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Originally published Friday, October 11, 2013 at 11:27 PM

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Juanita’s comeback falls short in 31-25 loss to Mercer Island

Seattle Times staff reporter

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After his first-string quarterback missed most of this week’s practices, Juanita head coach Shaun Tarantola called on freshman Dexter Mell to lead the Rebels against Mercer Island on Friday night.

Mell lasted just three drives, and the visiting Rebels dug themselves too deep of a hole for usual starter Tavin Montgomery to overcome when he took over for Mell early in the second quarter. The Islanders withstood a late-game surge by Juanita to win 31-25 and stay undefeated in KingCo 3A/2A play.

Montgomery was tested for a possible concussion after Juanita’s loss to Bellevue last week. Although tests revealed he wasn’t concussed, the sophomore didn’t practice with full contact until Thursday, so his coach decided to start Mell.

“Even thought the doctor cleared him, he still had to go through the protocol,” Tarantola said. “He didn’t have the practice reps he usually gets.”

The Rebels (3-3, 1-3 KingCo 3A/2A) trailed 17-0 when Montgomery entered the game. Things changed right away as he hit Landyn Milburn for a 66-yard touchdown pass with more than eight minutes to play in the first half.

After a missed field goal by Mercer Island’s Erik Pedersen, Juanita quickly crossed midfield and looked as if it was going to cut the Islanders’ lead to three. Then a backwards pass by Montgomery was dropped by Makiah Gilmer and recovered by Brad Kimball of Mercer Island.

The Islanders (4-1, 4-0) proceeded to score a couple minutes later on a 5-yard touchdown run by Devlin Conway. Just like that, a potential one-score game turned into a one-sided affair by halftime.

“Turnovers kill you,” Tarantola said. “We had some things going and we couldn’t hold on to it. And so, it’s something we emphasize, but obviously we’ve got to emphasize it more.”

Juanita was able to make it interesting in the end, posting two touchdowns in the final quarter to keep a group of loud fans at Mercer Island on the edge of its seats.

But the Rebels simply ran out of time to finish their comeback. Special teams played a key role down the stretch, as Pedersen and punter Jonathan Kuhn pinned Juanita deep in its own territory.

“We came out strong, had a lot of energy in the first half,” said Islanders quarterback Alfonso Gonzalez, who threw two touchdowns and added another on the ground. “In the second half, our offense kind of stalled. But our defense just kept battling and we ended up pulling it out.”

Gonzalez’s Islanders stay tied for first place in the KingCo 3A/2A standings with their victory. With three regular-season games remaining, they’ve set themselves up to make a run at a state playoff berth.

“They worked so hard all offseason for this moment,” Mercer Island coach Brett Ogata said. “Our boys kept playing, kept battling until the end. So I was really proud of them....I’m just lost for words right now.”

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