 126 266
Return yards 47 155
Comp-att-int 4-7-0 21-34-1
Sacked-yards lost 0-0 1-6
Fumbles-lost 3-2 5-3
Punts-ave 3-51.0 3-35.7
Penalties-yards 8-55 7-36
RUSHING - North Pole: Monzulla 27-253, Spencer 5-50, McCormick 2-34, Graywood 3-29, Powell 1-12, Hurlburt 4-12, Montoya 2-1. Juneau-Douglas: Keys 7-60, Felix 14-49, Lehauli 8-30, Hinkley 3-11, Ashe 1-10, Saldivar 3-(-3).
PASSING - North Pole: Powell 4-7-0 - 126. Juneau-Douglas: Hinkley 21-34-1 - 266.
RECEIVING - North Pole: Spencer 1-56, Barthelemy 1-28, Monzulla 1-24, Culver 1-18. Juneau-Douglas: Katasse 3-80, Lehauli 8-71, Fagerstrom 3-50, Keys 4-40, Felix 1-16, Hutcherson 1-11, Saldivar 1-(-2).
MISSED FIELD GOALS - None.