In what is arguably the biggest weekend for football in the capital city to date, the Crimson Bears (4-1 conference 5-1 overall) look to grab a share of the Railbelt Conference title with a win over the visiting West Valley Wolf Pack (5-0, 5-1) on Saturday at Adair Kennedy Memorial Park.
“It is a huge game, there is a lot riding on it,” Juneau head coach Rich Sjoroos said of Saturday’s Railbelt Conference game against visiting West Valley. “If we win the game we host a playoff game. We would still have to beat Lathrop but it would put us in a position to control our own destiny.”
JDHS has already clinched a playoff berth. Now they want to clinch the conference title.
In victory, JDHS would hold the tie-breaker over the Wolf Pack. Although both teams would have a conference loss, the Crimson Bears’ would be to a lower ranked opponent.
West Valley has won five games in a row with a high-speed offense that has put up some lopsided scores on opponents.
“They have a scheme you don’t see real often,” Sjoroos said of West Valley’s Wing-T set. “They tend to gain momentum as the season goes along because it requires a lot of precision and timing and getting multiple players involved in the same play. It is a lot of misdirection. It is almost like a magician, they get you looking one way and are doing something else behind the scenes. They get better as the season progresses.”
Fans will see a lot of movement on the field from West Valley. At times the ball will be hard to spot as they execute in motion. Wolf Pack player Lorenzo Graham (5) is averaging 11 yards per carry and quarterback Tucker Plass (8) has thrown for 12 touchdowns.
“It makes it hard if you are on the sidelines looking,” Sjoroos said. “So imagine being a defender with a bunch of linemen in front of you. It presents some challenges for sure. We tell our linemen to just tackle everybody, tackle anybody who might have the ball, and if everybody is tackled we have it taken care of.”
The Wing-T traditionally is finesse offensive and produces one-on-one tackles. The offense doesn’t put a lot of bodies at the point of attack but disperses outwards to spread the defense.
“If you are disciplined you can make tackles,” Sjoroos said. “You probably won’t see tons and tons of gang tackling in this game. If you see a bunch of people converging on one guy, then chances are we will be converging on the wrong guy. It’s a challenge, up to four people may have the ball at any time.”
West Valley will bring more than 65 players to Juneau. The Crimson Bears have 45 players total in their whole program, one more than the Wolf Pack’s varsity roster.
“That tells you they might not have as many kids playing both ways like we do,” Sjoroos said. “That can take its toll on you over the course of a four-quarter game. We had better be in condition.”
Sjoroos said the Crimson Bears are one of the smallest teams across the line.
“Every time we get off the bus we don’t scare anybody,” Sjoroos said. “But we play hard and have pretty good speed. And West Valley is one team that can match our speed with their skill players.”
Sjoroos said the team’s size has resulted in a determination, grit and sense of pride that allows them to match up with anyone. JDHS will try to control and hold on to the football in a spread offense.
That job will fall on quarterback Philip Fenumiai (8). The junior has thrown 13 touchdowns this season with just one interception.
Defensively JDHS will try to get off the football quickly and create chaos in the backfield and disrupt timing.
“We don’t overpower teams,” Sjoroos said. “This year’s group has speed and works well together.”
Sjoroos said senior linebacker Lah Fifita (2) is the anchor on defense because of his intelligence and lineman classmate Velepoto Enele (78) is noticed for his sizable presence.
“Bubbles is a kid whose motor keeps going the whole game,” Sjoroos said of Enele. “He moved here from Hawaii in December, and what a great Christmas present that was.”
Saturday evening is also Crimson Bears senior football appreciation night and 12 upper classmen will be honored. Sen. Egan will do the coin toss and the JDHS team will honor retiring official Guy Warren.
“Our seniors will know that if they want to get one more home game they will need to win this,” Sjoroos said. “That will add some more drama to it.”
• Contact reporter Klas Stolpe at 523-2263 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.