The Juneau-Douglas High School Crimson Bears football team didn't have the best of weeks last Saturday when they lost 42-7 to top-ranked Dimond on Saturday.
But things won't be much easier Friday when Juneau hosts No. 3 Service at 7 p.m. at the Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park football field. The Cougars have won three of the last four state championships, and this year's Service team is starting to play like its predecessors.
"It was a game we didn't play well in," Juneau coach Reilly Richey said of last weekend's Dimond loss. "We know we're a better team than that."
"Service is always a tough team," Juneau senior lineman Jason 'Train' Kaeser said. "Whenever you get more than 100 guys to come out every year, you're always going to have a strong team. We'll have to play tough, smash-mouth football to beat them."
New Service coach Jason Caldarera said the Cougars (4-1 overall, 3-0 Cook Inlet Football Conference) plan to bring 50 players with them to Juneau (2-2 overall, 1-2 CIFC), giving them plenty of bodies to run through their two-platoon system. The team's Web site lists 17 coaches from the varsity down to the Service C team, which is nearly as many players as some of the state's smaller school football teams list on their rosters.
The two-platoon system, where one squad plays only offense and another plays just defense, is one of the secrets to Service's success. The better athletes on most teams end up having to play both ways (offense and defense), so Service's two-platoon system helps keep the Cougars fresher in games. It also helps in practice, since players are able to devote their practice time to one position.
Whenever Service plays a team like Juneau's, which uses multiple sets on offense, those extra repetitions in practice pay off.
"Because we platoon, we can scheme against multiple sets," Caldarera said. "We're really fortunate to be able to platoon."
On offense, Service rarely strays from its bread-and-butter Wing T formation, but last weekend the Cougars also used the Super I (or Stacked I) formation in a 34-22 victory over East Anchorage. Both formations are running sets, which the Cougars have used to gain about 420 yards on the ground last week, plus the Cougars had their first 50-yard-plus passing day of the season. Service averages 353 yards rushing a game, and the Cougar defense has only allowed an average of 48 yards rushing per game in its last three contests (Service gave up 162 yards rushing in its overtime season-opening loss to Colony, more than in its last three games combined).
"The Wing T is about blocking angles and quickness. It's not necessarily about strength and powering through," Caldarera said. Service's line, which is anchored by all-state linemen Logan Holland and Philip Dougherty, has got size to balance its speed. Caldarera said Dougherty had 17 "flatbacks" or pancakes last week, where he knocked his opposing defensive lineman onto his back, and said Dougherty thinks he's got a 20-flatback game in him.
Juneau's line will play a big role in Friday's game, especially since Service has one of the stingiest defenses in the state. Michael Auelua leads the linebacking corps, with Mike Akers adding support. Stefan Novotney is Service's best cover cornerback and in the last two weeks he's held West Anchorage's Ski Davis and East's Jevon Moore to just one or two catches apiece.
"We have pretty good explosion (on the line). It'll be whoever's lowest," Juneau center Bret Russell said. "I think our line did really well against Dimond. We know what they're going to do. They're quick, but they're not any better than we are."
"We definitely have the skill to match up with them," Juneau lineman Henry Wyatt added. "We've been working hard, trying to improve on our mistakes. We were getting too high. We've got to get low and power through. Our execution needs to be better."
Service fullback Gabe Krizman is the state's leading rusher, with 709 yards and six touchdowns, but Krizman is hobbled by an ankle injury and will only see spot action this week, Caldarera said. Joshua Lazar is 13th in the rushing rankings with 336 yards and five touchdowns, but Lazar is hobbled by hip and ankle injuries. So the Cougars will just plug in any number of other runners, like Ryan Ersland -- who had three touchdowns last week -- Mathew Akers and Dawson Marchant, plus quarterback James Wheeler, a dangerous player who used to be a running back for the Cougars.
Juneau rushed for 153 yards against Dimond last week, but the Crimson Bears will have their hands full with Service. Juneau's known more for its passing game this season, with quarterback Brett Fairchild ranked fifth in the state (33-for-80 and 545 yards, seven touchdowns and three interceptions), but the Crimson Bears are trying to run more. Jason Cameron is Juneau's leading rusher with 192 yards, only 32nd in the state, but the Crimson Bears spread out the ball and don't use just one back. Cameron, who was taken to the hospital with a concussion last week, will play Friday wearing a specially padded helmet. Plus the Crimson Bears return an experienced runner to the lineup in Booker Drennan, who has been sidelined with a shoulder injury.
"I think our running game has gotten better," offensive coordinator Mike Hutcherson said. "Our guys only get 10 to 15 carries, so they may get 80 yards. If they were getting 20 carries like the other teams, they'd be averaging more than 100 yards rushing."