If the Juneau-Douglas High School football season was like a play at Perseverance Theater, then last weekend's 64-0 victory over Ketchikan was the sneak preview.
The curtain really opens tonight, when the Crimson Bears host the East Anchorage Thunderbirds in their first Cook Inlet Football Conference game of the year. East should have been a state-playoff team last season, but a forfeit loss because of an ineligible player kept the T-Birds home.
"We're excited to find out how we are," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "This is the real opening night. Nothing was proven last week."
The varsity teams kick off at 8 p.m. at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, with the junior varsity teams playing at 5 p.m. Due to construction at Floyd Dryden Middle School, parking is limited. Please check Sports in Juneau on Page B2 for alternate parking and shuttle bus information.
The Thunderbirds return the state's leading quarterback and wide receiver - seniors Derek Laws and Casey Flair - who posted the fourth-ranked passing and top-ranked receiving seasons in state history last season, respectively. Laws threw for 1,676 yards last year, while Flair set state records with 55 receptions for 1,139 yards and 21 touchdowns.
This year, though, East adds a new wrinkle to its potent offense - the running of senior Ryan Stickler, who gained 165 yards on 18 carries and scored two touchdowns last Saturday in East's 28-17 victory over Colony. He runs behind a line anchored by 235-pound A.J. Logo, 275-pound Hunter Joy and 305-pound Tonga Tea, who broke Stickler loose for at least three 40-yard gains.
"The running game is what we're concerned about, especially with this weather," Juneau defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said while watching Juneau's offense work out in Thursday afternoon's rain. "They've got some big people (on the line), and they platoon them so they're fresh whenever the offense takes the field.
"They've got the No. 1 quarterback and No. 1 receiver from last year, so you have to respect the pass. That was their bread and butter last year. But the run takes the pressure off the pass."
"They have a very big line, very big and very mobile," Richey said. "They now have a two-dimensional game. They beat us with the run last year and, depending on the weather, we expect them to run this year."
Even though Juneau didn't win a CIFC game last year, the Crimson Bears stayed close to the T-Birds in their showdown.
When Juneau played East in last season's CIFC finale, the Crimson Bears led 17-14 until late in the third quarter. That's when East started running the ball and the run set up the T-Bird passing attack. Laws connected with Flair on four touchdown passes in the game, and Laws ran in another score himself as East rallied for a 34-17 victory.
The Crimson Bears are confident heading into tonight's game. They feel their defense can stop East's offense, and they feel the offense can move the ball on the T-Birds.
"The whole team's ready," Juneau senior quarterback Mark Shilling said, adding that the Crimson Bears feel this game is their real season opener. "Even the fans know that, too. We're working on some new stuff. East isn't going to know what hit 'em. Our offense is going to have to compliment our defense. Our defense has to stop them, and our offense has to put points on the board."
"We're ready to roll, ready to win," Juneau senior running back-linebacker Toni Talamai said.
One of the keys to tonight's game will be the play of the two lines. East's line runs about an inch or two taller and about 15-20 pounds heavier than Juneau's. But the Crimson Bears think they can contain East's wide bodies.
"I think our line can pick them up," Juneau junior offensive lineman-linebacker Jake Ritter said. "It's a big game, a real big game."
"It's going to be a war," Juneau senior fullback-linebacker Nick West said. "We've got a strong D line (defensive line). We can stop them."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.