The quest for another perfect season is over, but the quest for another conference championship and ultimately another state title is well within reach as Juneau sets itself to play the Palmer Moose tonight in Palmer at 7 p.m.
The game will be a rematch of last year's state title game where the Crimson Bears defeated the Moose 23-13 en route to their second state title in three years.
"We're going to be ready for this game," Juneau head coach Bill Chalmers said during practice earlier this week. "We're loose and we're ready to play Palmer. We're looking forward to playing them because they're our arch rivals."
The Crimson Bears (2-1, 2-0) are coming off a 27-7 loss to defending Idaho state champion Blackfoot last Saturday in Juneau, snapping a 13-game winning streak dating back to last season.
The loss dropped Juneau to No. 3 in this week's Alaska's Sports Broadcasting Network football poll behind Service and South. However, the Bears remain in the top spot in the Alaskapreps.com poll. But Chalmers says he doesn't pay much attention to the polls and neither do his players.
"There are two polls running side by side and you need to know which one to pay attention to," Chalmers said. "I don't pay attention to either one of them. I don't think the boys care either. What we're concerned about is taking care of business in the conference and drive to a state championship."
The Moose (2-1, 2-0) had a close call with West Valley last week, needing overtime to defeat the Wolfpack 13-7. The Bears whipped West Valley in their season opener 45-7 in Fairbanks. Palmer is ranked No. 5 in both statewide polls with its lone loss coming in its season opener to South 16-9.
Palmer's key losses from last season included quarterback Conrad Smith, running back Devin Konkler, lineman Everest Moore and linebacker Shannon Sawyer. The Moose return three key seniors - running back Brennan Bohman, linebacker J.D. Mitchell and wide out Mitch Swetzof.
"They have four starters back from their defensive unit and their defense is as good as ours on paper," Chalmers said. "They're 2-0 in the conference and they have allowed I think almost the same number of points as we have in three games. That way it's going to be a tight defensive ball game."
They're coached by Rod Christiansen, who is in his 18th year and considered by many as one of the best high school football coaches in the state. Last season, Palmer started the season 1-3 before turning its season around and making it to the state championship game.
"They've got probably the best coaching staff in the conference," Chalmers said. "Rod Christiansen is an excellent coach and gets his people to work really in tune with him. They'll know everything that we're going to do. They'll come up with some surprises for us - they always do."
In last week's loss to Blackfoot, poor special teams play and inability to finish key drives were costly and will have to be improved on if the Bears intend to claim a third state title in four years.
"We have to be ready to block and run hard, and we have to be able to finish drives," Chalmers said. "When we get down inside the 10-yard-line, we're going to be sure to put it in the end zone.
Juneau may also experiment more with standout Eric Fagerstrom at quarterback. Last week, Fagerstrom moved from his usual receiver slot to quarterback in the fourth quarter and led the Bears to their only score.
"He's kind of our franchise player so when we need some yardage, we need to figure out a way to get the ball in his hands," Chalmers said. "We got to figure out a way to get the ball in his hands. And the best way to get it into his hands is to have the center give it to him, and he can decide what he wants to do with it."
The game will be broadcast by KJNO-AM630. The junior varsity plays Palmer at 4 p.m. today.
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sports writer, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.