High School Sports

Community pride swells as Juneau and Colony football teams chase history

Colony High, Plamer High, Football, Evan Hernandez, Jackson Goss

When the Juneau and Colony football teams square off Friday for the 2022 Division I high school Alaska state championship, more than just a trophy will be on the line. Both programs are looking to make history for supportive communities eager for a title to call their own.

While the Huskies have made it back to the title game twice since winning it all in 2007, they came up short in both instances, 2008 and 2021. A victory over the Knights would mark just the third ever championship for the program, with the first coming in 2005.

Every time a Juneau team does well, head coach Rich Sjoroos says it catches the attention of the community.

“We have to raise so much money every year just to have a football program so this community is pretty invested not only in the kids and their success but from a financial standpoint,” he said. “This town has given so much over the years to help football and every sport and activity.”

In the basketball gymnasium at Colony High, there is a blank football banner that hangs in hopes of one day having a championship winning season etched upon it.

“Colony has been to this stage twice in its history and we came up short both times,” Colony head coach Robbie Nash said. “We finally made it and we keep telling the kids that we have got to put our name up on that banner. That’s what we’re striving for.”

The previous two times they made it to the state finals was in 2006 when they fell to South 26-16 and in 2000 when they lost to Dimond 28-21.

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His son and starting quarterback, Jack Nash, said it has been his pleasure to have led the team to the state championship game and that their making it this far is not only the the talk of the town in Palmer but of the entire Mat-Su.

“Everybody in the valley has been talking about it,” Jack Nash said. “Everybody knows everybody around here so it’s a huge thing that’s been going around.”

He said it would truly be an honor to be the quarterback to lead the program to it’s first-ever state football title and that it would “mean everything” to the Palmer community.

“If we could be the first team to do that, we’d be remembered for a long time,” Nash said. “We want to be remembered by everybody.”

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Juneau puts perfect season on the line

The Huskies haven’t experienced the bitter taste of defeat since they fell 30-17 to Bettye Davis East in last year’s Division I state title game. If they were to beat Colony on Friday, they would join the 2007 title-winning team as the only other to complete a perfect season in program history.

However, the possibility of going the whole year undefeated has been the furthest thought from Sjoroos’ mind all season long.

“For whatever reason I’ve been able to stay away from that conversation and not let it get into my head at all,” he said. “I haven’t really talked about the record at all this year and really haven’t focused on that.”

He said part of the reason that it hasn’t been a topic of conversation is because the Huskies have been in close games this season where they have had to overcome adversity and grind out one-possession or low-scoring affairs.

“Nobody has really talked about it all year and just focus on the task in front of us,” Sjoroos said.

After narrowly beating East in the final week of the regular season, the Huskies sent the Thunderbirds packing in a 39-6 blowout in which they scored 39 unanswered points.

He credits his senior class for showing tremendous veteran leadership and understanding the challenges that are in front of them every week.

“I really have stressed all season to just reboot every week,” Sjoroos said. “These teams in Alaska are so evenly matched. Sometimes the scoreboard doesn’t indicate that but when you dig into the film and really watch it you think ‘Wow it’s really just a handful of plays where the ball bounces the other way and the whole game can be different.’ ”

To be able to be back on the biggest stage for the ultimate prize has a “good feeling to it” for Sjoroos and his players.

“I’m just happy for them that they get to close out their high school career with a chance in another state title game,” he said. “That’s all you can ask for and what everybody strives for at the beginning of the year.”

The Knights’ quest for vengeance

As sweet as it was to avenge a regular-season loss to Bartlett in the semifinals, Colony’s desire to get back at Juneau, who handed them their first and only other loss of the season, was even greater.

“This is one we really wanted back bad and we’re looking forward to playing Juneau again,” Robbie Nash said.

To have the chance to do it with a title on the line would make it even sweeter.

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“This year we lost pretty bad to Juneau and last year we lost pretty bad to Juneau so taking that revenge and especially in a state championship would be a huge thing for us,” Jack Nash said.

Pulling off a second straight upset over a heavily favored opponent would be an indication that the players have continued to evolve and improve.

“It’s one thing to start a culture and develop it but once they start believing in the culture and they see it’s working, it’d be just something else to help these kids build on what they already have,” Robbie Nash said.


Josh Reed

Josh Reed is a sports reporter for the Anchorage Daily News. He's a graduate of West High School and the University of North Carolina at Pembroke.

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