After a difficult three weeks on the road, the Juneau-Douglas High School football team is finally back in the comforts of home.
Following their first loss of the season - a 26-7 defeat at the hands of Colony (2-2) - coach Rich Sjoroos said it's nice to have his Crimson Bears back in the familiar surroundings of Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"It feels like we haven't played at home in about three years," he quipped. "I know it's only been about a month, but it feels a lot longer than that."
Sjoroos said the team is ready to get back on the field, especially knowing it will be in front of its home crowd for the rest of the regular season. Last week's loss places that much more emphasis on the remaining four games, Sjoroos said, and the Crimson Bears have their work cut out for them tonight against Wasilla.
"(Wasilla has) scored 100 points in their last two games so next to Colony, they're probably the most confident team in the state," he said. "They are coming in here with a lot of confidence, and they're the biggest team in the state."
After facing a Knights team last week with a lot of size, Sjoroos said the Bears have to adjust to a versatile Warriors team that executes well in most phases of the game.
"They like to mix things up on defense and do a lot of different formations on offense. It's hard to pinpoint their favorite things to do," he said. "We have to plan for a lot of different things, and that's their approach. They bring a lot of different looks."
With do-it-all senior receiver Eric Fagerstrom officially out for the season with a torn ACL, the Bears' first loss on the field was another in a line of recent setbacks.
"(The team is) starting to come around, but when you taste that vulnerability, it's a little humbling at first," he said. "But the one thing I can't question is the effort our kids give on the field and everything they've done going into these games.
"With kids no longer on the team and kids getting hurt, I think this is a pretty resilient group of guys," he continued. "And I look for them to come out Friday night with a lot of energy and enthusiasm."
With a confident Wasilla group coming to town, Juneau-Douglas knows what's at stake in this crucial Railbelt Conference matchup.
"This is really a key game for us in the conference," he said. "We're 2-1 ... and they're 1-1, so this whole thing's up for grabs."
With the Railbelt looking competitive at the top, Sjoroos said it's important to get back in the win column right now.
"We have to find a way to get back on the winning track and if we can win, it puts us in a great position going down the stretch," he said. "If we struggle this week, then we're facing a big uphill battle to get in the playoffs.
"But everybody has their sights set on playoffs."
The Crimson Bears (3-1, 2-1) host the Wasilla Warriors (3-1, 1-1) at 8 p.m. tonight at Adair-Kennedy Field.
A win makes No. 2 Falcons a virtual lock for state bid
There's still an undefeated football team in Juneau, but it might not be the one you think.
Second-ranked Thunder Mountain continues to roll after a 33-0 thumping of the Kings in Ketchikan last week, and with a 3-0 conference record in their sights, the Falcons welcome the Sitka Wolves to Juneau this Saturday night. A Thunder Mountain win would make the Falcons the odds-on favorite to earn the Southeast Conference's lone state bid.
For Falcons coach Bill Byouer, the goal is simple.
"Win. We have to win. We're in the driver's seat, our kids are practicing hard and they're hungry for this," he said. "I want to go 5-0. These guys really need to step up and start excelling and refining their game even more every week so that if we make it to playoffs, we're ready to go."
But Byouer said while the team is in a favorable position in conference, it's only the halfway point of the season.
"Everybody's still got a shot. This defines us a little bit more if we get this win, but Sitka's going to come in here and play us hard. There's no question about that," he said. "You hope the kids are ready to go every week when you come in for a game, and I believe they are."
The Wolves aren't so different from their Southeast rivals in a sense, Byouer said, because they like to run the ball. The Wolves will pass occasionally, but their bread and butter is their rushing attack.
"Sitka has a big line and they like to run behind it. Their running back is good and they have a good quarterback," he said. "But their line is big and I know they've grown skill-wise in the last month. We're expecting them to come back even more prepared.
"Everybody is hungry."
As for the Falcons' ground game, it has been nothing short of dominant this season. Senior running back Cameron Fronimos is averaging 111.8 yards per game and an astounding 11.2 yards per carry. And he already has seven touchdowns through just four games.
But while confidence is high on the Thunder Mountain sideline, Byouer said it's important to stay focused on each game.
"This win would be incredible. At 5-0, I mean, these kids are feeling good and they should feel good," he said. "But they can't get bigheaded. They have to keep a level head and realize that next week is another game, and the week after is another game.
"Sometimes they seem to get caught up in the idea that we're indestructible, but by no means are we that."
The Falcons (4-0, 2-0) and Wolves (2-2, 1-1) kick off at 7 p.m. Saturday at Thunder Mountain High School.