The state high school football playoffs don't start until Oct. 9.
But as far as the Juneau-Douglas High School football team is concerned, the playoffs start at noon this Saturday when the Crimson Bears play the Dimond Lynx at Dimond's Alumni Field in Anchorage. The junior varsity teams play at 9 a.m. Saturday.
After winning their first two games, the Crimson Bears have slumped and now are 2-3 overall and 1-2 in the Cook Inlet Football Conference. With five strong teams in the eight-team conference and only four playoff berths, the Juneau football team can't afford another loss.
"We've got our backs against the wall," Juneau senior kicker-defensive back Danny Hernandez said. "The playoffs start today. Every game matters."
"There's a lot of pressure on us, but I think we can win it," junior wide receiver-defensive back Jordan Saceda said. "I think we have to look at the team ahead of us because one loss and we're done."
Despite their three-game losing streak, the Crimson Bears are only a couple of plays from being 4-1 and in little danger of missing the playoffs.
"We made a couple of big mistakes, and it was just a couple of little things that led to the mistakes," Juneau senior lineman Jake Ritter said. "The past three games we got stuck in a hole in the first quarter. We battled back, but it was too much. If we can come out on task and focus, I think we can get back on track."
"We're pretty confident, but we're not too confident," Juneau senior fullback-linebacker Josh Lehauli said. "We're going to have to work hard to get there."
In their 41-38 loss to Rainier Beach of Seattle, Washington's No. 3 Class 3A team, Juneau scored late in the fourth quarter and then appeared to recover the ensuing onside kick with 1 minute, 40 seconds left. But the Crimson Bears were penalized for not giving Rainier Beach an adequate chance to field the ball, and the Vikings ran out the clock.
The week before, in a 35-28 loss against defending state champion and then-No. 2 East Anchorage, the Crimson Bears were driving in the game's final minute when a pass went off the fingertips of senior wide receiver C.J. Keys' hands in the end zone. Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said Keys makes that catch at least three out of every four times in practice.
And even two weeks ago, when Juneau lost 49-9 to No. 1 West Anchorage, the Crimson Bears had a chance to do better than the score showed. Juneau turned the ball over three times early in the first quarter and the Eagles turned all three blunders into touchdowns. Juneau and West were even after that, until midway through the third quarter when the Eagles scored on a run and deflated the Bears' hopes.
"It's just been simple mistakes," Saceda said. "We've had some uncommon mistakes, too, some flukes. I wouldn't be surprised if we can get it turned around."
Dimond (1-4 overall, 0-4 CIFC) is one of the three bottom teams in the conference, and playing the Lynx might be just what the Crimson Bears need to get back on track after two close losses.
The Lynx beat Wasilla 39-6 to open the season, but haven't won since entering conference play. Dimond lost its first three CIFC games by a combined score of 163-0, but last week the Lynx showed some life in a 42-21 loss to No. 4 Bartlett. That makes Dimond a dangerous foe.
"Dimond is out of the playoffs, so they have nothing to lose," Juneau senior lineman Jesse Vaughn said.
"Hopefully we can use them to catch our rhythm," Hernandez said of the Lynx. "We just need to do the little things to get going."
Danny Moss, a 5-foot-4, 140-pound junior scatback, ran for 127 yards and two touchdowns to lead Dimond in last Saturday's loss to Bartlett, while junior running back Nathan Carey ran for 57 yards and caught three passes for 90 yards. One of Carey's three receptions was a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Billy Perry, the only Dimond player listed among the state's stat leaders compiled by the Anchorage Daily News.
Perry is the 16th-ranked quarterback in passing yardage with 18 completions in 45 attempts for 236 yards, with one touchdown and five interceptions.
On defense, Dimond struggled as Bartlett ran 50 times for 318 yards and completed 10 of 18 passes for 199 yards. The Golden Bears ran for five touchdowns and threw for another, which bodes well for Juneau's usually explosive offense.
Juneau senior Brian Felix ranks fourth in the state in rushing with 615 yards and seven touchdowns on 114 carries (5.4 yards per run average). Felix also has returned an interception for a touchdown this year.
Even though their passing game has struggled in recent weeks, the Crimson Bears have two quarterbacks rated ahead of Perry.
Sophomore Chris Hinkley is 12th, completing 22 of 43 passes for 415 yards, five touchdowns and four interceptions.
Junior Pat Kohan is 15th, completing 27 of 61 passes for 372 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions.
Junior wide receiver Angelo Katasse is in a five-way tie for fifth place in receptions with 13 catches for 241 yards and one touchdown.
Keys, who struggled early this season, had a breakout game last weekend and now ranks 11th in receptions with 11 catches for 260 yards and four touchdown catches (Keys also has a punt return for a touchdown and a rushing touchdown).
In last Saturday's loss to Rainier Beach, Keys caught seven passes for a school-record 191 yards, breaking his single-game record of 185 yards receiving set last year against Service. Keys also scored four touchdowns - two on passes from Kohan, one on a pass from Hinkley and once on a rush. And he ran six times for 58 yards.
"We know we've got to work harder now," Vaughn said. "You could say that every game is a playoff game from now on. I feel we're starting to flush it (the losses away) a little bit. The team is working as a whole unit now, and we know we can't lose any more games."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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