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The Juneau-Douglas High football team will be a bit short-handed for Friday's game against Lathrop, as 17 second- and third string players are traveling to play a separate varsity game in Sitka on Saturday.
The Crimson Bears (1-1 in Cook Inlet Football Conference, 1-1 overall) host the Malemutes (0-2, 0-3) at 7 p.m. at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Juneau's alter ego plays the Sitka Wolves (1-1 in Greatland Conference, 2-1 overall) at 2 p.m. Saturday in Sitka.
"We're saying we have two varsity games this week because there's a very good chance Sitka might be playing (the regular varsity team) next year," Crimson Bears head coach Reilly Richey said.
The "regular" varsity team attempts to pile on some momentum after last week's thrilling 27-25 victory over Chugiak -- the Crimson Bears' first defeat of the Mustangs in team history.
"That brought our confidence up," said senior wide receiver-kick returner Chris Connally. "It showed we can beat anybody in the state."
"We can't overlook any team," cautioned linebacker-running back Justin Rose, who suffered a broken finger on his right hand against Chugiak but who is expected to play Friday. "Chugiak overlooked us and look what happened to them."
On paper, Friday's game doesn't look to be a problem. Lathrop has managed to score just 10 points in three blowout losses, and last week gave up 30 points or more for the third straight game in a 37-0 loss to the Colony Knights.
"That kind of surprises me," Richey said of the Malemutes' recent performances. Last season, Juneau downed Lathrop 37-7 in the first round of the state playoffs, but led just 10-7 at halftime. "They're going to be as emotional as we were against Chugiak. They wanted to schedule this game."
The Malemutes feature one of the fastest players in the state in senior wide receiver-defensive back Dre Bateman. Lathrop coach Frank Bosch said Bateman is being recruited by the University of Oregon and University of Colorado.
"He's got tremendous hands and a great vertical leap," Bosch said. "Most of the stuff he catches is because he jumps over DBs."
Bosch said a reason for the Malemutes' slow start is youth and inexperience. Lathrop's roster has five freshman, compared with eight seniors.
But he added sloppy play has been the teams' downfall.
"It's weird, we can't put our finger on it," Bosch said. "Players are lining up in the wrong spots. Lineman are blocking the wrong people. But, hopefully, this is the game we can turn it around."
The X-factor for Friday's game is a lack of depth. Though most of the players going to Sitka receive little playing time, many are regular special teams players and would be on the field or thrust into backup roles if any injuries occurred.
"We've left the varsity pretty shorthanded," said Juneau assistant coach Kevin Hamrick, who is taking the team to Sitka. "There won't be a big sideline against Lathrop."
"There's some pretty good players at every position," Richey said. "We're not just sending our worst 15 players to go get blown out."
In its first year of varsity football, Sitka is beginning to make a name for itself. Last week the Wolves clobbered Ketchikan 67-6 behind the electrifying performance of senior Matt Mangini, who scored four touchdowns -- including three on punt returns -- and racked up 111 yards receiving.
Sitka coach Mark Mangini -- Matt's father -- said he was unsure of what to expect this weekend.
"I've got people asking me who we're playing this weekend," Mangini said. "And I'm like 'I don't know who we're playing.' But it doesn't make any difference to us, we're ready."
Mangini said his team has lots of speed and is balanced. Juniors Joshua Stevens and David Gauthier are among the Greatland Conference leaders in rushing. Matt Mangini leads the conference in receiving (14 receptions for 261 yards and three touchdowns; 18.6 yards per catch) and scoring (six touchdowns for 36 points).
The Wolves also sport one of the Greatland's top quarterbacks in sophomore Travis Bradshaw, who last week threw for touchdowns of 29 and 27 yards.
"He's got loads and loads of talent, a great arm and he's a straight-A student," Mangini said. "He's a quick learner, a hard worker. The only thing he's lacking is experience, and he's getting that every game."
Juneau had to scramble at the last minute to find a quarterback to play against Sitka. The Crimson Bears backup QB is Connally, a starting receiver and returning All-State kick returner. That meant coaches had to ask for volunteers to play quarterback. Junior Willie Dodd answered the call and began learning the position Monday, Hamrick said.
Hamrick said the game will be great experience for the players.
"These guys would see four to five plays a game against Lathrop or Chugiak," Hamrick said. "Against Sitka, they'll see 40 to 60 plays a game. You can't beat that for experience."