Whatever happens on the high school gridiron on Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium between Juneau-Douglas High School and Soldotna, one thing will be certain: A new trophy will rest in the JDHS glass enclosure that has sampled the bites of traditions fed over generations.
That trophy will be either gold or silver, first or second, state champion or runner-up.
“I just want us to give them a good game,” said Juneau-Douglas High School head coach Rich Sjoroos. “I want them to know they have been in a game for four quarters.”
That task has not been accomplished this season, as Soldotna is undefeated and, essentially, untested.
The Crimson Bears are undefeated in the state as well, their lone loss coming to Washington State power Foss, 41-22.
The Stars are ranked by two prep football polls as the top school in the state — among all divisions. JDHS is ranked second in the state, with large school championship participants West and Service in the number three and four spots, respectively.
Points Scored / Allowed:
SOHI 608 / 133
JDHS 411 / 132
The Crimson Bears and Stars have met just twice in Alaska football history. In 1990, Soldotna was ranked No. 4 in the state and came into Juneau undefeated. The Stars left unblemished with a 20-0 victory in a season that saw them lose to East Anchorage in the state title. Dave Haynie was head coach and key players were Robbie Quinto, Kit Watts, Clay Robidoux, Forrest Fischer, Jeff Hedges, Ron King, and Shawn Duval.
In 1991, the Crimson Bears traveled to Soldotna for their season opener and lost 12-6. Haynie again had Quinto, King, Watts and received a solid performance from Phil Stalnaker.
“I housed the whole backfield that year,” Soldotna head coach Galen Brantley, Jr. said. Brantley was a junior offensive and defensive lineman on that team. “All those guys stayed with me. Our team ran the (I-formation) back then. So did Juneau.”
Times have changed but the respect across the line has stayed the same.
“From our perspective we are really impressed by what we saw from Juneau in their semifinal game,” Brantley said. “We have seen a lot of film by now and know they have a very fine football team. They are well coached. We feel like we are the underdog coming into the game and will have to do everything perfect to make it a ball game.”
SOHI beat Colony 47-24 at SOHI on Aug. 23. JDHS beat Colony 33-24 at CHS on Sept. 6.
SOHI beat Thunder Mountain 64-6 at TMHS on Sept. 6. JDHS beat TMHS 57-0 at home on Oct. 4.
SOHI beat Kenai 58-10 at KHS on Oct. 5. JDHS beat Kenai 42-15 in state semifinals on Oct. 19.
SOHI beat North Pole 63-33 in state semifinals on Oct. 19. JDHS beat North Pole 54-20 on Aug. 31.
“I think Juneau brings some great balance on their offense with their ability to pass the ball,” North Pole head coach Richard Henert said. “They can spread out the space on the defense. They have tall receivers that can help open up the running lanes. I think the key factor in the game will be JDHS defensive coach Brakes and how well they get prepared to go against Soldotna, who has the most complex offense in the state. Soldotna will smash at you and smash at you until you break, and Juneau has to be prepared to play four quarters of defense. Soldotna does a good job defensively and will scout how to cover (Demetrius) Campos.”
The game films began running almost as soon as the semifinal games ended last weekend.
“Saturday night I started reviewing video,” JDHS defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes said. “I just started looking at how amazing their offensive line is. The running backs get all the glory but the blocking scheme set up by the offensive line coach is what makes their offense tick. It has been a lot of sleepless nights and time off work just to give the kids every opportunity to win the game.”
JDHS has to be aware of getting caught up in the wash like a cork sucked into the backwash of a streamlined freighter.
“They are very synchronized,” Sjoroos said. “All eleven guys on the field do what they are supposed to do every play. Soldotna can beat anyone in the state this season. We only have to beat them once, and that is what we have been preaching all week.”
JDHS runs a West Coast offense with multiple formations. Their defense runs a 3-4 scheme, where as Soldotna crowds the box with its 4-4. The Stars run a Power-T, using misdirection and quick hits that allow for both finesse or power.
“I have asked them to just tell us who has the ball,” Sjoroos joked. “It may not matter but at least they could do that for us.”
Last State Playoff Appearance:
SOHI beat Homer 62-20 in medium school state championship on Oct. 13, 2012.
JDHS lost to Service 58-10 in large school playoffs on Oct. 6, 2012.
