As the Juneau-Douglas High School football team practiced on Thursday, a few Crimson Bear players couldn't help but feel a little apprehensive about tonight's game with the defending state champion Bartlett Golden Bears.
This is Juneau's last home game of the regular season, and the seniors were starting to realize this might be the last time they'd get to play in front of the Crimson Bear faithful at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. Varsity game time is 8 p.m., with the junior varsity teams playing at 5 p.m.
"I don't want to grow up," senior kicker-defensive back Richard Isett said. "I want to keep playing high school football for 12 years. These are the best days of our lives."
"Four years have gone by fast," senior wide receiver-defensive back C.J. Keys added.
This is the last scheduled home game for the No. 2 Crimson Bears (4-1 overall, 2-1 Cook Inlet Football Conference), but the seniors wouldn't mind helping Juneau host a first-round playoff game on the Oct. 3-4 weekend.
To earn the right to host a playoff game, Juneau needs to beat Bartlett tonight and the Crimson Bears probably need to win at least one of their two remaining road games against West Anchorage and Chugiak. Juneau needs to finish among the top two teams in the CIFC to host a playoff game. The top four teams in the CIFC will advance to the three-weekend state tournament that ends Oct. 18.
"It's all a possibility," senior quarterback Mark Shilling said.
"We'll be back here," senior lineman Eric Unruh added.
But first there's Bartlett.
The Golden Bears (1-4 overall, 0-3 CIFC) are struggling this year, but they're only a few months removed from a perfect 10-0 state championship season. The Golden Bears lost all but six starters from last year's team, but they do have some decent players and Bartlett coach John Jessen said they're trying to get better every week.
Senior running back Henry Hellrung leads Bartlett with 370 yards rushing (15th in the state) and two touchdowns, despite playing hurt since a shoulder injury against Dimond three weeks ago. Junior John Mikell started the season at quarterback, but Jessen said junior Rico Gillespie is the new quarterback. Jessen said other players to watch include senior defensive end Cardell Cole, senior defensive tackle Alton Drones and freshman fullback Vernon Perrywell.
"Bartlett is the toughest 0-3 team in the history of the CIFC," Juneau coach Reilly Richey said. "They ran for 546 yards against us last year (in a 49-0 Bartlett victory), and Hellrung had 192 yards on seven carries. Some of our guys still remember that."
"Last year against Bartlett we got creamed," Unruh said.
Bartlett won its opening game this year against West Valley 22-16, but since then has lost 42-18 to Service, 21-7 to Dimond, 37-14 to Palmer and 34-2 to East Anchorage. Against common opponents, Juneau beat East 42-18, beat Palmer 17-0, lost 28-27 to Dimond and beat Service 42-35 last Saturday.
"They have nothing to lose," senior fullback-linebacker Nick West said. "It's going to be an emotional game."
"We definitely can't overlook them," Keys said. "They're a tough team."
vs. Bartlett 8 p.m. varsity
5 p.m. JV
Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
The Crimson Bears are 4-1 overall, 2-1 in the Cook Inlet Football Conference. The Golden Bears are 1-4 overall, 0-3 CIFC
The Crimson Bears will be using their two-pronged land-air assault against Bartlett.
In Saturday's victory over Service, junior running back Brian Felix ran for a career-high 237 yards and four touchdowns, while Keys caught seven passes for a school-record 185 yards and a touchdown. Keys, who also had 34 yards rushing, was carted off the field with a knee injury the week before, but recovered in time for Saturday.
"I didn't expect to play a lot," Keys said. "But the knee's great. It's about 95 percent."
Felix ranks fifth in the state in rushing for the season, with 665 yards and eight touchdowns on 102 carries. Shilling ranks fourth in passing yardage, completing 29 of 58 attempts for 612 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions. Keys ranks eighth in receptions and second in yardage, with 18 catches for 440 yards and five touchdowns (he also has a rushing TD and a punt return TD).
"Juneau is very good this year and I think Felix is the very best football player in the state," Jessen wrote in an e-mail. "The Lathrop QB (Brock Graziadei) is close, but Felix is awesome."
Felix credited the line with his performance on Saturday, his second 200-yard-plus rushing game of the season. It also was Keys' second game of the season with more than 200 yards plus of total offense. Both went over 200 yards in the victory over East.
"Those guys are awesome," Felix said. "Without them I wouldn't be getting anything. And our coaches scout them pretty good."
As for the seniors, when they line up for tonight's kickoff, they'll be taking a career's worth of memories out onto the field.
"I think we'll have a lot more intensity, in all the players," senior lineman Kyle Miller said. "It's our last home game. What I'll remember is our desire. Everyone gave what they had in our games. Even when we were getting beat, everyone was spent. We were just exhausted."
"I'll remember the camps and working out with these guys," Unruh said.
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.