When we last saw the Juneau-Douglas High School football team, the Crimson Bears were licking their wounds after suffering their first loss of the season.
Juneau was smarting from its 28-27 loss to Dimond Friday night in a game the Crimson Bears had a chance to win with a two-point conversion in the final two minutes. Not only that, Juneau was concerned about the loss of two key seniors - wide receiver-defensive back C.J. Keys and fullback-middle linebacker Nick West - to knee injuries.
When the Crimson Bears arrived at practice on Wednesday night, they received a boost. Keys and West were able to work out with the team in a limited capacity. Keys and West initially were told they might miss several weeks with the injuries, but were cleared by their doctors to play when Juneau takes the field against the Service Cougars on Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium.
"Having C.J. and Nick coming back to the field, it tells us they're trying to do their best for the team," junior lineman Alika Bradley said. "It makes us want to do our best for the team."
"I think it is helping us," senior lineman Keith Koruna said. "It makes everybody work harder to see they're ready to play. They're both a pretty big part of our team and they're hard to replace."
Juneau head football coach Reilly Richey said both players would play on Saturday, but not much. Both players intend to wear knee braces.
"C.J.'s injury ended up being fairly minor, but he's still limping," Richey said. "Nick beat me in a sprint, so I told him he could play."
Juneau's game against Service is the first road game of the season for the Crimson Bears (3-1 overall, 1-1 Cook Inlet Football Conference). The varsity game is at noon and will be broadcast locally on KINY radio, 800-AM. The Juneau and Service junior varsity teams will play at 9 a.m. at AFS.
Service (2-2 overall, 1-2 CIFC) has lost two straight games since being ranked No. 1 in the season's first Anchorage Daily News/Alaska State Football Coaches Poll. The Cougars lost to East Anchorage 32-27 on Friday and fell to current No. 1-West Anchorage 33-31 a week ago.
Even though the Cougars have been losing, the Crimson Bears consider this a dangerous game. It's Service's homecoming, and Juneau has struggled to win on the road.
"They're scoring a lot of points, 30, 40, 50 a game," Juneau offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said.
Service is led by senior running back Jake Staser, who ranks fourth in the state with 564 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Cougar quarterback Trevor Jones ranks third in passing yardage, completing 46 of 82 attempts for 692 yards, six touchdowns and three interceptions. Wide receiver V.J. Mobley is tied for second in catches with 18 for 210 yards and three touchdowns, while Kyle Haysmer is tied for ninth with 12 catches for 193 yards and one touchdown.
"We are definitely looking forward to this very important conference game against Juneau," Service coach Jason Caldarera said. "This is a must-win situation for us, as the CIFC has so much parity this year. It is our homecoming week, so among all the distractions of the first week of school and all the activities, we are doing our best to prepare for a team we have not seen live all season."
Juneau is led by junior running back Brian Felix, who is ninth in the state with 418 yards rushing and four touchdowns. Crimson Bear senior quarterback Mark Shilling is sixth in the state and has completed 20 of 45 passes for 396 yards, six touchdowns and two interceptions. Keys is tied for 12th in receiving with 11 catches for 255 yards and four receiving touchdowns (he also has one rushing and one punt return touchdown).
"I think we're feeling pretty good," Koruna said. "It'll be a good game, a close game. I'm confident we'll win."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.