In this topsy-turvy year, the Juneau-Douglas High School football team's coaches wanted to avoid being ranked No. 1 when the Anchorage Daily News/Alaska State Football Coaches Polls was released each Monday during the regular season.
The Crimson Bears were able to avert a top ranking as they watched other teams take the honor, then fail to hold onto it for more than a week or two. But when the final regular-season poll was released Monday, Juneau found itself ranked No. 1 in the state for the first time since the 2001 season.
Juneau is the fifth team this season to hold the top spot, but with the state playoffs opening this weekend, the Crimson Bears aren't worried about the polls. At this time of the year, high school football teams better win on Friday or Saturday or else they're turning in their gear on Monday and calling the season done.
"The polls are just for fun," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said after Monday's practice. "It doesn't even register with us."
Juneau (6-2 overall, 4-2 CIFC) picked up six first-place votes and 54 points to earn the No. 1 ranking, while East Anchorage (5-2 overall, 4-2 CIFC) had five first-place votes and 50 points for second. Palmer (6-2 overall, 5-0 Northern Railbelt Conference) had the other two first-place and 44 points for third place, while Chugiak (4-3 overall, 4-2 CIFC) and Lathrop (6-2 overall, 4-1 NRC) round out the rankings.
"I think there's a lot of teams that can beat anybody, but I think they got it about right," Richey said. "We beat East, Palmer and Chugiak this season, but we lost to Dimond. There're so many teams that can beat each other this year."
In this season of extreme parity - none of the state's large-school teams has fewer than two losses - the Crimson Bears need to win three more games to claim their first state title.
Things were so even in the Cook Inlet Football Conference this year that if Juneau lost to Chugiak on Saturday the Crimson Bears wouldn't even make the state playoffs. Instead, Juneau pulled off a 31-7 victory over the then-No. 1 Mustangs and clinched the CIFC's top seed for the postseason.
With the victory, Juneau earned the right to host a game this weekend in the first round of the tournament. The Crimson Bears will play the CIFC's fourth-seeded team, the Dimond Lynx (4-4 overall, 3-3 CIFC) at 7 p.m. Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
"We're really trying to get the word out that we're hosting a playoff game this weekend," Richey said.
It is only the second time Juneau's hosted a first-round state playoff game, and the Crimson Bears are hoping to have a better performance than they did the last time they hosted one. In 2001, Juneau won the CIFC's top seed but fourth-seeded Dimond came to Juneau and blanked the Crimson Bears 31-0 en route to winning its second straight state title.
The Crimson Bears also are hoping to gain some revenge from their loss to Dimond earlier this season, a 28-27 decision where Juneau failed to make a game-winning, two-point conversion in the last two minutes. That was Juneau's only home loss of the year.
"Dimond and us are a good matchup," Richey said. "That (the 28-27 loss) was one of the best games we've ever been involved with."
Winning a state championship would be especially sweet for Juneau this year, Richey said. There have been several rumors floating around that the Crimson Bears will have to move to the Northern Railbelt next year when the new high school in south Anchorage opens, and Richey thinks the rumors are true.
"It's kind of neat, because there are all these rumors going around about us switching conferences and we're leaving the Cook Inlet as the top seed in two of the last three years," Richey said. "Yeah, they're kicking us out because we're too competitive for them (chuckles)."
In other large-school first-round games, Chugiak hosts East Anchorage at 2 p.m. Saturday at Chugiak High School, Palmer hosts Colony at 7 p.m. Friday at Machetanz Field in Palmer and Lathrop hosts North Pole at 6 p.m. Friday at Kiwanis Field in Fairbanks. The semifinals are Oct. 10-11 at Anchorage Football Stadium, with the championship game Oct. 18 at AFS.
The defending small-school state champion Kenai Kardinals retained the top ranking in this week's poll. Eielson followed in second place, with Soldotna third, Nikiski fourth and Kodiak fifth.
Here are the Anchorage Daily News/Alaska State Coaches Football Polls, as voted on by high school coaches and compiled by the Anchorage Daily News. The poll lists each team with first-place votes in parentheses, records through games of Sept. 27, total poll points and previous rank in the poll. Points are awarded on a 5-4-3-2-1 basis. Large schools coaches vote only in the large schools poll, while small schools coaches vote for small schools.
Team rec pts prv
1. Juneau-Douglas (6) 6-2 54 5
2. East Anchorage (5) 5-2 50 3T
3. Palmer (2) 6-2 44 2
4. Chugiak 4-3 24 1
5. Lathrop 6-2 11 -
Others receiving votes: Dimond, 4-4, 8; North Pole, 6-2, 4.
Team rec pts prv
1. Kenai Central (8) 7-1 48 1
2. Eielson (2) 7-1 42 3
3. Soldotna (1) 4-4 39 2
4. Nikiski 6-2 22 4
5. Kodiak 4-3 6 5
Others receiving votes: Anchorage Christian Schools, 4-4, 5; Houston, 3-5, 3.
The brackets for the 2003 Alaska State Football Playoffs, which open on Friday, Oct. 3.
Large school division
Game 1 - Juneau-Douglas (CIFC-Seed 1) vs. Dimond (CIFC-4), 7 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park, Juneau.
Game 2 - Chugiak (CIFC-2) vs. East Anchorage (CIFC-3), 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at Chugiak High School, Eagle River.
Game 3 - Palmer (NRBC-1) vs. Colony (NRBC-4), 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at Machetanz Field, Palmer.
Game 4 - Lathrop (NRBC-2) vs. North Pole (NRBC-3), 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, at Kiwanis Field, Fairbanks.
Game 5 - Winner of Game 1 vs. winner of Game 4, 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 10, at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Game 6 - Winner of Game 2 vs. winner of Game 3, noon Saturday, Oct. 11, at Anchorage Football Stadium.
Game 7 - Winner of Game 5 vs. winner of Game 6, 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 18, at Anchorage Football Stadium.
SMALL SCHOOL DIVISION
Game 1 - Kenai Central (NLC-Seed 1) vs. Nikiski (GLC-2), 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at Kenai Central High School.
Game 2 - Eielson (GLC-1) vs. Soldotna (NLC-2), 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, at Buck Nystrom Field, Fairbanks.
Game 3 - Winner of Game 1 vs. winner of Game 2, 3:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 11, at Anchorage Football Stadium.