SOHI – 2012 (62-20 Homer), 2010 (77-42 vs. Kenai), 2008 (28-6 vs. Kodiak), 2007 (47-27 vs. Kodiak), 2006 (29-20 vs. Kodiak) – Runner-up 2009 (Kenai 21-10), 2004 (Kenai 20-14), 2002 (Kenai 7-0), 2000 (Nikiski 20-14), 1992 (Eielson 28-9), 1990 (East 36-7), 1988 (Chugiak 20-18), 1983 (Dimond 21-0)
JDHS – 2007 (23-13 vs. Palmer), 2005 (49-29 vs. Palmer) – Runner-up 2008 (Service 22-14) and 2003 (East 33-15).
Players To Watch:
Soldotna senior Kolton Young (No.5) is strong, one of the fastest players on the field, smart, and very deceptive.
JDHS junior Dorian Isaak (7) set the Crimson Bears school record for yards in a game last season, throwing for almost 400-yards and seven touchdowns in his first varsity game against Wasilla. A dual threat performer.
Running back –
Soldotna senior Jake Kooly (22) and sophomore Drew Gibbs (28). Gibbs is over 200 pounds and, along with Young, provides three top yard-churning machines. Kooly had 352 yards rushing last week.
JDHS senior Demetrius Campos (1) is the fastest football player in the state. He could get stopped ten times in a row, but the 11th time he is in the open field and no one catches him. Senior Eric Nordgren (3) is second in speed and can break through a tackle. Senior George Sua (2) is a pound it straight up field runner and a load to handle defensively.
“You want to score points,” Sjoroos said. “You are going to have to score points, but you want to do it in a manner that involves long drives and a touchdown. You want to limit their reps.”
Soldotna sophomore Trevor Walden (99) and junior Drew Fowler (35) play the tight end spots and this duo is capable of grasping hard to reach throws, and caught four touchdowns in the opening playoff game against Houston.
JDHS has found a solid big play catcher in senior Kris Hill (80) who they will put over the middle or send long to give space to their competant running game.
Soldotna junior Charalambos Asimakopooulos (3) can put the ball in the end zone and that is all he does, he will put it through the uprights, in the corners or anywhere the Stars want you to begin play.
JDHS junior Manase Maake (3) tallies extra points and field goals while senior Kris Hill (80) hits the kick offs. Maake had a string of 17 extras in a row until missing one last week.
“Anytime you can control field position you have a good chance,” Sjoroos said.
High school teams are, traditionally, more predictable on their own 20-yard line as opposed to being on the 30, 40 or at midfield.
Soldotna may not pressure a punter as the Stars as so confident in their offense that they just want the ball.
Soldotna senior center Dylan Smith (72), senior Sam Deatherage (69) and senior Daniel Rosin (62) are all taller than six-feet and weigh from 215-240 pounds.
“What separates Soldotna from other teams is not their five top players,” Sjoroos said. “Every team has five guys. Soldotna has another 15.”
JDHS senior center JD Hudson (68), sophomore right tackle Hunter Hickok (54) and junior left tackle Romney Tupou (52) have embraced, and take pride in, their offensive line duties.
JDHS defensive line will feature seniors George Grummett (56), Noah McVay (55), and Michael Anderson (78).
Soldotna’s defense is hard to score on, but since their offense scores so well teams do have opportunities with the ball.
“Soldotna is very disciplined in their responsibilities,” Sjoroos said. “They don’t hang themselves out to dry, they tackle well and rally to the football. In some ways I look at them like they are our defense. Our defensive coach does everything to keep our kids prepared.”
Soldotna’s Young (5) is the Stars top cover player and handles opponents one-on-one.
On the defensive line Deatherage, at 6-foot-4 and 245-pounds is a mountain, yet all the Stars are active.
“We are trying to get our kids more determined,” Sjoroos said. “Obviously we can’t pack on 10 pounds of muscle in a week. We will be using our feet more and make them go through us.”
JDHS seniors Sua, runner up for defensive player of the year, and Derik Vance anchor the linebacker positions. Senior Dartanan Campos (5) and Semisi Maake (24) handle the outside spots.
Soldotna’s Kooly (22) and Fowler (35) hit the inside for the Stars.
Players that will be on the field on both sides of the ball include Soldotna senior Blake Riley (2), Young (5), Gibbs (28), Fowler (35), Rosin (62), Deatherage (69), and Walden (99) and for JDHS Campos (1), Sua (2), Nordgren (30), Hickok (54), Hudson (68), and Hill (80).
The perception of the Soldotna Stars is that their players live off moose meat and pick their teeth with railroad spikes, while the Crimson Bears are a scrappy pit bull that won’t back away from a challenge.
“We told the kids that they will put a trophy in the trophy case on Monday,” Sjoroos said. “It is just a matter of whether it will be gold or silver. They get to go out and play their hearts out and see which one they get.”