The Juneau-Douglas High School football team team finds itself in an unwelcome and unfamiliar position.
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It's been 13 games - dating back to Oct. 16, 2004 - since the Crimson Bears fell to an in-state opponent. That streak ended Friday in Palmer as the Moose capitalized on some big plays to beat visiting JDHS 26-6.
"For me, I've been with the high school four years and this is my third loss to an Alaska opponent," Crimson Bears defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes said. "It's not pleasant."
While the Palmer tandem of Tanner Grover and Haaken Bohman combined for more than 200 yards rushing, the gaudy numbers can be deceiving.
The game was closer than the score indicated. The difference proved to be just a few big plays.
Juneau-Douglas (3-1, 2-1 Railbelt) played well in the first half, limiting the Moose to little yardage and no offensive scores. Palmer's first-half touchdown came off an interception return by J.D. Mitchell.
Colony 2-0 4-0
Palmer 2-0 3-1
JDHS 2-1 3-1
Wasilla 1-1 2-2
West Valley 1-2 2-2
North Pole 1-2 2-2
Lathrop 0-3 0-4
Palmer 26, JDHS 6
West Valley 35, Lathrop 3
Colony 41, Dimond 0
North Pole 32, Wasilla 20
Sept. 8 games
Wasilla at JDHS 8 p.m.
Palmer at Colony 7 p.m.
Lathrop at North Pole 6 p.m.
West Valley vs South (at Chugiak) 7 p.m.
Palmer capitalized on a couple key plays in the second half, however.
Up 7-6 after halftime, Grover extended Palmer's lead by jetting 62 yards for a TD immediately following a third-quarter JDHS turnover where Palmer's Nate Svedin recovered a fumbled backwards pass.
Bohman extended the lead later that quarter after Palmer's defense stopped Juneau on fourth down. His 48-yard gallop on the ensuing drive put the Moose (3-1, 2-0) ahead 20-6.
"The main thing was there were some big momentum swings and it comes to taking advantage of those," Brakes said.
Brakes singled out linemen Zach Heppner, Zach Starbard, Mike Riederer and Phil Moser, along with defensive back Daryl Lew, for their strong play Friday.
Offensively, Juneau-Douglas faced a new defensive alignment from Palmer.
The Moose, who normally use four defensive linemen and four linebackers, came out with five linemen, two linebackers and twin safeties.
"They have some good athletes and the bodies to do that," JDHS offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said. "Through the first quarter, we had a little confusion in who to block. It wasn't so much the five-man front, but with the safeties and linebackers."
The Crimson Bears struggled to move the ball early on, but gained momentum as the game progressed. Good clock management led to Hinkley's TD pass to Lew as time expired in the first half.
"At halftime, everyone was pumped up to be in a four-quarter game," Sjoroos said.
JDHS continued to gain yards in the second half, but failed to get over the hump as it committed three turnovers.
Juneau gained 252 yards and had 14 first downs to Palmer's 11, but struggled to find the end zone.
"It's a wake-up call for everyone, from top to bottom," Sjoroos said. "It showed us some things to work on. But we're still in control of our own destiny and we're not in a tailspin."
While Friday's loss stung, it certainly didn't end the Crimson Bears' dream of a second-straight state title.
Palmer and Colony (4-0, 2-0) play on Friday while the Bears will host fourth-place Wasilla (2-2, 1-1). The top two teams in the conference will host opening-round playoff games against the third- and fourth-place Railbelt teams.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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