If Friday's football game against North Pole was Juneau-Douglas High School's first major test, the Crimson Bears aced the exam.
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JDHS (3-0, 2-0 Railbelt) racked up 29 first-quarter points and rode dominating defensive and special teams play to a 41-0 victory over the Patriots (1-2, 0-2).
"I woke up this morning thinking this is a real football team coming in here," Crimson Bears coach Bill Chalmers said of North Pole. "They are, and I believe to be still, one of the best three or four teams in the state. They've got a tremendous running game and I could see them coming into our house and upsetting us. But we got the breaks in the first quarter and came out playing really good football."
Juneau-Douglas immediately asserted itself by scoring 29 points in an eight-minute span.
On Juneau's first position, Nate Wilson capped a six-play, 22-yard drive with a two-yard touchdown plunge and a two-point conversion to make the score 8-0.
The Crimson Bears' special teams then electrified the crowd. Defensive tackle Tyler Zimmerman blocked a punt on the Patriots' next possession and Faifo Levale scooped up the loose ball to score his second TD in as many games.
"It was just unbelievable," Zimmerman said of his blocked punt. "Everyone was just going crazy. Like sharks smelling blood, we all just went after it."
The special teams made their mark again on North Pole's following possession as the Patriots' punter fumbled on his own territory. Chris Hinkley connected with Daryl Lew on the ensuing play for a 21-yard score.
Hinkley added a two-yard TD sneak late in the first quarter to make the score 29-0.
"It's a momentum changer," Chalmers said of the special teams. "We've talked about that. Momentum in a game can change and if it's already going in one direction and you add to it with something like that, it keeps more momentum on."
Juneau's superior special teams play meant solid field position for the offense. The Crimson Bears' average starting field position was North Pole's 48-yard line. Meanwhile, Juneau's defense and Devon Bliss' punting forced North Pole to start from its own 29-yard line on the average.
"Our special teams and ground (game) together was probably too much for them," Chalmers said. "We got some tremendous punting out of Devon Bliss."
Wilson tacked on his second rushing TD in the third quarter and Hinkley found Lew for a 38-yard score in the fourth to complete the game's scoring.
Kicker Jesse West converted 3-of-5 extra point opportunities.
Wilson, filling in for injured tailback Silver Maake, rumbled for 87 yards on 12 carries to lead the Bears.
"It's a big step from second-string running back to starter, but I'm still hanging in there," Wilson said. "It's pretty fun."
Hinkley completed 5-of-14 passes for 68 yards and two TDs. North Pole's defense did a solid job of keeping the Crimson Bears' passing game in check, but the Crimson Bears' defense and special teams proved to much.
Alex Robinson recorded a quarterback sack and picked off a pass, Zach Heppner recovered a fumble while Levale and Phil Moser recorded quarterback sacks.
North Pole managed just one big play against Juneau-Douglas' defense. Quarterback Steven Wright hit tight end Tyler McCumby for an 81-yard gain.
Juneau-Douglas heads to Palmer on Friday in a rematch of last season's large-school state championship game.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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