As the Juneau-Douglas High School football team prepared for tonight's regular-season finale against the West Anchorage Eagles, the Crimson Bears weren't too concerned about their slim possibilities for making the state playoffs.
The Crimson Bears just want a victory over the winless Eagles at 7 p.m. tonight at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, so they can close out the season with a winning record.
The playoff worries will come on Saturday afternoon when Juneau waits to see what happens in Anchorage when Chugiak hosts Bartlett and Dimond plays Service. Depending on what happens there, Juneau may or may not make the playoffs. But the Crimson Bears need some help. A victory by Bartlett eliminates Juneau outright from the playoffs, while a Service victory does Juneau more good than a Dimond win. There are ways Juneau can make the playoffs with either Service-Dimond result. So Saturday afternoon will find the Juneau players cheering on Chugiak, and maybe even a few will root for Service.
"This weekend we like Chugiak," said Juneau wide receiver-punter-defensive back Chris Connally, who earlier this season said the Crimson Bears hated the Mustangs. "We hate Chugiak when we have to play them, but this weekend we like Chugiak."
As far as the various playoff scenarios, Connally said, "We leave that to the coach and we go play football. We look at every team like they're the best team in the state. Then we play as hard as we can and hope we come out with the victory."
"We're Chugiak fans," Juneau running back-defensive back Jason Cameron said. "We really want to get to the playoffs for these seniors, but we have to take care of West first."
The Crimson Bears (3-3 overall, 2-3 CIFC) face a team in West (0-7 overall, 0-5 CIFC) that hasn't won a game all season, but the Eagles aren't necessarily pushovers. Earlier this season the Eagles gave the undefeated Dimond Lynx a challenge before losing 28-15.
"We'll control what we can control, and that's beating West," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said.
"Every year in our conference they (the Eagles) haven't had the best record, but they've always played a tough, physical game against us," Juneau offensive coordinator Mike Hutcherson said. "They have a lot of heart. One year they only brought 19 kids down here but still beat us something like 41-whatever. We don't expect them to roll over for us."
The Eagles don't have some of the star-power that other teams in the CIFC have, but they do have a potent running attack led by Somoni Llolio and one of the state's top wide receivers in Ski Davis. Gary Roberts is West's quarterback.
"We don't see these guys enough and they didn't get a lot of media coverage for us to really know a lot about them," Hutcherson said. "They run a lot of power sets and they're a pretty basic team on offense. They'll throw a bit, slants and fades. We've got to strap up and be ready to hit."
"With West we know every player out there is there to play football," Juneau lineman Randy Wolfenberger said. "They're not out for glory, they don't have some of the prima donnas like other teams."
As Juneau's last home game, Friday night will be a time to honor the Crimson Bear seniors. For players like lineman Jason "Train" Kaeser, one of only a handful of players to start all four years of his high school career, the game will be an emotional experience. Kaeser said he's already starting to realize this may be his last high school football game, if Juneau doesn't make the playoffs.
"So far, like it's hit me like a ton of bricks," Kaeser said. "Monday I was at home and I started crying when I realized this may be my last game. I'll miss this with all my heart.
"There never will be another place like this to play football," he said, pointing to Thunder Mountain beyond one of the Adair-Kennedy end zones. "The community has really gotten behind us."
Wolfenberger is another senior who will be playing his last home game tonight. He said he's watched Juneau's football program improve quite a bit over the last several years, and in some ways he thinks this year's team might be better than last year's - the first in Juneau's history to make the state playoffs.
"We don't have the same superstars, but we have more people interested in going out for football," Wolfenberger said. "I think our chemistry's better this year."
As for the playoffs, the Crimson Bears would enjoy making them. But for now their main focus is just beating West.
"There's not so much we can do about the playoffs," Kaeser said. "But we can control our own destiny with West. We have to beat them before we can even worry about playing in the state playoffs. Friday night, all we want to do is beat West so we can have a winning season."