The last time the Juneau-Douglas High School football team played the Dimond Lynx, the Crimson Bears were heavily favored as they'd just won the first Cook Inlet Football Conference regular-season title in school history and carried a 13-game home winning streak into the first round of the state playoffs.
But the Lynx, who finished fourth in the CIFC during the regular season, eliminated Juneau from the playoffs as Dimond claimed a 31-0 victory en route to its second straight state championship.
Most of the starting personnel has changed for this weekend's rematch, but the Crimson Bears are still haunted by the loss.
"There's a lot of resentment about the way they came into our house and won last year," Juneau wide receiver-cornerback Leo Winn said. "We want to go into their house and take this one. This will be a tough game."
"Dimond has really been a killer for me, not just in football but in soccer, too," said tight end-defensive end-kicker Colin Conerton, who was a back-up goalkeeper when Juneau's nationally ranked soccer team lost 1-0 in the state championship game to Dimond last spring. "This is a huge conference game for us."
Juneau's varsity plays Dimond at 6 p.m. Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium in a game broadcast locally on KINY, 800-AM radio. In action in Juneau, the Juneau junior varsity team hosts the Ketchikan varsity at 7 p.m. Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Dimond and Juneau were the two CIFC teams hardest hit by graduation, with Juneau losing 18 of 22 starters and Dimond losing 26 seniors.
"Sixteen of those I'd call keepers, or kids that played a lot," Dimond coach Duncan Shackelford said. "I figure Juneau's in the same boat we are."
While Juneau needed an 87-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Chad Dubois to wide receiver Ernest Monts to pull out an 8-6 nonconference victory over the Kenai Central Kardinals last weekend, Dimond fell short in its opener. The Lynx dropped a 20-13 nonconference decision to the Palmer Moose last Saturday, although Dimond scored once in the game's final three minutes and had another apparent touchdown with 20 seconds left wiped out by a penalty.
"Thank God we've got some linemen back," Shackelford said. "We're young in the backfield with four brand new kids, but we've got some good linemen. This was a good Palmer team with a veteran core of skill kids. With our young guys it takes a couple of weeks to get the hang of the wishbone."
Dimond's starting backfield features junior Troy Bittner at quarterback, senior Chad Adams at fullback and the duo of sophomore Elyjah Harris and senior Curtis Walther at tailback. Bittner led Dimond with 59 yards rushing and one touchdown last weekend, while Harris had 53 yards, Adams gained 43 and Walther ran for 21. Bittner was 0-for-3 with one interception throwing.
They'll be running behind a line anchored by senior guards Keenan Chirhart and Eric Estrada. Senior tight end Kris Hodges caught a touchdown pass against Juneau in last year's playoff game and had Dimond's lone score in Juneau's 10-7 regular-season victory.
"We've got to bring our A Game this week, not our C Game like last week," Juneau fullback-linebacker Nick West said.
"You mean our D Game, we barely passed last week," Conerton said.
The Crimson Bears feel they escaped with a win last Saturday, and things didn't get much better early this week when last week's player of the game - junior offensive lineman-linebacker Ryan West - was kicked off the team for disciplinary reasons. That didn't help Juneau's young offensive line, which was already dealing with injuries to starters Jesse Vaughn and Donnie Browning. Juneau spent much of the week working on gimmick plays, looking for an equalizer against Dimond.
"We were hurt real bad when we lost a couple of kids," Juneau coach Reilly Richey said. "We're piece-mealing a line together, and in most games it's always the line that decides the game, unless it's special teams or a mistake. If we don't match up with them on the line with our basic plays, we'll try to find something else that works. That's one thing we're good at, running our offense out of a lot of different sets. We've got a lot of good runners, but they need someone to block for them."
Jason Cameron led Juneau in rushing last weekend with 38 yards, while Brian Felix gained 32 and Nick West had 27. Dubois completed seven of 12 passes for 113 yards (and one interception), with the majority of the yards coming on the 87-yard TD pass to Monts.
Despite the turmoil, the Crimson Bears feel they were coming together toward the end of the week.
"We definitely worked a lot harder this week," Dubois said. "We're a lot sharper on our plays and we'll be a lot better this week."
"It's going to be a whole season-long thing, trying to keep improving each week," Connerton said. "Our practices have steadily improved. But the guys in the trenches are definitely what wins games for you."
In the JV game, Juneau faces a Ketchikan team that moved the ball well but lost 36-0 to Sitka last weekend after coughing up six turnovers inside the 20-yard line that led directly to Sitka scores. Juneau's JV team edged Kenai's JV 7-0 last Saturday.
Ketchikan, which dropped out of the Northern Lights Conference this season to play an independent schedule, is led by running back Jor-el Holmberg, who ran for 88 yards and had eight tackles last week. Raymond Secrest had 62 yards rushing and eight tackles, while Ricky Grams gained 47 yards and had six tackles for Ketchikan.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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