With a bid to the 3A state playoffs on the line for the first time, the Thunder Mountain High School football team recognizes how important each game on the conference slate is.
But for the second consecutive year, the Falcons won't even get a chance to warm up.
Thunder Mountain opens the program's second season at 4 p.m. Saturday at Sitka with a matchup against the conference-rival Wolves. But TMHS has some issues heading into the first week of the season, and coach Bill Byouer said he hopes they'll be good to go come game time.
"We're sick. Everybody's sick," he said Tuesday night. "I had to stay home today, I got kids out with flu and I got two or three kids out with knees and ankles (injuries). We're looking like a MASH unit."
While they may not be a mobile military hospital, Byouer said the Falcons might have an interesting look Saturday.
"It's going to be a mix and match," he said. "We're going to have running backs actually on the line and, you know, it's making me nervous for the opening of the season. We're going into Sitka on a wing and a prayer."
Byouer said he expects to see the Wing-T offense again from Sitka, and he also remembers the way the Falcons' season began a year ago against these same Wolves.
"We lost to them last year 20-6 and we couldn't even get off the sidelines. It was basically chaos," he said. "You know, everybody is going to be hungry this year in the Southeast Conference because now we have a shot to go to state, which they haven't had in so long.
"I'm definitely not looking past Sitka because every year they've gotten better and better," he continued. "They're quality, and the coaching staff they have in there has done a great job. It's going to be a good game, but I'm hoping they're all sick, too."
All joking aside, Byouer said he knows his team has a lot to work on following the recent scrimmage against Juneau-Douglas.
"JDHS came out and proved a point. They did not want to let us breathe one bit," he said. "We weren't able to get anything accomplished on offense. They're defensive coordinator was blitzing every chance that he had, so we didn't really get to get a look at what he had on offense.
Byouer said while the defense also needs work, he was happy with the way his kids were able to get into the backfield, though their tackling left much to be desired.
"I don't feel that we were outmatched; I feel like we have the athletes to contend," he said. "I don't think we can beat a team like Juneau-Douglas yet, but we're pretty dang close."
But now, Byouer said, the Falcons are focused on the season opener in Sitka. And though the roster might lack depth with early injuries and illnesses, Thunder Mountain hopes to get a change in fortune in time for Southeast Conference play.
The game time on Saturday was changed from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. for travel purposes.