There are eight possible playoff scenarios that could emerge this weekend from the final Cook Inlet Football Conference games of the regular season, and some of them seemingly take a degree in rocket science to figure out the different tie-breaking formulas.
But for the No. 5 Juneau-Douglas High School football team - who play the top-ranked Chugiak Mustangs at 3 p.m. Saturday at Chugiak High School - the playoffs can be simplified to four words.
Win and Juneau's in.
If Juneau loses, there's still a possibility the Crimson Bears can make the state playoffs. But they'll need a lot of help. Also, a Juneau loss could mean the Crimson Bears will be turning their equipment back in on Monday - and not competing in the playoffs.
"We want to go out with a win," Juneau defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said about the Chugiak game, which pits the Crimson Bears against one of the stronger defenses and most innovative offenses in the state. "We don't want to sneak in the back door."
The Mustangs (4-2 overall, 4-1 CIFC) are the only CIFC team to clinch a state playoff berth so far. But there are five different teams that could wind up winning the CIFC regular-season title depending on the results of three games - tonight's Bartlett vs. West Anchorage game, Saturday's East Anchorage vs. Dimond game and the Juneau-Chugiak game.
Juneau (5-2 overall), West (5-2 overall), East (4-2 overall) and Dimond (4-3 overall) are all 3-2 in CIFC games and are fighting for the last three CIFC spots in the playoffs. One of those teams will not make the playoffs.
If Juneau wins on Saturday, and results from the other two games fall Juneau's way, then the Crimson Bears can win the CIFC title.
If Juneau finishes as one of the top two teams in the conference, the Crimson Bears will get to play one last game at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. The top two teams host state playoff first-round games the weekend of Oct. 3-4. The state semifinal games are Oct. 10-11 in Anchorage, with the state championship game Oct. 18 at Anchorage Football Stadium.
"We've got a lot of pressure on us now," junior linebacker Josh Lehauli said. "I have a good feeling about this week. We'll bring 'em back after we win."
"We've got a lot riding on this game," junior lineman Jimmy Brown said. "If we win, we could be CIFC champions. It would be really nice to go out as champions, because we might be switched to the (Northern) Railbelt next year. We need to get four more wins."
The Crimson Bears had a chance to clinch a state playoff berth last week, but Juneau lost 21-7 to West Anchorage on a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns. The loss makes this week's game more nerve-wracking for the Crimson Bears.
"We're in a do-or-die situation," senior quarterback Mark Shilling said.
"We've got to go balls to the wall, everyone knows it's do-or-die," senior fullback-linebacker Nick West said. "If we win, there's a good chance we might be champions and we might host. This is a big setting, with our big rival. Everyone on the team hates Chugiak. They've always been our biggest rivals."
Against Chugiak, the Crimson Bears will have to stop running back Glen Eichenlaub, who has run for 588 yards (12th in the state) on 117 carries with three touchdowns. They'll also have to stop quarterback Cory Wardrope, who has completed 69 of 140 passes for 1,105 yards (third in the state), seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Chugiak's top receiver is Nathan Sperry, who has caught 22 passes (ninth in the state) for 269 yards and two touchdowns.
The Crimson Bears will counter with junior running back Brian Felix, who ranks second in the state with 1,190 yards rushing on 175 carries with nine touchdowns. Felix has run for more than 200 yards four times this year, including his last three games.
Shilling has completed 42 of 85 passes for 759 yards (sixth in the state) for 12 touchdowns (third in the state) and just four interceptions. Most of those passes have gone to senior C.J. Keys, who has 25 catches (tied for sixth in the state) for 534 yards (second in the state) and seven touchdowns (tied for third in the state).
Juneau could break several regular-season team records this week, too. Felix needs 122 yards and two touchdowns to tie Ryan Wilson's 1999 records for rushing yards (1,312 yards) and rushing touchdowns (11).
Keys, who has 11 touchdowns overall (three rushing and one punt return), is tied with Wilson and can break the record for total touchdowns in a season with one more score. Keys needs just 30 yards receiving to tie Jake Dutton's 2001 record for receiving yards (564 yards). Shilling needs one more touchdown pass to tie Brett Fairchild's 2001 record of 13 TD passes in a season, and he also needs 298 yards to tie Fairchild's 2001 record of 1,057 yards passing.
But those individual records are moot points if Juneau doesn't make the playoffs. That's why the Crimson Bears are more concerned with beating Chugiak this weekend and controlling their own playoff destinies.
"We don't want to be dependent on any of the other teams to get in," Felix said. "We want to take matters into our own hands."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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