If this were golf, it would be called taking a mulligan.
The top-ranked Juneau-Douglas High School football team will get a chance to avenge one of its two regular-season losses when the Crimson Bears host the Dimond Lynx in the first round of the state playoffs. Game time is 7 p.m. Saturday night at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
The Crimson Bears will be seeking revenge for a 28-27 loss to Dimond on Aug. 29. In that game, Juneau had a chance to take the lead with less than two minutes left in the game, but failed to make a two-point conversion. It was Juneau's only home loss of the year.
In this season of extreme parity - a year where every large-school team lost at least twice - there is no clear-cut favorite as teams enter the state playoffs.
Juneau, which moved to the top of the state poll this week, won the top seed from the Cook Inlet Football Conference in a three-way tie-breaker with second-seeded Chugiak and third-seeded East Anchorage. But the Crimson Bears needed to win their last game just to make the playoffs. Juneau beat then-No. 1 Chugiak 31-7 last Saturday, but if the Crimson Bears had lost they wouldn't be playing at all this weekend.
"We're just happy to have this opportunity," Juneau offensive coordinator Rich Sjoroos said. "We had our backs against the wall. We're happy to have a second chance with anybody, because that means we're in the playoffs."
In this weekend's other first-round playoff games, Chugiak hosts East Anchorage at 2 p.m. Saturday, Palmer hosts Colony at 7 p.m. tonight and Lathrop hosts North Pole at 6 p.m. tonight. The winner of the Juneau-Dimond game will play the winner of the Lathrop-North Pole game at 6 p.m. Oct. 10 at Anchorage Football Stadium. The other semifinal game is Oct. 11 at AFS, and the championship game is Oct. 18 at AFS.
When Juneau (6-2 overall, 4-2 CIFC) and Dimond (4-4 overall, 3-3 CIFC) play each other, it's usually a close football game. The two teams have played six times since the 1999 season, and four of those games have been decided by four points or fewer. Dimond beat Juneau 13-9 last year.
The last time Juneau hosted a state playoff game, in 2001, the Crimson Bears met a Dimond team Juneau beat 10-7 in the regular season. The Lynx blitzed the Crimson Bears 31-0 in the playoff game.
"We've made some changes since earlier this season," said junior lineman Jake Ritter, who avoided serious injury in a single-car accident Monday night and is expected to play despite 24 stitches in his forehead. "We want some revenge. Some of us, who were freshmen, still remember the last time we hosted them in the playoffs."
"They've beaten us three times in a row, and they've beaten us when we were a No. 1 seed and they were a No. 4 seed," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "They're not going to be intimidated coming in here. I expect it to be another close game. Hopefully we can come out on top this time."
The last time Juneau played Dimond was one of the closest high school football games ever played in Juneau, with four lead changes in the second half and six for the game.
Dimond running back Darrell Pilcher scored three touchdowns - two on offense and one on a fumble recovery early in the first quarter - while Dimond quarterback Troy Bittner hit tight end Joel Tomco for a 49-yard yard touchdown pass.
Juneau, which trailed 14-0 midway through the first quarter, picked up two touchdowns from junior running back Brian Felix, while senior quarterback Mark Shilling hit senior fullback Toni Talamai and senior wide receiver C.J. Keys for a pair of touchdown passes. Shilling also ran in a two-point conversion in the second quarter.
The Crimson Bears pulled within one point - 28-27 - when Felix scored with 1 minute, 58 seconds left in the game. But on the conversion attempt, senior fullback Nick West, who had been injured earlier in the game, slipped on the wet turf coming out of the backfield and Shilling wound up with no open receivers.
"They've still got Pilcher and Bittner and Tomco's healthy, and No. 34 (Milo Ward) is coming on," Juneau defensive coordinator Ray Bradley said. "Their coaching staff is a good coaching staff. We've got to do what we've done to get here, and we allowed the fewest points in the conference this season."
Pilcher ranks 11th in the state in rushing with 712 yards and five touchdowns on 117 carries. Bittner has completed 23 of 75 passes for 496 yards (11th in the state), with five touchdowns and two interceptions. Dimond was ranked No. 1 earlier this season, but since then has lost its last three games.
Felix is the state's second-leading rusher with a school-record 1,353 yards and school-record 12 touchdowns on 207 carries. Shilling has completed 47 of 98 passes for 841 yards (fifth in the state), with 12 touchdowns (fourth) and four interceptions. Keys finished the season with 27 catches (tied for seventh in the state) for 563 yards (second) and seven touchdowns (tied for fourth).
The Crimson Bears have had a few distractions this week, as Juneau coped with its first No. 1 ranking since 2001 and also tried to get students caught up in their classes after being on the road three of the past four weekends.
One of Juneau's biggest worries was the health of Ritter, who has one of the longest commutes of any student at Juneau-Douglas High School. Ritter said he'd been up late with all the travel and homework left over from the Chugiak trip (the team's plane overflew Juneau because of the fog and the players had to make their way back from Ketchikan), and he fell asleep at the wheel on his way home from Monday night's practice. He went off the road near the Spaulding Meadows trailhead and rolled his truck.
"I wouldn't be here right now if I hadn't been wearing my seatbelt," said Ritter, who has a long imprint bruise from the seatbelt across his chest. "My truck is totaled."
"Jake had 24 stitches in his forehead and a black-and-blue mark across his chest, but he's going to play this weekend," Richey said. "He's a tough kid. He's been an inspiration to rest of the team."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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