The Juneau-Douglas High School football team won with big plays on offense last week. This week, the No. 2 Crimson Bears turned to their defense.
Juneau's defense held Palmer's feared rushing attack to just over half of its normal yardage as the undefeated Crimson Bears blanked the Moose 17-0 in a nonconference game Friday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"The team came together, but we have to work harder in practice," Juneau senior fullback-linebacker Nick West said. "The second half we were playing Juneau football."
"It was nice for the win, but we didn't focus in practice," Juneau quarterback Mark Shilling said.
The Crimson Bears (3-0 overall, 1-0 in the Cook Inlet Football Conference) didn't quite meet their team's defensive goal of allowing 170 yards or less - they allowed 194 - but they did keep the Moose out of the end zone and only let Palmer stray across midfield three times. The two times Palmer moved into the red zone (across the 20-yard line), Juneau's defense stiffened and the Moose turned the ball over on downs.
Before the game, Juneau's defense worried about Palmer's ability to run the ball since the Moose ran for 323 and 329 yards in their first two games.
Palmer (1-2 overall, 1-0 in the Northern Railbelt Conference) runs an option attack, with quarterback Charlie Bentti, a three-year starter, handing off to running backs Mike Weber and Allen Franklin. Since neither running back stands taller than 5-foot-9 and Palmer's line is one of the tallest in the state, Bentti did his best to deceive Juneau's defense by frequently pulling the ball back out of the runner's hands and either keeping it himself or pitching it to the other back.
Weber was Palmer's top runner with 79 yards rushing, while Franklin had 67 yards for his first sub-100-yard game of the season. Both Palmer backs rushed for more than 100 yards last week in a 31-30 victory over West Valley.
"It was actually pretty hard," Juneau senior linebacker Ryan West said of Bentti's deceptive moves. "Their line was big and it was really hard to see over the top of the line. The quarterback knew how to run the option. It did get easier to read as the game went along, though."
"We just couldn't get anything going," Bentti said. "One of our guards, Nick Pilch, was injured back in the first quarter and Junior (Aumavae, an all-state lineman last year) also got hurt (shoulder and ankle, but he stayed in the game). We didn't execute. We've been playing the best teams, so we know what we have to do. We have to get better each week."
Juneau was able to run on Palmer's defense, and the Crimson Bears did a better job of sustaining drives than they did in last Friday's 42-18 victory over East Anchorage. In that game, Juneau had a lot of one- or two-play drives as the Crimson Bears broke loose for four touchdown plays of 50 yards or longer. Against Palmer, Juneau was able to grind out 205 yards rushing on 46 carries, with junior Brian Felix running for 110 yards and Inoke Topui adding 65.
"Our line was awesome," Felix said.
"They had some pretty tough linemen," Juneau lineman Jimmy Brown said, adding that the Crimson Bears were able to wear them out as the game went along. "Toward the end (of the game) they were breathing pretty heavy."
The difference in the game, offensively, was in the air. Shilling completed seven of 11 passes for 121 yards, two touchdowns and one interception (his first of the season). Bentti completed just one of four passes for six yards, and he threw an interception to Topui.
Juneau took a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter on a 29-yard field goal by Richard Isett, and the score remained 3-0 at halftime as both teams had drives stall within their opponent's 30-yard line during the second quarter.
The Crimson Bears finally reached the end zone in the third quarter on a bootleg play. Shilling faked a handoff to Felix, then threw a 36-yard touchdown pass to Nick West.
"I smelled the end zone and I wanted it," West said. "Once I got the taste of it, it was good."
"They really bit on that fake handoff," said Shilling, who shared player of the game honors with Brown and Aumavae.
Five minutes later, on the second play of the fourth quarter, Juneau struck again as Shilling connected with C.J. Keys on an 18-yard touchdown pass. That score capped a drive that alternated runs by Felix and passes to Keys, and it was the most times Juneau threw in a single drive.
"Our running game really set up the pass," Keys said. "That ball was perfect. The only way I could have dropped it was if I was so dumb. We were just baiting them in with the run, then throwing the pass."
Palmer had one final drive that nearly reached the end zone, but Juneau was able to stop the Moose on the 7-yard line and Palmer turned the ball over on downs with just over three minutes left in the game. The Crimson Bears ran out the clock, and turned their attention to the Dimond Lynx, who upset defending state champion Bartlett 21-6 on Friday and travels to Juneau for a CIFC game at 8 p.m. this Friday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"This is when the season really starts," Keys said of the Dimond game. "These are games we need to win if we're going to play in October."
In junior varsity action, the Crimson Bears stayed undefeated with a 44-7 victory over the Moose, who trailed by one point, 8-7, at halftime.
Canaan Boz rushed for 87 yards on eight carries and scored on touchdown runs of 43 and 35 yards to lead Juneau. Tom Topui ran for 128 yards on 21 carries and scored a touchdown. Quarterback Chris Hinkley threw touchdown passes of 57 yards to Ryan Fagerstrom and 5 yards to Lane Miller. Hinkley and Miller earned offensive and defensive player of the game honors.
Juneau's JV team plays the Ketchikan varsity at Ketchikan on Saturday. In the only other Southeast game this week, Sitka beat Ketchikan 53-0 as Rigoberto "Junior" Carlos ran for 129 yards and scored two touchdowns.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
CRIMSON BEARS 17, MOOSE 0
Friday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
PALMER 0 0 0 0 - 0
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 3 0 7 7 - 17
Juneau-Douglas - FG, Isett 29, 1:51.
Juneau-Douglas - N. West 36 pass from M. Shilling (Isett kick), 4:41.
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 18 pass from M. Shilling (Isett kick), 11:36.
First downs 10 15
Rushes-yards 41-194 46-204
Passing yards 6 121
Return yards 21 5
Comp-att-int 1-4-1 7-11-1
Sacked-yards lost 0-0 0-0
Punts-ave 4-32.3 1-22.0
Penalties-yards 4-25 7-50
RUSHING - Palmer: M. Weber 12-79, Franklin 18-67, Bentti 9-40, Zimmer 1-5, Tubbs 1-3. Juneau-Douglas: Felix 21-110, I. Topui 16-65, Keys 3-21, R. West 2-11, M. Shilling 1-2, B. West 1-(-2), Kohan 1-(-2).
PASSING - Palmer: Bentti 1-4-1 - 6. Juneau-Douglas: M. Shilling 7-11-1 - 121.
RECEIVING - Palmer: Zimmer 1-6. Juneau-Douglas: Keys 6-85, N. West 1-36.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - None.