When the Juneau-Douglas High School football team hosts the Palmer Moose tonight, the No. 2 Crimson Bears will have a pretty good idea about what's coming.
The Moose plan to run, and run, and run some more when they play the Crimson Bears at 8 p.m. in a nonconference varsity game at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. The junior varsity teams play at 5 p.m.
Palmer didn't throw a single pass in last week's 31-30 come-from-behind victory over the West Valley Wolfpack. Even though the Moose trailed by 23 points late in the first half, they stuck with their game plan - running the option.
Palmer's basic offense features two diminutive running backs - 5-foot-6 junior Allen Franklin and 5-9 senior Mike Weber - and 6-1 senior quarterback Charlie Bentti, a three-year starter. They line up behind one of the state's taller offensive lines, which makes it hard to see which back gets the ball off the option pitch.
In last weekend's victory over West Valley, Franklin ran for 121 yards on 28 carries, Weber ran for 105 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, and Bentti ran for 82 yards and two touchdowns on six carries. All told, Palmer ran for 323 yards on 56 carries. The week before, the Moose ran for 329 yards in a 41-13 loss to No. 1 Service, completing one of eight passes for seven yards.
"They've got a veteran group of coaches that have won a state title (in 1995)," Juneau defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said. "They've got a good stable of running backs, a big offensive line - all those 6-foot-2, 6-foot-4 farm boys - and a quarterback who's started three years and knows the option. This game is not going to be easy."
Juneau, which moved to the No. 2 spot in the season's first state coaches' poll after last Friday's 42-18 victory over East Anchorage, feels ready for the Moose. The Crimson Bears allowed just 70 yards rushing against East last weekend, with 255 yards passing; the vast majority of that total came late in the second half when Juneau already had a significant lead. A week earlier, Juneau held Ketchikan to minus-69 yards rushing and 39 yards passing in a 64-0 nonconference victory.
"We're real excited (to play)," Juneau junior offensive lineman-linebacker Jake Ritter said. "I think everyone is going to be going after us now. I don't think it'll be a bad game. What they do, they do good. But I think our defense has been pretty solid. Passing is obviously not one of their strong points."
"Our DBs (defensive backs) will be challenged," Juneau senior wide receiver-defensive back C.J. Keys said. "We don't want to get lulled to sleep."
Juneau's offense has been geared to the run itself, and the Crimson Bears have had a lot of success this year. Last week, senior Brian Felix ran for 217 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries against East while Keys had 219 yards total offense - 92 yards rushing, 57 receiving and 60 returns - and three touchdowns as Juneau ran for 358 yards as a team.
Juneau broke four plays for touchdowns of 50 yards or longer last weekend, but all of those were on basic off-tackle runs or screen passes designed for a five to 10-yard gain.
"It's from hitting the hole hard," Juneau offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said. "You hit the hole hard and good things happen. If we make the block, we've got some guys who can get around the corner. These guys did some good things this offseason. Brian Felix ran two miles a day on his tip-toes (carrying a backpack full of weights)."
"It's our blocking, definitely the blocking," Keys said. "It's just our blockers making great plays."
Juneau's line is young and small, but many of the players started as sophomores and juniors last year so they've got experience. The line is anchored by juniors Ritter and Alika Bradley, sophomore Jesse Vaughn, and seniors Ryan West, Jimmy Brown and Kyle Miller.
"It's just accurate blocking," Ritter said. "All the linemen have their assigned one or two people to block, and we block them the whole game. We may not be the biggest line, but we're the best line. We're the fastest and we have the best technique. A bunch of us went to a couple of camps this summer."
"We're assigned certain blocks, and we get it in our head that we have to do it," Alika Bradley said. "The more we do it, the more familiar it is for us. These were plays for five or 10 yards per play; they were just basic plays. But the more times we practice it, the better chance we have of breaking one."
Due to continued construction at Floyd Dryden Middle School, parking is still very limited at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.