The Juneau-Douglas High School football team returned the state's leading rusher from last season, and the team's top returning receiver didn't have enough practices in to be eligible for the Crimson Bears' season opener last weekend in Palmer.
So the Crimson Bears handed the ball off to Brian Felix all game and watched him run through the Palmer Moose defense last Saturday night, right?
The Crimson Bears took to the air against Palmer and cruised to a 37-0 victory. Juneau's two quarterbacks - junior Pat Kohan and sophomore Chris Hinkley - completed 18 of 26 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns, with 10 different receivers making catches.
Juneau hosts the Service Cougars at 8 p.m. tonight at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park for its home opener and Cook Inlet Football Conference opener, and the Crimson Bears' diverse offense is expected to give the Cougar defense fits. The junior varsity teams play at 5 p.m. tonight.
"I think, right now, teams have a lot to worry about when they prepare for us," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "They have to be concerned about defending Felix, but they have to worry about the pass, too. There's not just one target on this team. We had nine or 10 kids who caught a pass last week. For this early in the season, our offense is pretty sophisticated."
"Looking at game film, Juneau is a team full of talent that deserves a lot of respect and preparation for," Service coach Jason Caldarera wrote in an e-mail. "Coach Reilly and his staff have always put together a solid scheme whenever we play the Crimson Bears."
Last week, Juneau opened the game with two first-quarter rushing TDs and a third score off a fumble return. But the Bears moved the ball mainly through the air the rest of the game, at least until grind-out-the-clock time in the fourth quarter when the Juneau went back to the run.
Kohan started at quarterback and completed 10 of 16 passes for 104 yards and a touchdown to junior Landon Harris, who was playing his first football game in two years. Hinkley played the second half at quarterback, completing eight of 10 passes for 122 yards and two touchdowns - to first-year football player Larry Cooper and to Josh Lehauli, both seniors.
"This will open up Brian's runs," Kohan said. "It's easy (having so many receivers). It keeps us cool and calm."
"This year we're a lot deeper at receiver," Hinkley added. "We've always got fresh legs. What's nice is last year you worried a little throwing to the second and third receivers and whether they'd catch the ball. We've got a lot more confidence this year."
Besides the touchdown passes to Harris, Cooper and Lehauli, junior Angelo Katasse, who missed most of last year with a broken right ankle, had five catches for 77 yards and scored a rushing touchdown. Lehauli (three for 58) and senior Naash Richey (three for 25) were Juneau's other multiple-pass receivers.
"It's a great feeling, being able to score," Katasse said. "I don't feel like I had an ankle injury last year. It's nice because you don't have to worry if you're having a bad game. Everyone else is involved."
"It makes it a lot tougher to defend against us," said Naash Richey, Reilly Richey's son.
Sophomore Ryan Fagerstrom, senior Mychal Hutcherson, senior Brett Van Alen and senior Justin Sanbei also caught passes last week.
Some receivers - sophomore Fagerstrom, Richey, Lehauli and Hutcherson - saw varsity action last year. But there are contributions from new players like Cooper and Harris.
"People are stepping up, and that takes the pressure off us," Fagerstrom said.
"I haven't played since (Juneau Youth Football League Senior Division) seniors, when I was a freshman," Harris said. "It feels pretty good."
This week, Juneau's top receiver from last year, senior C.J. Keys, returns to the lineup and that will make the Crimson Bears even deeper. Keys had 33 catches for 691 yards last year and was one of the state's top receivers and kick returners.
And Juneau also has Felix, who is easing into shape after arthroscopic knee surgery last spring and only ran for 53 yards on 10 carries last week. Felix said he's 100 percent and should match his form from last season.
Last year Felix ran for 1,975 yards on 291 carries with 22 total touchdowns (20 rushing). He just missed becoming the fourth 2,000-yard back in Alaska prep football history. He was the only Alaska player mentioned in the "High School Football" preview magazine produced by The Sporting News and School Sports.
And, if anyone thinks Felix is behind last season's pace, Juneau offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos is quick to remind people that "Brian is 43 yards ahead of last year's pace." Felix only carried three times for 10 yards in Juneau's rout of Ketchikan in last year's season-opener.
Even though the Crimson Bears threw the ball against Palmer, Sjoroos said he still plans to run the ball a lot this season.
"I still believe you have to run the ball to win a state title," Sjoroos said. "Look at East. East had the Flair-Laws combo (quarterback Derek Laws to receiver Casey Flair), but it was the running of Ozelle Jamestown that won them the state championship game and the running of Ryan Stickler that got them there."
Against Service, the Crimson Bears will be playing a team that is rebuilding after the opening of South Anchorage High School siphoned off some of the Cougars' key players. Service's program went from 130 players last year to just 75 this season, Caldarera said, but many of the skill players are back.
In last week's 28-20 victory over Skyview, Service quarterback Stuart Rowley threw for 322 yards and hit eight different receivers. Rowley completed eight passes for 242 yards and four touchdowns - all to V.J. Mobley, who is listed as a running back on Service's roster. Service's top runner last week, Josh Johnson, only gained 12 yards on five carries.
Caldarera said other players to watch are linemen Kyle Kimmet and John White on offense and Martin Ward on defense. Defensive back Austin Anderson and Johnson, a linebacker, lead the defense.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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