Crimson Bears hold on to top spot

Posted: Monday, September 17, 2001

ANCHORAGE -- Autumn in Alaska is a time when the leaves turn yellow, the evenings get cool and dark, and bears gorge themselves in preparation for a long, cold winter.

Two sets of bruins -- the Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears and the Bartlett Golden Bears -- have been on especially frenzied feeding runs on the state's football fields recently, preparing for what they hope are long playoff runs.

The Crimson Bears remained at the top of the state's high school football food chain for the second week after being voted the No. 1 large school in the Anchorage Daily News/Alaska State Football Coaches Polls on Sunday.

The undefeated Crimson Bears (6-0) were followed in the poll by another mean team of carnivores, the West Valley Wolfpack. West Valley (6-0) and No. 3 Chugiak (5-1) each solidified positions they earned in last week's poll with big wins on Saturday.

The Golden Bears (4-2) made their first visit to the state's top five this season at No. 4, followed by Dimond (3-3), which slipped one spot in the poll to No. 5.

Nikiski (5-1) held down No. 1 for the fifth week of small-schools polling. Kenai (6-0) remained entrenched at the No. 2 spot, followed by Homer (5-1) moving up to No. 3. Houston (2-4) entered the poll at No. 4 and Soldotna (2-4) anchors No. 5.

The Bartlett Golden Bears found their way onto the poll following three straight win totals over 25 points and Saturday's resounding 36-6 victory over Dimond.

"Our conference is really competitive, but we believe we can play with anybody," Bartlett coach John Jessen said.

Bartlett's vicious running game is getting plenty of attention as the squad features two of the state's top rushers in Tyler Blewett (762 rushing yards, eight touchdowns) and Boaz Gionson (494, eight).

Bartlett's two losses came in close decisions to a pair of ranked teams in Juneau (14-7) and Chugiak (20-12).

"They played a perfect game against us," Jessen said of the Juneau contest. "They're tough to beat."

The bad news for the Golden Bears and the rest of the state's large schools is that even when the Crimson Bears are bad, they're good.

Juneau picked up a 14-7 road win over the Colony Knights on Saturday despite the Crimson Bears having their worst all-around performance of the season and seeing its vaunted passing attack grounded.

With Colony swarming the secondary, Juneau went where it seldom ventures ... the ground. Sione Tupou seized the day, rushing for 122 yards and both Juneau touchdowns.

"Colony shut out our passing game," Crimson Bears coach Reilly Richey said. "They had eight guys in coverage, and they forced us to do things we weren't doing previously. And Tupou came through.

"Hopefully that will make us better. We're having to work on the things we're not good at."

Despite Saturday's showing, one thing Juneau excels at is passing. Senior quarterback Brett Fairchild is a savvy veteran and the state's second-most productive passer, throwing for 913 yards, 10 touchdowns and just three interceptions.

What makes Fairchild even more dangerous are his leadership qualities and his two Jakes: wide receiver Jacob Dutton (19 receptions, 486 yards, 7 touchdowns) and tight end Jake Miller (16, 159, 2).

"Every coach in this conference respects his arm and his talent to lead that team," Service coach Jason Caldarera said of Fairchild.

"He's such a leader and does so many of the intangibles," Richey added. "He knows how to get the kids motivated, and he's a selfless player. He's out there to do whatever he can for the team."

Juneau's most reliable weapon, however, might be its defense. The Crimson Bears have allowed the fewest points in large-schools play (57) and the fewest yards in the Cook Inlet Conference (1,127, 187.8 per game).

"I was really surprised at how well they flow to the ball," Wasilla coach Nathan Ford said. "They've got pretty good team speed, but they're always getting in the backfield."

"They're a really good fundamental team at tackling," Colony coach Tom Lincoln added.

The Crimson Bears have held four of their six opponents to seven or fewer points, an important stat considering they've won their last two games by a combined 10 points.

"Our team just doesn't panic, because they know the defense will keep us in games," Richey said. "We're winning close games, and whenever you win close games your defense is always a big part of that."

Despite their success, the Crimson Bears are still hungry and have yet to peak.

"I don't really feel like we've put our best game together yet," Richey said. "For a team that is 6-0, they were the most dejected group of kids you could see after the (Colony) game. They weren't happy with their performance."

Uh oh, say the Dimond Lynx. The defending state champs have lost two straight and fly south to face Juneau on Friday. Juneau has won 12 straight at home.

"It's a real important game for us -- we want to clinch a home-field berth (for the playoffs) and we're in a position where we can win the conference championship," Richey said.

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