For the first time this season, two small school football teams have displaced medium schools in the polls. Also a first in recent history, neither Juneau-Douglas or Thunder Mountain high schools are ranked in the top five of the Alaska Sports Broadcasters Network Poll.
The ASBN Medium/Small Schools Poll for Week 4 puts defending state medium school champion Soldotna as the cream of the gridiron crop with a 3-0 record. The Stars continue to top the poll and play Houston this weekend.
Last week’s 62-0 win over the visiting TMHS Falcons showed that the Stars are still churning ground yardage on their way to another state playoff run.
At number two are the small school undefeated Eielson Ravens (3-0) who will play the undefeated, and third ranked, small school Nikiski Bulldogs (3-0).
Two Southeast Conference teams have made the top five ranking; the North Pole Patriots (2-1) at number four, down from number two, and the Ketchikan Kings (2-1), for the first time in their young football history, make the polls at number five. Barrow dropped from the rankings.
The polls will shake again next week as the Falcons and Kings are playing at Ketchikan on Friday while the Patriots battle against Fairbanks large school neighbor Lathrop. Both the poll sitters could drop from their perches and a solid game by the Falcons could help facilitate that move.
“I think they are a stronger team this year than they have ever been in the past but we are quite a bit stronger ourselves,” Thunder Mountain coach Jeep Rice said.
“Ketchikan will be spreading us out all over the place and trying to create an open space for Connor Hicks to run — that will be their main thing, I think,” Rice continued. “Even though we got crushed by Soldotna, we still learned a lot and continued to make progress.”
Referring to Soldotna, Rice said the Falcons probably shouldn’t be playing large Anchorage schools while starting young players.
“We are no longer starting freshmen,” Rice said. “That is what we had to do last year but we still started sophomores and we can’t compete against teams that are starting almost 100 percent seniors.”
Rice said the Falcons never gave up and competed against the Stars strongly for a quarter-and-a-half.
“Then we had a couple of injuries and what not,” Rice said. “Then the domino effect kicked in because we do not have the depth at the varsity level. Once those bigger schools hammer you with older kids, it wears on you.”
According to Rice, Falcons senior quarterback Dylan Taylor and senior wide receiver/defensive back Daniel Tweedy will miss the Ketchikan trip due to undisclosed injuries from the Soldotna game.
Across town, the JDHS Crimson Bears will have to make a giant turnaround to register in next week’s poll and Saturday’s opponent will provide that opportunity.
The West Seattle Wildcats will be visiting Adair Kennedy Field in a first-ever matchup between the two programs. West Seattle has a school size of just over 1,000 students
“They play some tough competition down there,” Juneau-Douglas coach Kevin Hamrick said. “A have a video sent by one of the teams they played last year with nothing but good things to say because of the competition they play. They have really good athletes, they are fast, and they are organized. They looked good on that film but they are going against some of the tougher schools in Washington.”
The Wildcats have won just one game the past two seasons and, although their first day of practice was Aug. 20 and the Crimson Bears are their first season game, they compete in the powerful 16 team Seattle 3A Metro League. The Wildcats are equivalent to a small 2A team in that area.
“Maybe they will be a little rusty, I will hope for that, but they looked sharp in the game that was sent to me,” Hamrick said. “Just looking at them you can see how fast they are.”
The Wildcats will bring 35 varsity players, including 12 seniors, for the experience of traveling to Alaska. Last year the team fielded just 31 varsity players (3 seniors) and has 50 this season. The have 25 sophomores returning to the varsity team from a successful freshman program.
“Compared to our league down here we don’t consider ourselves a track team,” West Seattle coach Tom Burggraff said. “Our weakness is our inexperience but we have eight or nine guys on each side of the ball returning and they were all thrown into the fire last year. We feel better about our depth this year, which is an improvement from last year. Obviously, it is an opportunity to come up to Juneau, we might not get another chance to go up to Alaska and a lot of our kids have never been on an airplane. We will treat it like a preseason game. We have a lot of questions to answer and we hope to come out of it healthy and be competitive. We are kind of rebuilding the program and, as far as comparing levels of football, you don’t know until you play. It will bring the team together more, a bond, spending more time together than in a normal game (and will) build some team unity.”
Burggraff, who began coaching West Seattle in 1992, said the Wildcats run a “spread gun” offense. Similar to spread offenses where the quarterback is in the shotgun position, it can employ no-huddle plays, use three- to five five-receiver sets and is designed to open up multiple vertical seams for both the running and passing game.
The game was organized last November by former JDHS coach Rich Sjoroos and Juneau School District Athletic Director Sandi Wagner.
Contests against out-of-state opponents originated back when Riley Richey headed up the Crimson Bears.
“They are excited to be traveling to Alaska,” Sjoroos said. “They used to be a strong program but have seen some struggles of late and are working to get things turned around. The coach is hoping the trip will make the team more dedicated by playing a tough opponent.”
