Heading into Friday's game against Bartlett, Juneau's defense knew it would have its hands full with the potent Golden Bears offense.
A week ago, Bartlett ripped North Pole 59-6 on the road to solidify preseason speculations that the Golden Bears would be one of the state's top teams and contend for the championship.
The Crimson Bears, possibly a bit overlooked by the Anchorage powerhouse football schools, blew out Sitka 47-6 in their season opener. However, the small school Wolves are no way in the same caliber as Bartlett, so questions still loomed on how Juneau would respond to top competition.
It was the Crimson Bears' stifling defense that stepped up to make the difference in the 14-7 win over top-ranked Bartlett, with Juneau establishing its authority early and not letting down throughout the contest.
"They were kind of cocky or something," Juneau defensive back Jacob Dutton said. "I think it was a combination of them being cocky and us having a great week of practice. But I got to give all my credit to the line. They are the reason why we won."
"They (Bartlett) have a potent offense," Crimson Bears defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said. "I think they came into town expecting to walk all over us."
Juneau stopped Bartlett cold on the Golden Bears' first possession, going three and out, and it wouldn't be until Bartlett's sixth possession the Golden Bears finally earned a first down.
"We did a lot of analysis on all the plays they run," Bradley said. "We studied the films and they use specific plays on first down. Our guys did a great job of recognizing the plays."
The Crimson Bears first big defensive stop came in the closing minutes of the first half as Bartlett drove into the red zone. With 52 seconds to go, Juneau's Eric Tollefson was called for a pass interference penalty that gave the Golden Bears a first down on Juneau's 12-yard-line.
Juneau's defense held strong in the final seconds and prevented Bartlett from scoring, giving the Crimson Bears the momentum and a 7-0 halftime lead.
After Juneau scored its second touchdown to go up 14-0 to start the third quarter, Bartlett took over and found some success in moving the ball. But Bartlett running back Boaz Gionson was stripped of the ball by Juneau's Jason Cameron and teammate Justin Rasmussen fell on the fumble, swinging the momentum once again to Juneau's favor.
The Crimson Bear's only lapse came in the fourth quarter. With time ticking away, the Golden Bears were deep in their own territory and forced to go for it.
Bartlett quarterback Marcus Watts, who was 0-for-10 up to that point, completed a screen pass to Tyler Blewett for 3 yards to set up a fourth-and-10 situation. Watts then completed a 21-yard pass up the middle to Lionel James for a first down. Then he completed a 26-yard pass to Drew Williams for another first down as Bartlett's offense showed its first signs of life.
Juneau lost the shutout with 2:34 to go on a short touchdown run by Blewett, but the Crimson Bears would need one more big defensive stop to secure the victory.
With the game on the line, Bartlett had one last chance on offense with 1:57 to go, but the Crimson Bears held again as Watts threw three incomplete passes into smothering Juneau coverage and fumbled the fourth down snap to give Juneau the ball and the victory.
"The reason why we play good against the pass is because we practice against one of the best quarterbacks in the state in Brett Fairchild," Juneau defensive backs and receivers coach Jeep Rice said. "Willy Dodd was the best defensive back in the game. He didn't miss any tackles."
"This is my opinion. When we go to West next week, we'll see most if not all of the Anchorage teams in the stands," Bradley said. "They're going to want to see the team who beat Bartlett."
"We're not going to look past West," Dutton said. "We did not win one game on the road last year. Our goal is to beat the crap out of them."
Jeff Kasper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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