When the Juneau-Douglas High School football team got its start 15 years ago, the Crimson Bears frequently used out-of-state teams to fill their schedule.
The Crimson Bears were an independent team - not belonging to any of the state's conferences - so playing out-of-state teams was the only way to get a full slate of games. Since the Juneau football team joined the Cook Inlet Football Conference in the mid-1990s, it's been almost eight years since the Crimson Bears played a non-Alaska team.
That streak will end on Saturday when the Crimson Bears host Seattle's Rainier Beach Vikings, the No. 3 Class 3A team from Washington state. Game times are 8 p.m. for varsity and 5 p.m. for the junior varsity teams at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"We're real excited," Juneau senior offensive lineman-linebacker Jake Ritter said. "We want to show how we can do against a good team from the Lower 48."
"This whole week, the intensity has been really high," Juneau junior quarterback-linebacker Pat Kohan said. "It'll be a good game."
Juneau's last game against a non-Alaska opponent was a 40-9 home victory over Victoria, British Columbia, on Oct. 4, 1996.
"There's a lot of excitement for this game," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said.
The Vikings arrived in Juneau on Thursday. The teams met for a tour of the high school and then Rainier Beach had some practice time at the field. Also on the itinerary this weekend: a charter boat cruise for the coaches, a Princess tour of the borough for the players, a couple of meals and other get-togethers.
"They're excited. A lot of them have never been out of Seattle, so just getting on an airplane and going through security will be big for them," Rainier Beach coach Mark Haley said earlier this week.
Rainier Beach (1-0 overall) is ranked third in this week's Seattle Times Class 3A rankings for Washington. While there is a larger Class 4A division in Washington, most of the top Class 3A teams are their equals, if not better.
Bellevue, the three-time defending Washington Class 3A champion and then unranked, just beat USA Today's No. 1 team, De La Salle of Concord, Calif., 39-20 last weekend, ending De La Salle's national record 151-game winning streak. Bellevue is now ranked 10th in the country.
The Vikings won their season-opener 44-18 over rival Renton on Saturday, led by quarterback Junior Lologo's 15-for-20 passing for 321 yards and six touchdowns. Former University of Washington head coach Rick Neuheisel - a former UCLA quarterback who briefly played in the NFL - has been a volunteer assistant quarterback coach for Rainier Beach. Lologo told the Seattle Times that Neuheisel's coaching may help him have a breakout season. Neuheisel did not travel with the team to Alaska.
"Coach Neuheisel is a big influence," Lologo told the Times. "He has taught me a lot about staying in the pocket and throwing the ball."
Against Renton, Lologo hit Attrail Snipes for a 58-yard touchdown pass on the game's first play. He connected with Snipes on a 16-yard score later in the game. He also hit tight end Adam Leonard for a pair of touchdown passes (for 5 yards and 6 yards), James Williams for a 14-yard score and Vonzell McDowell on a 52-yard TD pass. Shelton Danzy rushed for 76 yards and scored a 1-yard rushing touchdown, plus he had a two-point conversion run.
Haley said his team's offensive split usually closer to 60 percent passing, 40 percent rushing, but last week, "Junior just had a good game and we had some success throwing the ball." He also said backup quarterback Lonzell Maddock is pushing Lologo for the starting job.
The Rainier Beach defense is anchored by Leonard, a senior middle linebacker who is being recruited by schools such as the University of Miami, Tennessee, Kansas State and just about all of the Pac-10 schools. Leonard, who is coming off knee surgery this summer, has been the Metro Conference-Mountain Division's defensive player of the year since he was a sophomore and was a preseason first-team all-state pick by the Seattle Times.
"Adam Leonard is a legit player and he's getting a lot of looks," Haley said. "He played the whole game and caught a couple of touchdowns, but he was a little rusty."
Another key defender is Danzy at safety, who was the only other Rainier Beach player to make the Seattle Times preseason all-state team. McDowell is a top cornerback, while Aaron Siva and Andrew Fotu anchor the line for the Vikings, Haley said.
Haley said the Vikings have 64 people in their travel party, 50 players and coaches, team managers, stat keepers, etc. He said the team raised money for the trip with car washes, selling VIP cards for restaurant chains, selling a varsity gold card (with discounts at a variety of local businesses) and holding a rummage sale. He also said the team tapped into its alumni for donations, and got some help from New York Knicks shooting guard Jamal Crawford, a former Viking.
The Crimson Bears (2-2 overall, 1-2 CIFC) are coming off a tough 35-28 loss to East Anchorage in a rematch of last year's state championship game. Juneau had a chance to pull within an extra-point kick of tying the game in the last minute when a pass went off senior C.J. Keys' hands in the end zone. It was Juneau's second straight loss, following a 49-9 defeat by West Anchorage on Aug. 27. Earlier on Saturday, Juneau's JV team (3-1 overall) handed East its first loss of the season, 54-24.
"It was a heartbreaking loss last week," Richey said of the East game. "C.J. makes that catch three out of four times in practice."
The Crimson Bears did make some big plays on defense as both linebacker Josh Lehauli and defensive back Brian Felix returned interceptions for touchdowns. But East running back Ryan Stickler rushed for 174 of his 211 yards in the second half to lead the Thunderbirds to victory.
"We switched our (line)backers around to cover more of the field," Lehauli said. "We'll do a lot better this time. We're excited to see how we match up."
"We want more picks (interceptions) this week," Felix said. "We want to pick up our momentum and get heading back in the right direction for the rest of our conference games. We ran a lot last week, but this week we should go back to our balanced offense."
Felix rushed for 115 yards and two touchdowns to go with his TD on defense. But Juneau quarterbacks Kohan and Chris Hinkley combined on 4-for-17 passing with two interceptions and just 42 yards (Lehauli also completed a halfback option pass for 21 yards).
In the state rankings compiled by the Anchorage Daily News, Felix is fifth in rushing with 484 yards and six touchdowns on 87 carries (5.6 yards per carry).
Hinkley ranks eighth in passing yardage with 346 yards on 20-for-38 passing with four touchdowns and three interceptions. Kohan ranks 12th in passing yardage with 233 yards on 21-for-50 passing with one touchdown and three interceptions.
Angelo Katasse is tied for fourth in receptions with 13 catches for 241 yards and one touchdown (18.5 yards per catch).
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.