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ANCHORAGE - After it was over, and the Juneau-Douglas High School football team had lost in its first trip to the state championship game, it was hard for the Crimson Bears to acknowledge how far they'd come this season.
"We set our goals high, and we didn't reach them," disappointed Juneau senior lineman Jimmy Brown said after East Anchorage's 33-15 victory Saturday afternoon at Anchorage Football Stadium. It was East's first state title - and title game appearance - since 1990, the first year of Juneau's football team.
"This loss will be with us a long time," Juneau sophomore lineman Alika Bradley said.
The state championship game - dubbed the First National Bowl by the Alaska School Activities Association - was uncharted territory for the Crimson Bears. This was just Juneau's third trip to the state playoffs.
The Crimson Bears, who finished the year at 8-3 overall, didn't win a Cook Inlet Football Conference game in 2002. But they rallied to win a share of the CIFC regular-season championship this year, and they were the top-ranked team in the final state coaches poll of the season (East was No. 2 in the poll).
"Even though we lost, we did good," Juneau senior fullback-linebacker Toni Talamai said.
"It feels good we made it this far, but if we'd won it would be a lot better," junior linebacker Josh Lehauli added. "We got too nervous. Next year we'll be back. We've got a lot of people returning."
Things looked good for the Crimson Bears in the game's opening minutes, and it appeared Juneau might be able to repeat its 42-18 victory over the Thunderbirds (8-2 overall) from the second week of the season.
Juneau's defense stopped East's first two drives, and the Crimson Bears made two big plays to take a 15-0 lead. After East's first drive stalled, Juneau senior C.J. Keys returned the ensuing punt 58 yards for a touchdown and junior running back Brian Felix added a two-point conversion run to make it 8-0. After Juneau's defense stopped East's second drive, Felix scored on a 76-yard touchdown run on the first Crimson Bear offensive play of the game.
That gave Juneau six touchdown plays of 50 yards or longer between the two games. But that would end Juneau's scoring as East's defense stiffened, sealing off gaps and improving its pursuit. The usually stout Crimson Bear defense began struggling, especially when East had to change running backs after an injury to Ryan Stickler, who rushed for more than 1,100 yards this season.
"We felt really good after the scores," Keys said. "But the key was the missed tackles and leaving our feet too early. It was real tough. But it was still a good way to go out."
"I think we were overexcited, we were too apprehensive at first and we were overpursuing," said East senior linebacker Joe Lyman, the CIFC defensive player of the year. "But we settled down and started playing assignment football, which is what we do best."
The East senior quarterback-wide receiver tandem of Derek Laws and Casey Flair connected on a pair of short touchdowns - a 3-yard pass midway through the first quarter and a 5-yard pass early in the second quarter - to close the gap to 15-13 Juneau. The Crimson Bears had a chance to increase their lead late in the half, but Richard Isett's 31-yard field-goal attempt was just barely wide left, and the half ended with Juneau leading by two.
Another key for East was the play of senior Ozelle Jamestown, who replaced Stickler and rushed for 162 yards and two second-half touchdowns. Jamestown, a first-year football player most Southeast fans may know better from his days on Angoon's basketball team, teamed up with fullback Hayward Gabourel to rush for 201 yards after Stickler's mid-first-quarter leg injury.
"It was him and Hayward," Stickler said of Jamestown, who shared player of the game honors with Felix. "I always said we have a stable of running backs."
"I saw some tapes of my dad play football, and I liked his running style," Jamestown said as he pointed to the Raven clan crest on the cap he wore beneath his helmet. "My dad's been telling me I've got one good game in me and it was just a matter of time before I got to show what I could do. I was real tense."
Jamestown scored on a 10-yard run in the third quarter to give East a 19-15 lead, then added a 29-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to put the Thunderbirds up 26-15. Laws connected with Flair again late in the fourth quarter - a 15-yard touchdown pass - for their third scoring combination of the game.
