ANCHORAGE -- Saturday was the type of day that makes being a high school football fan so darn much fun.
Three big upsets. One wild finish. A handful of blowouts. Dreams of a dozen teams ending. The realization of another set of dreams.
The West Valley Wolfpack emerged from the wild and wacky regular season's final weekend as the state's lone undefeated team and Sunday was voted the No. 1 large-school squad in the final Anchorage Daily News/State Coaches Football Polls.
The Wolfpack (8-0) was followed in the large-schools poll by the formerly top-ranked Juneau-Douglas Crimson Bears (7-1), Bartlett Golden Bears (6-2), Chugiak Mustangs (6-2) and Wasilla Warriors (6-2).
The Nikiski Bulldogs (7-1) finished the regular season as the state's only No. 1 small-schools team after holding the title all seven polling weeks. The Soldotna Stars (3-5) moved up to No. 2 after Saturday's 18-13 win over the Kenai Central Kardinals (7-1), who dropped to No. 3. The Seward Seahawks (4-4) entered the poll at No. 4 and the Homer Mariners (6-2) fell to No. 5.
"It's nice. The kids are excited about being 8-0," West Valley coach Roy Roehl said. "But the guys are really excited to get going on the second season."
The large-schools quarterfinals feature West Valley hosting Palmer (4-4), Dimond (4-4) traveling to face Juneau, Chugiak hosting Bartlett and Colony (4-4) meeting Wasilla. The small-schools playoffs begin with Nikiski taking on Kenai and Seward facing Soldotna.
The regular season came to a chaotic close on Saturday with two state powerhouses -- Juneau and Kenai -- suffering their only losses of the season. The Crimson Bears lost their No. 1 ranking and perfect season when the upstart Service Cougars scored a 7-0 victory for just their second win of the year. Kenai then had its unscathed record scathed by Soldotna.
The day ended with a third upset when Wasilla downed then-No. 3 Chugiak 21-16.
"That's high school football -- that's why it's so exciting," North Pole coach Buck Nystrom said of the upsets.
The game that preceded the Service-Juneau contest at the Anchorage Football Stadium featured Bartlett coming from behind and then holding off East Anchorage for a 28-20 win.
It was the type of weekend that brought out the football fan in everyone, but especially Roehl.
Having beat Lathrop 43-20 Friday night, Roehl woke up early Saturday, packed a few coaches into his vehicle and drove to AFS in time to scout the Bartlett-East, Service-Juneau doubleheader.
After being treated to an exciting comeback and a monumental upset, Roehl rolled out to the Mat-Su Valley to exchange games tapes and pleasantries with some Wasilla Warriors staffers before heading back to Fairbanks.
"It was a pretty busy weekend," Roehl said.
And it will be a busy week for all 12 coaches still in the hunt for a state title. Not even a five-hour film session or a bad practice could drown out the euphoric feeling of playoff football.
"It's very exciting, a whole new season," Chugiak coach Travis Cantrell said.
"The whole town's pretty excited about it," Juneau coach Reilly Richey said as the Crimson Bears prepare to host their first-ever home playoff game at 7 p.m. Saturday at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park. "It's new territory for us and we're a little nervous, to be honest. But we're all 0-0 right now. After this, the rankings don't mean anything."
While a dozen coaches prepare for the playoffs, another 12 join their players to deal with the bittersweet feeling that comes with the end of a season. Even a season that ended 0-7.
"I was just thinking on the plane the other day that I'm not going to have anything to do in the afternoons anymore," Ketchikan coach Todd Stanley said. "And some of the seniors never had a winning program, but that didn't kill the fun of it for them."
So, with the regular season over and one undefeated team remaining, there's no question who deserves the title of the state's No. 1 team, right?
"Nikiski is the best team in the state, big school or small school," said Sitka coach Scott McAdams, whose Wolves faced both Nikiski and Juneau this season. "I don't see anyone out there better. I just wish they could play a game after the state championships between the two champions."
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