At first glance, the Juneau-Douglas High School football team's 35-8 victory over the defending state champion Bartlett Golden Bears on Friday night might appear to be a blowout.
But No. 2 Juneau's last home game of the season - and possibly the last Cook Inlet Football Conference game to be played at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park - was much closer than the final score.
How close? Let's count the ways.
After the Crimson Bears took a 26-0 lead in the first quarter, Juneau outscored Bartlett by just one point, 9-8.
The Golden Bears outrushed Juneau 355 yards to 311. Even though Crimson Bear junior Brian Felix rushed for a career-high 267 yards on 28 carries, Bartlett had two runners go over the 100-yard mark (Henry Hellrung with 157 and Vernon Pennywell with 109).
Bartlett had a 79-yard touchdown run by quarterback Rico Gillespie negated by a clipping penalty on the 19-yard line just before halftime, a call Bartlett coach John Jessen was still disputing when the game ended.
The Golden Bears had problems holding onto the rain-drenched football, losing four of their 11 fumbles. That total includes two costly fumbles when Bartlett was driving for touchdowns (at the 16-yard-line and at the 2-yard line) and another bobble in the fourth quarter on Bartlett's own 9-yard line that Juneau converted for its final touchdown.
"They're a tough team," said Juneau senior wide receiver-defensive back C.J. Keys, who scored two touchdowns. "They've got our respect."
"They hung tough," Felix added. "That was a game I thought was going to be a blowout at first."
With the victory, the Crimson Bears (5-1 overall, 3-1 CIFC) kept alive their hopes of hosting a first-round state playoff game the weekend of Oct. 3-4. The top two CIFC teams will host first-round playoff games and the top four teams in the conference win berths at state.
Friday night's game might have been Juneau's last home game as a member of the CIFC since there's a possibility of some shuffling of conferences after this season. Juneau is the only non-Anchorage team in the CIFC and there are two new Anchorage schools under construction with one scheduled to open next year. Since the Northern Railbelt Conference lost a member when Eielson dropped to the small schools division, the Crimson Bears expect to change conferences.
"Everyone remembers how Bartlett beat us last year (49-0)," Juneau junior lineman Jake Ritter said.
Even with more than the usual hubbub surrounding senior night, Juneau didn't waste much time getting onto the scoreboard. Four plays after taking the opening kickoff, the Crimson Bears took a 7-0 lead as Keys ran a sweep to the left for a 32-yard score.
Juneau's defense held Bartlett to three-and-out on the next series, then Jesse Vaughn blocked the punt by Bartlett's Curtis Worland and recovered it for a loss of 14 yards. On the next play, Felix ran it in 30 yards for another touchdown.
"That pretty much set the tone," Vaughn said of the block. "Everyone's confidence was up after that. Our defense was doing awesome, it was beautiful."
On Bartlett's next series, the Crimson Bear defense held again, forcing the Golden Bears to punt after another three-and-out. This time Worland got his punt off, but Juneau was back in the end zone on the next play as quarterback Mark Shilling hit Keys with a 46-yard touchdown pass.
Bartlett (1-5 overall, 0-4 CIFC) fumbled the ball away three plays into its next possession. This time it took Juneau five plays to find the end zone. Shilling hit sophomore Ryan Fagerstrom with a 9-yard touchdown pass in the left corner of the end zone, and Fagerstrom made a nice diving catch with a Bartlett defender hanging all over him as Juneau took a 26-0 lead.
"Today, that was the way to start a game," Juneau senior kicker-defensive back Richard Isett said.
The game was pretty one-sided after the first quarter, but there were still three quarters left and it could be said Bartlett dominated those.
Bartlett didn't record a first down until the opening play of the second quarter, but the Golden Bear offense was firing on all cylinders from then on.