"The thing with this team is heart, it's all heart," said Flair, the CIFC offensive player of the year. "You saw that last week (against Colony) when we were down two touchdowns and came back. And all week in practice it was 42-18, 42-18. This feels really good."
The Crimson Bears were driving late in the fourth quarter when the other Jamestown brother stepped up and clinched the victory for East. Junior cornerback Jordan Jamestown, Ozelle's younger brother, intercepted a pass by Juneau quarterback Mark Shilling, wrestling the ball loose from Keys as they tumbled to the ground.
"We had a great season; it just didn't end the way it should have ended," said Felix, who finished with 135 yards and narrowly missed being the state's fifth 2,000-yard rusher in a single season. "We jumped out on them early and it seemed like things were going well. But we just couldn't complete some of our bigger plays. Their line was really good and they were a lot better than they were when we saw them earlier this year."
Before the game, the Juneau coaches worried their players would be happy they finally made the title game. The painful loss will whet the appetites of the returning Crimson Bears to win it all next year.
"We were a lot happier this year, and we actually feel better than we did last season," Bradley said. "But we're already using this as inspiration for next year. We're going to come back and finish it up."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
THUNDERBIRDS 33, CRIMSON BEARS 15
Saturday's state championship game from Anchorage Football Stadium
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 15 0 0 0 - 15
EAST ANCHORAGE 7 6 6 14 - 33
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 58 punt return (Felix run), 10:08.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 76 run (Isett kick), 7:56.
East Anchorage - Flair 3 pass from Laws (J. Wilson kick), 5:43.
East Anchorage - Flair 5 pass from Laws (pass failed), 11:17.
East Anchorage - O. Jamestown 10 run (run failed), 2:24.
East Anchorage - O. Jamestown 29 run (J. Wilson kick), 9:29.
East Anchorage - Flair 15 pass from Laws (J. Wilson kick), 3:48.
First downs 9 17
Rushes-yards 30-141 46-287
Passing yards 83 124
Return yards 111 65
Comp-att-int 8-22-1 9-17-0
Punts-ave 6-29.3 5-32.6
Fumbles-lost 1-1 4-2
Penalties-yards 5-40 9-45
RUSHING - Juneau-Douglas: Felix 23-135, Keys 4-6, R. West 2-3, Talamai 1-(-3). East Anchorage: O. Jamestown 20-162, Gabourel 9-49, Stickler 4-39, Knutson 1-13, Carter 2-8, D. Wilson 2-4, Laws 8-2.
PASSING - Juneau-Douglas: M. Shilling 8-21-1 - 83, Felix 0-1-0 - 0. East Anchorage: Laws 9-17-0 - 124.
RECEIVING - Juneau-Douglas: Keys 4-49, Winters 2-17, Fagerstrom 1-12, Lehauli 1-5. East Anchorage: Flair 8-94, Macon 1-30.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - Juneau-Douglas: Isett 31 (wide left). East Anchorage: None.
The all-state tournament team as picked by the Alaska School Activities Association from teams involved in the semifinals and finals.
Offense - Martin Linenko, Lathrop; Justin Schwartzbauer, Colony; Dominick Bellotte, Colony; Jimmy Brown, Juneau-Douglas; C.J. Keys, Juneau-Douglas; Brian Felix, Juneau-Douglas; Tamo Falealili, East Anchorage; Hunter Joy, East Anchorage; Ryan Stickler, East Anchorage; Derek Laws, East Anchorage; Casey Flair, East Anchorage.
Defense - Shawn Fletcher, Lathrop; Rolando Dominique, Lathrop; Jason Harris, Colony; David Craig, Colony; Jimmy Brown, Juneau-Douglas; Toni Talamai, Juneau-Douglas; Brian Felix, Juneau-Douglas; Ryan Bailey, East Anchorage; David Filoialii, East Anchorage; Joe Lyman, East Anchorage; Tonga Tea, East Anchorage.
Kicker - Richard Isett, Juneau-Douglas.
Team sportsmanship award - East Anchorage Thunderbirds.
Team academic award - Colony Knights, team GPA not available.