The capital city’s high school football teams are playing their last opponents of the regular season tonight.
Juneau-Douglas is at Fairbanks, in charge of their own destiny as far as staying home for the playoffs or traveling north. Thunder Mountain is home ready to honor their graduating seniors and play a tune-up game for the beginning of state playoffs next weekend.
“It depends on how our game goes and the Wasilla vs. Palmer game goes,” JDHS head coach Rich Sjoroos said. “Those two games will determine the seeding for the whole Railbelt Conference.”
If Juneau wins they finish first or second in the RB, the distinction delivered by the outcome of the Wasilla/Palmer game.
“We do control a lot on how things turn out based on our performance,” Sjoroos said.
If Wasilla beats Palmer, Wasilla is the No. 1 seed and Juneau No. 2. West Valley would be 3 and Palmer 4. If Palmer wins, JD is the 1 seed, West Valley 2, Palmer 3 and Wasilla 4.
Juneau won’t know who they host until the Cook Inlet Conference plays on Saturday. The RBC 1 hosts CIC 4 and RBC 2 hosts CIC 3. RBC 3 and 4 seeds travel to the CIC 1 and 2 seeds. The Crimson Bears home playoff game would be at 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 8.
“It is amazing how we can go from 1 to 4 and Wasilla can go from 1-4 on the basis of these two games,” Sjoroos said. “That’s one of the exciting things about football in general, especially here in Alaska. The parity taking place over the last three or four years, things don’t shake out until the last minutes. The last games of the season are pretty meaningful for a lot of teams. That’s how everyone likes it.”
If, by a freak of nature on the frozen tundra, JDHS loses to Lathrop, Palmer would have to beat Wasilla by 19 points and the Crimson Bears would be a 4 seed. Less than 19 points and JDHS is a three seed.
“You need a whole slide ruler and a spread sheet to get it all mapped out,” Sjoroos said. “There are a lot of scenarios.”
First JDHS will have to beat a Lathrop team that traditionally has the best group of athletes that a team will face.
“They are pretty dynamic,” Sjoroos said. “If you let them get out into open space you probably are not going to catch them. If you are in open space there is a good chance they will catch up to you. They just usually are athletic.”
Fairbanks will have the advantage of celebrating their senior football players and home coming night.
“It is their final go around on their home field for all their seniors,” Sjoroos said. “Our kids have to be the ones on the other side of the line dealing with that and not letting it be a distraction and build momentum on.”
Continued Sjoroos, “The first round of the playoffs is the first time all year that for one group of seniors on one of those two teams their career is going to end on that night. Which team that can deal with that pressure and get through that tension, than usually the second and third rounds are more relaxed. It is nice to get that first round at home. You sleep in your own bed, are familiar with your own field, and all that kind of stuff.”
Thunder Mountain is hosting Renton (1-2) and their potent running attack but a young quarterback.
“It sounds like it is an outside run game,” Byouer said. “They were tough last year and it was a new program then. We will have our hands full.”
If the Falcons do have their hands full it will be good game experience for their first-ever home playoff game on Oct. 7 at Thunder Mountain Field.
“It looks like we will have Homer for the first round of the playoffs,” Byouer said. “They are a proven team.”
Homer beat Northern Light’s second-ranked Kenai 21-14 in double overtime last weekend, which pushed the Mariners up to that ranking.
The NL second seed travels to the Southeastern conference champion’s home turf. NL No. 1 seed Soldotna hosts NL No. 3 Kenai. The state championship game is Oct. 15 at Anchorage’s Chugiak High School.
The Falcons hosted the Mariners early in the season and were on the short end of a 84-20 score, one week after a disappointing 68-0 loss to JDHS. First year players and an injury-riddled line have since improved.
“It was the worst beating I have ever had,” Byouer said. “Which was traumatizing for me. The kids have all changed since then. I am glad that we have Homer. I want a redemption from week 2. They are a quality program that has been fighting hard and clicking on all cylinders.”
Byouer said kids are slowly getting healthier and are able to put points on the board.
“We did score 20 points on them,” Byouer said. “And they had their big dogs in the game most of the time. I want redemption. I want to put my kids up against Homer’s quality team. I would do it any day.