The Golden Bears scored midway through the second quarter when Gillespie ran it in from the 2-yard line for a touchdown and Avery Jackson ran in the two-point conversion to make it 26-8. Bartlett had two more chances to score in the second quarter, but lost a fumble at the 16-yard line to end one drive (Juneau's Ryan West had the recovery) and the clipping penalty as time was running out in the half prevented the other score.
"It was the fumbles and that call, that call was a difference maker," Jessen said. "There's a myth up in Anchorage that officiating gets weird down here. I don't buy into the myth, but I do want to see the game film. That play turned the game. In the second half, we didn't execute."
Bartlett, which got some big gains on a trick delayed-handoff play that went over the back of the running back, drove down to the 2-yard line to open the third quarter. But Gillespie fumbled the ball and Juneau's Nick West recovered the ball. Felix appeared to fumble the ball back to Bartlett on the next play, but was ruled down before losing the ball and Juneau retained possession.
Juneau, which had been moving the ball at will but not scoring, struggled with penalties in the middle two quarters. The Crimson Bears only had one penalty in the fourth quarter and started scoring again. Isett, who barely missed wide right a 45-yard field goal in the second quarter, connected on a 33-yard field goal to make it 29-8. Then, two plays after a Bartlett fumble, Shilling hit Nick West with a 7-yard touchdown pass for the final score.
"I was glad for another chance," West said. "I missed one in the Dimond game (a 28-27 loss)."
"Penalties really killed us," Juneau junior lineman Alika Bradley said. "Bartlett is a good team and they had a couple of trick plays that were really getting some years. We're pretty happy about winning, but our next two games are really big for us."
The Crimson Bears close out the regular season with a pair of road games - against No. 3 West Anchorage this Saturday and No. 4 Chugiak on Sept. 27.
In the junior varsity game, the Juneau JV team remained undefeated with a 44-14 victory over Bartlett on Friday. Tom Topui ran for 238 yards on 37 carries and scored four touchdowns, while throwing a TD pass to Devon Bliss to lead Juneau. Lane Miller added a touchdown run for the Crimson Bears.
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
CRIMSON BEARS 35, GOLDEN BEARS 8
Friday's game from Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park
BARTLETT 0 8 0 0 - 8
JUNEAU-DOUGLAS 26 0 0 9 - 35
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 32 run (Isett kick), 10:38.
Juneau-Douglas - Felix 30 run (kick blocked), 8:39.
Juneau-Douglas - Keys 46 pass from M. Shilling (pass failed), 6:51.
Juneau-Douglas - Fagerstrom 9 pass from M. Shilling (Isett kick), 4:23.
Bartlett - R. Gillespie 2 run (A. Jackson run), 7:27.
Juneau-Douglas - FG, Isett 33, 8:25.
Juneau-Douglas - N. West 7 pass from M. Shilling (kick blocked), 5:40.
First downs 18 13
Rushes-yards 63-355 47-311
Passing yards 19 76
Return yards 55 39
Comp-att-int 3-10-0 6-10-0
Sacked-yards lost 2-19 0-0
Punts-ave 2-14.0 3-47.7
Fumbles-lost 11-4 3-1
Penalties-yards 4-40 11-85
RUSHING - Bartlett: Hellrung 19-157, Pennywell 20-109, R. Gillespie 17-67, A. Jackson 4-15, Debrill 3-7. Juneau-Douglas: Felix 28-267, Keys 4-26, Winters 3-11, Talamai 3-8, M. Shilling 4-4, R. West 2-3, Malacas 1-(-3), Kohan 2-(-7).
PASSING - Bartlett: R. Gillespie 3-10-0 - 19. Juneau-Douglas: M. Shilling 6-10-0 - 76.
RECEIVING - Bartlett: Hall 2-11, Hellrung 1-8. Juneau-Douglas: Keys 3-52, Fagerstrom 1-9, Talamai 1-8, N. West 1-7.
MISSED FIELD GOALS - Bartlett: None. Juneau-Douglas: Isett 45 (wide right).