The game is also a chance for local players to have their game films passed around outside of Alaska, giving college coaches the chance to see Alaska players against competition they themselves are familiar with. The games also give local fans a chance to see outside talent.
Top players that have taken to the AKF over the years have included Adam Leonard and Shelton Danzy (Rainer Beach, 2004), Ryan Tolar and Phillip Urlacher (Pasco, 2005), and Russell Jenkins (Scott’s Valley, 2006), among others.
Danzy signed to play running back for Washington State after that year; Leonard played linebacker for the University of Hawaii and holds their career record for tackles; Tolar (6’6” 330 pounds) led Pasco to deliver JDHS’ only loss that season and then went on to start for the University of Washington; Urlacher is NFL great Brian Urlacher’s nephew and was considered a better prospect at that age and Jenkins had 30 major college scholarship offers (including UCLA, USC, etc) at that time.
Oregon’s Rainer came in 2007 (finished the season 12-2 with one loss to JDHS), brought in Idaho 4A state champion Blackfoot in 2008 and lost 27-7 (7-0 at the half.
In 2008 JDHS also played at Lake Oswego (rated in the top 100 in the nation) against Jake Lomax (St. Louis Cardinals QB Neil Lomax’ son). The Crimson Bears had reigning state player of the year, Alex Fagerstrom, returning that season.
“We thought it would be a great opportunity to go down to Portland, there will be scouts there and get him some exposure,” Sjoroos said. “When we walked onto the field they literally had five Alex Fagerstroms on their team. That was a learning experience for sure. Those games, sometimes they don’t work out to your advantage but they kind of show you what you need to work on and that is what you use them for. What are we weak at and lets get it fixed.”
Against Pasco in 2005, quarterback Chris Hinkley went 13-26 with 120 yards and a running back went for over 100 yards, but the Crimson Bears lost 48-7.
“It didn’t feel like it was a blowout,” Sjoroos said. “But we punted five times and had a net of minus 76 yards on our punts.”
Those five punt attempts included one bad snap, one blocked punt, two big Pasco run backs and one fake that went nowhere.
“Usually in high school you will average 30-35 yards on a punt,” Sjoroos said. “You should, in theory, gain 150 yards of field position. It showed us, going into the playoffs, that we needed to get our punt team in order.”
Against Anchorage’s East High School in the 2005 state semifinals, JDHS punted six times and four were downed inside the 10 yard line, leading to the win and then the Crimson Bears first state title.
“Sometimes, those games can really help you out and show you where you need to go,” Sjoroos said. “We really got our punting game figured out and it was a huge reason why we went on to the championship.”
JDHS traveled to Utah state champ St. George in 2009 and played Yakima’s East Valley in 2009 (that team’s coach had most career victories in the state of Washington), hosted Mt. Vernon, Wash. In 2010, Notre Dame, Canada in 2011, Murrieta Valley, Calif., in 2012 (the team’s safety signed with Oregon State) and last season hosted Foss, Wash. and a Division I defensive lineman and fullback.
JDHS will have their four suspended starters back, making the team more polished on both sides of the ball and will balance that with the work put forth by their backups last weekend against Colony.
Also returning from injury is senior offensive/defensive lineman Michael Anderson, who will bolster the front. Junior lineman Kana Galletes is hopeful for this weekend.
A key to the game will be the recovery of senior Brady Mallinger from last weekend’s game, as well as freshman rocket Donavin McCurley, who took a couple hard contacts against the Colony JV.
Senior running back Romney Tupou is still healthy after a strong performance last weekend behind his accomplished blockers and the line he will face on Saturday should be welcome relief to what the Knights put forth.
Freshmen Casey Watts, who showed some positive flashes behind center, will also miss the game due to a foot injury suffered in a none-football related activity.
The Crimson Bears 48-0 loss to Colony was the first ever defeat on Adair Kennedy Field at the hands of the Knights.
Prior JDHS home wins over Colony included 65-0 (2011), 11-0 (2009), 39-0 (2007 playoff game), 20-6 (2007), 40-7 (2005), and 20-14 (2002).
“We learned that the little things matter,” Hamrick said. “When you are carrying the football you need to do it properly. We can’t afford to put it on the ground. Also, there were a lot of missed tackles, so we are going to go back to the basics this week.”
The Crimson Bears will tip off at 7 p.m. against the Wildcats on Adair Kennedy Field. The JDHS JV will play the TMHS JV prior to the game.
The ASBN Week 4 Large School Poll has Bartlett at number one with a 3-0 record and traveling to Service this weekend. At number two is Colony (3-0, next foe is Kodiak), number three is South (2-1, Eagle River), at four is Dimond (2-1, Chugiak) and at number five is West (2-1, East).