After two failed attempts to win an Alaskan Division I Prep Football State Championship in 2000 and 2006, the Colony Knights finally won their first title in program history on Friday.
The Knights capped off one of the most impressive and inspiring playoff series in recent memory with a 14-7 win over previously undefeated Juneau.
“It’s the third time Colony has been there and the last two times we’ve been there they had the team to beat, but sometimes the cards don’t go your way,” Colony coach Robbie said. Nash. “There are things that didn’t go our way, but my kids never gave up.”
When the top-ranked Juneau Huskies made the trip from the state capitol to Palmer in Week 4 of the regular season and handed the Colony Knights a humiliating 42-13 loss on their night of back, it turned out to be the best thing for the home team, according to junior quarterback and free safety Jack Nash.
“Honestly, I’m blessed that we lost so early in the season because it clicked in our heads,” he said. “If we hadn’t lost this battle during the season, we wouldn’t have changed our pattern. I’d rather lose sooner than later.
It was the first of two galvanizing moments of their season that they learned of. The other was a lopsided loss to Bartlett a few weeks later.
During the playoffs, Colony avenged its two regular season losses thanks in large part to big adjustments and incredibly close plays from Jack Nash and the rest of the team’s gifted young core.
“It’s a good look at our future,” Robbie Nash said. “We thought we would be a really good team this year and we said ‘Let’s go’, but these kids continued to amaze me.”
While many expected a high-scoring affair between the two teams with the Huskies favored to win, the Knights managed to prevail in the defensive battle by providing more timely saves in crucial situations.
“I knew it was going to be a dogfight and I knew the defense was going to win this game,” Jack Nash said.
Colony forced four turnovers on the downs, including an incredible goal-line position just before halftime where they stopped Juneau from kicking the ball into the end zone from three yards out. Colony’s run defense was solid Friday, holding Juneau’s top two running backs to less than five yards per carry.
On the offensive side of the ball, Nash and the Knights moved the ball well at times in the game, both on the ground and in the air. Although they missed a few shots that resulted in missed field goals, Colony landed an impressive pair of shots.
The first came in the opening quarter and resulted in the game’s first points. Nash connected with standout junior receiver Jayce Underwood who had found himself behind the Juneau secondary on a 49-yard bomb to take his first lead of the game.
The Huskies tied the game early in the second quarter at 10:23 and the game would remain tied for the remainder of the period and the entire third quarter.
It wasn’t until 17 seconds remained on the clock that the final points of the game were scored on a 10-yard run by Jack Nash.
“This kid amazes me sometimes, he really does,” Robbie Nash said. “He didn’t want to be the quarterback and he really became a quarterback that we can count on and to take us all the way to declare and win this thing.”
The winning workout was first set up and then extended by junior Cole Hamilton. Hamilton forced the Knights’ fourth turnover on the downs with his fourth sack from Juneau quarterback Jarrell Williams. He then made the two huge catches for the key first downs on possession that followed, including a 35-yard catch on third-and-long where he showed excellent concentration after initially spooling it to the following a collision with two Juneau defenders.
“I was like ‘Man, I gotta catch this.’ I was in position, it flipped over, I hooked this thing up and I was like, ‘I gotta do this for my team, this is my time, I gotta shine,'” Hamilton said.
“He’s one of those people I’ll always trust to get the ball back,” Jack Nash said. “I threw it up and there was no surprise it came down with it.”
Finally, he made the block that sprung Nash for the game-winning score on a play down the left side of the field where he told his quarterback to follow him to pay for the dirt before the ball was even broken.
“I knew it was going to work,” Hamilton said. “We had most of the pitch and I was like ‘Jack, I get it. I’ll get you that touchdown.
While Jack Nash was the player taken off the field and his dad Robbie was the coach who received the ceremonial Gatorade bath in a post-game interview, it was a total team victory and a a triumph not only for the program but for the entire Mat-Su community who came out in force to show their support.
“The community was huge behind us,” Robbie Nash said. “Any time a team from the Valley comes to Anchorage and especially on this type of stage, we support the Valley.”
It marked a dream come true for everyone involved, but it was especially meaningful for the father and son tandem of Robbie and Jack Nash. The two-way Knights star had two older brothers who went through the program and never made it to that high. For Jack Nash, being the one to lead a title-winning team has come full circle on his family’s football journey in a sense.
“It’s everything we’ve ever dreamed of since watching my brothers play under those Friday night lights thinking I was going to be there one day,” Jack Nash said. “I didn’t realize I was going to win a state. Especially winning the Colony’s first state title.