Juneau-Douglas High School seemed to have the Large School Football State Championship in hand at half-time Saturday, but the mitts of Service's senior receivers wrote the final chapter in the Cougars' 22-14 victory at Anchorage Football Stadium.
The Crimson Bears had prepared for Service's three- and four-receiver passing formations throughout the week, but the height of 6-foot-4 Kent Johnson, the sure hands of 5-foot-9 Neil Miyaoka and the speed of 6-foot-2 Mathew Weedman helped the Cougars' fourth-year pass-catchers poke and prod the JDHS defense into frustration for much of the afternoon.
Senior quarterback Kevin Reilly did his part by completing 18 of his 26 attempts for 131 yards, a score and just one interception in the game. Fifteen of those caught balls went to classmates Johnson, Miyaoka and Weedman. The large majority of those passing yards also came from his receivers' legs after the catch.
"They really weren't able to go vertical on us. That was our goal and that was how they put up most of their points this year," defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes said. "Those are slippery receivers and they didn't get past us once today. They paid the price once they caught a short ball - any yards they got today they had to earn them. That's all you can ask for from a defense."
The Juneau-Douglas running game found a small amount of success in the first half, mixing sophomore Matthew Maka's short runs with a handful of passes to grind out a 14-0 lead after the first quarter. Senior quarterback Dakotah Smith's magic touch seemed to have carried over from record-setting 292-passing-yard semifinal performance, as he plowed in for a score on a goal line sneak and later slipped free on a 26-yard naked bootleg to the end zone.
A bad snap on a second-quarter Juneau-Douglas punt allowed Service to tackle senior punter Nate Wilson in the end zone for a safety to pull within 14-2. The errant snap was one of three on the day for the Crimson Bears' special teams.
Neither team's star running back could shake loose Saturday, as Alex Fagerstrom finished with 58 yards rushing on 14 carries for JDHS and Leo Aukusitino ran for just 31 yards on 12 carries for Service. Maka also had 14 carries for Juneau-Douglas, but finished with just 28 yards on the ground. Fagerstrom spent much of the game drawing double coverages as a wideout, shaking free for just one reception of 19 yards.
The Crimson Bears were stuffed on three straight runs to open the third quarter, and another bad punt snap on fourth down was recovered by Service at Juneau's 19 yard line. Reilly scored on a run up the middle five plays later, with the extra point pulling his team within 14-9.
Juneau-Douglas threatened to open their lead further with a lengthy drive early in the fourth, as a five-yard Smith scramble set his team up with a first down at Service's 14 yard line. After a delay of game pushed the Bears back five yards, though, Smith's pass to Fagerstrom was picked off at the six yard line.
The Cougars took over and simply substituted their short pass routes as a running game for the rest of the quarter, eating up small chunks of yardage along with the game clock. Reilly led his team all the way down the field, connecting with his senior receivers seven times on a 14-play, 94-yard drive that lasted nearly six minutes. The series ended with a 28-yard touchdown catch and run by Miyaoka to put the Cougars up 15-14 with 5:32 left in the game. Juneau-Douglas stuffed the two-point conversion attempt to keep the Service lead at one.
The Crimson Bears appeared to pick up some offensive momentum of their own on the next possession, as Eric Fagerstrom out-leaped three Cougars defenders to catch a tough third-down pass at the first-down marker. Maka followed with a five-yard run down the left sideline on first down. A Service blitz, though, forced Smith to dump a second-down pass for a four-yard loss.
The next third-and-nine play may have been the most controversial of the playoffs, as receiver Alex Fagerstrom jockeyed for position against a pair of Cougars defenders downfield. A yellow flag drew cheers from the Juneau sideline before the pass interference penalty was reversed against Fagerstrom and the offense.
"It was one of those calls that nine times out of 10 wouldn't be called - especially not in the championship game," head coach Bill Chalmers said. "The ref 40 yards downfield saw it differently than the ref who was right next to the play. Alex always fights for that football like a good receiver should and the call didn't go our way this time."
The 15-yard penalty forced JDHS into a fourth-and-25 pass that was knocked away by a Cougars player with just 2:09 left in the game.
Despite having two time-outs left, it appeared unlikely that Juneau could get the ball back with enough time to win the game. Defensive captain Jack Perkins came up from his linebacker spot just seconds later, though, and jarred the ball loose with a big shot on Service's sure-handed running back Aukusitino. Senior lineman Enoch Fifita recovered the loose ball to give the Crimson Bears another shot.
"Before that play I was just thinking about how much time we put in this season and I really wanted to step up," Perkins said. "I was able to get a square hit on the ball and luckily (Fifita) was around to get on it."
Juneau-Douglas' possession was short-lived, however, as a miscommunication between Smith and Alex Fagerstrom led to a Cougars interception on first down.
The Crimson Bears wisely allowed Service to break two long runs on the next two plays, surrendering a touchdown and an extra point that made the score 22-14 with 1:07 remaining. Juneau-Douglas still could have tied the game with a touchdown and two-point conversion after the ensuing kickoff.
Maka returned the kickoff to the 30 yard line, and Smith alertly took a five-yard scramble out of bounds to set up a second-and-five with 1:01 left. Service's Johnson picked off the next throw, however, fittingly sealing the game with his hands.
"I would like to comment one more time about our fans. Our side of the field was almost completely full today and the noise never let up," Chalmers said. "They made the long trip and they were constantly cheering and shaking those noisemakers. They deserve a huge 'thank you' for our comeback this year."
Contact sports editor Trent Makela at 523-2228 or email@example.com.
ASAA/First National Bank Alaska
Large-Schools State Championship
Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium
Juneau-Douglas 14 0 0 0 - 14
Service 0 2 7 13 - 22
Juneau - Smith 1 run (Slagle kick), 6:33.
Juneau - Smith 26 run (Slagle kick), 0:00.
Service - Safety, Wilson tackled in end zone, 1:48.
Service - Reilly 10 run (Dotten kick), 7:56.
Service - Miyaoka 28 pass from Reilly (run failed), 5:32.
Service - Reilly 10 run (Dotten kick), 1:07.
First downs 11 16
Rushes-yards 42-76 27-78
Passing yards 35 131
Return yards 51 39
Passes 4-14-3 18-26-1
Punts 2-33.0 5-23.8
Fumbles-lost 6-0 1-1
Penalties-yards 8-65 8-70
RUSHING - Juneau: A. Fagerstrom 14-58, M. Maka 14-28, Smith 11-32, E. Fagerstrom 1-2, Wilson 2-(-44). Service: Reilly 13-37, Aukusitino 12-31, B. Faaaliga 2-10.
PASSING - Juneau: Smith 4-14-3-35. Service: Reilly 18-26-1-131.
RECEIVING - Juneau: E. Fagerstrom 2-19, A. Fagerstrom 1-19, Fronimos 1-(-3). Service: Weedman 6-33, Miyaoka 5-46, Johnson 4-36, Mamikunian 1-7, Carey 1-9.