Two weeks ago, the Juneau-Douglas High School football team was riding high. The defending state champions had won 13 straight contests and were again the top-ranked squad in Alaska.
But after losing to Blackfoot, Idaho 27-7 on Aug. 23 and last week's disappointing 34-19 Railbelt Conference loss to Palmer, Juneau's season seems to be hanging by a thread. The Bears (2-2 overall, 2-1 conference) find themselves playing .500 football midway through the season and have fallen to No. 5 in the Alaska's Sports Broadcasting Network football poll.
Things are not going to get any easier this week when Juneau travels to Oregon to face perennial 6A powerhouse Lake Oswego on Saturday at 2:30 p.m. ADT which will be broadcast on KJNO-AM630.
"There is no letdown in the schedule," Crimson Bears head coach Bill Chalmers said. "And that's why we need to do something this week to show the team that they are a good football team because there are some people out there who doubt. I don't think the real athletes doubt it - the captains and the kids who play hard every play - they don't doubt it. But there are some hangers on that doubt it, and we need to show something this week."
Despite returning only three starters, Lake Oswego is ranked No. 3 in Oregon's most recent football poll. Last season, the Lakers lost in the state semifinals in overtime to eventual Oregon state champion Sheldon High School.
Lake Oswego will be led by returning quarterback Jack Lomax, who will be looking for speedy wide outs Micah Hatfield and Nick Rulli to continue the strong Laker football tradition.
"This is a huge rebuilding year for us. It's the biggest I've seen in the 17 years I've been coaching here," Lake Oswego head coach Stave Coury said. "We're very green. We'll be rotating a lot of kids in and out."
Lake Oswego's depth could present some problems as the Lakers draw from a 1,200-plus student body. "They're going to come out there with about 80 kids in uniform, and we're going to have 30 which means they can go a lot deeper than we can," Chalmers said.
Defensively, the Lakers will reportedly rely on team speed with Hatfield and Rulli pulling double duty as defensive backs as well as a strong linebacker corps anchored by Tyler Phelps and Brian Zinsmeister.
Coury is mostly concerned with two things - Juneau is in mid-season form and that he knows almost nothing about the team.
"It's a real concern. (Juneau) has had four games to make adjustments and figure out where to go," Coury said. "We're going in blind. I've seen tape of a couple games late last season, but nothing this year. We'll have to feel our way and make adjustments."
Lake Oswego has other challenges, with three of its starting offensive linemen not expected to play due to injuries. Juneau also will be missing a piece of their offensive line as Nathaniel Buck is injured.
The Bears' game plan is to keep things simple and try to control the clock.
"What we would like to do is slow the game down," Chalmers said. "We don't want to get into a race with them. We got some speed out there we can use, but we don't have as many fast people as they do - we're sure of that. So, we'd rather just plug away and let the clock run and get out of there safe, hopefully with a win," he added.
Chalmers said he considers the Lakers a very good team but not quite in the category of the Pasco, Wash., team that steamrolled Juneau 48-7 in 2005. But he's quick to point out that his team will not be taken off guard against another tough opponent.
"I doubt there are many high school teams that had the full package that Pasco had. They were big and they were fast and they took it to us on every level," Chalmers said. "Overall, our team is better prepared for that kind of a surprise than we were against Pasco."
According to Chalmers, Juneau has a new sense of motivation following the Palmer loss. "Mostly what they learned was that they never want to ever have that feeling again and they figured out what they needed to do," he said.
Juneau's ultimate goal of winning a state title is still well within reach. Looking beyond Lake Oswego, the Bears return home to face a highly-ranked North Pole team that could very well be unbeaten when they meet on Sept. 12.
"The coaches have been very, very clear with the kids that we control our own destiny," Chalmers said. "We don't have to have anyone beat anyone for us. If we win out in conference, we'll be in good shape."
Jeff Kasper is a freelance writer and former Empire sportswriter. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org