It may seem early to discuss key conference matchups, but the Juneau-Douglas High School football team will feel a bit of playoff intensity this weekend when the Crimson Bears host the Bartlett Golden Bears at 7 p.m. Friday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Bartlett is considered one of the favorites to win the state football playoffs, and the Crimson Bears know Friday's game will be a major test for their own playoff chances. It will also be a test of Juneau's 10-game home winning streak that dates back to the 1998 season.
"They're a good team, them and Dimond," Juneau defensive back Willy Dodd said. "We won our last game against Sitka, but this will be a whole new level. We're looking forward to one of our biggest games of the season."
"They're favored to take state, from what I hear, so we'll get to see how good we are," Juneau defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said.
Juneau's defense will have its hands full with Bartlett, which blitzed North Pole 59-6 last weekend up in Fairbanks. Juneau beat Sitka 47-6 last weekend, but Bartlett will be playing at a much higher level than the Wolves.
"They're a really well-coached team," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "They run that wing-T really well. They were effective throwing the play-action pass against us last year, so they'll probably throw more this week than they did against North Pole."
The Golden Bears ran for 279 yards on 29 carries, and their only pass went 8 yards for a touchdown, from quarterback Marcus Watts to Lionel James. Tyler Blewett led Bartlett with three touchdowns and 152 yards rushing on 14 carries, while Boaz Gionson scored on a 60-yard run, Drew Williams had a 32-yard touchdown run and Davaron Jefferson scored on a 3-yard run. Zack Bowman added two punt return touchdowns of 60 and 45 yards.
"We've got four good running backs, a good tight end, a good receiver and a good returning quarterback," Bartlett head coach John Jessen said. "We've got a lot of weapons. Our line is bigger and stronger than ever. Last year we didn't get into the weight room that much, but this year they've been hitting the weights hard."
Bradley said Bartlett doesn't waste a lot of time on offense, snapping the ball within three or four seconds after it lines up. The Golden Bears run what Bradley called the racehorse offense, getting the play started before the defense has a chance to figure out which part of the formation is the strong or weak side.
"We practiced about their quick, hurry-up offense," Juneau defensive back Jacob Dutton said. "They execute. They don't really play smash-mouth football, but they'll use your momentum against you."
Bartlett uses a lot of misdirection plays, Bradley said, so he's had his players running pursuit drills, trying to learn how to cut off the angles so the Golden Bears aren't able to break off long runs for touchdowns.
"My three goals on defense are not to let them across the goal line, to take the ball away -- either through fumbles, interceptions or three downs and out -- and to score," Bradley said. "They run a basic fullback dive and the buck sweep, which sets things up for the Sally and the waggle. They don't overpower you, but they'll get in your way. They'll stand you up on your block, and they'll run right behind you. They're technicians."
Bartlett beat Juneau 41-12 in Anchorage last year in a game where Juneau had its own version of "Planes, Trains and Automobiles." Juneau's flight was canceled by fog early in the morning, then the Crimson Bears got put on the milk run flight through Yakutat and Cordova. Juneau was forced to dress out in the airport bathrooms, and barely had any warm-up time before the game started. Juneau committed three early turnovers and Bartlett scored after each mistake, putting the Crimson Bears back on their heels right away.
"It always feels good to be playing at home," Juneau defensive back Eric Tollefson said. "It was good to have a good week of practice. We knew we'd have to practice a lot harder for these guys."
"We love coming down to play," Jessen said. "Personally, I like our team to play outside AFS (Anchorage Football Stadium) as much as possible. I just looked at the tape of our 1999 game, and the crowd is going wild on every play. This is definitely a test for us, a huge step up. We don't look past anyone, and we lost the last time we were down there."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.