During Wednesday's practice, the Juneau-Douglas High School football team ran through plays quietly. The caw of ravens flying by Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park sometimes seemed louder than the chatter of players and coaches.
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That kind of focus will be needed if the Crimson Bears (5-3) hope to knock off host Palmer (5-3) in the state large-school quarterfinals at 8 p.m. Saturday.
"They're really focused," JDHS coach Bill Chalmers said. "We've been looking forward to this game since that notorious day back in September."
That notorious day Chalmers refers to is Sept. 1, the season's fourth week.
JDHS fell 26-6 at Palmer that day. It was the Moose's first-ever victory against the defending state champs.
"We watched film of it on Monday and the kids have it pretty much memorized," Chalmers said. "This is the play where I really blew it. This is where I dropped this one. This is where I got pancaked. The attitude has been really, really positive this week."
Despite the loss, Juneau-Douglas felt only three or four big plays by the Moose resulted in the final score. Two long runs for touchdowns by quick and rugged running backs Tanner Grover and Hakken Bohman, along with Jeff Mitchell's 45-yard interception return for a score, proved the difference.
Who: JDHS (5-3) vs. Palmer (5-3).
When: 7 p.m. Saturday. game broadcast on AM 800 KINY.
Where: Machetanz Field in Palmer.
What's at stake? The winner of Saturday's game will take on either undefeated South Anchorage or Bartlett in the state semifinals.
Watching where and how the breakdowns occurred has armed JDHS with information about itself and its opponent.
"It's not too hard," JDHS defensive end Zach Heppner said of watching the game tape. "We executed all game long besides a couple big plays, because people took plays off. And turnovers, those things killed us."
A key for Juneau-Douglas will be stopping Palmer's triple-threat rushing attack.
Bohman and Grover are among Alaska's best running tandem. Bohman has 987 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on 152 carries this season, good for an impressive 6.5 yards per carry.
Grover is a rock-solid back, able to run in between the tackles or take it outside.
Quarterback Garrett Smith is more of a threat to run than throw. He completed just one pass in the Sept. 1 win.
Along the line, Palmer has a penchant for pulling their big guards to the outside on running plays.
"We're always watching the offensive line," JDHS linebacker/fullback Alex Robinson said. "They pull guards so we have to watch them."
Given Bohman and Grover's speed, JDHS must wrap them up when it has the opportunity. One missed tackle or blown defensive assignment could result in six for the Moose.
"It's a matter of not taking any plays off and then taking advantage of situations on offense, working on field position and hanging on to the ball," Chalmers said.
Holding on to the football will be crucial for the Crimson Bears. The team has averaged 3.75 turnovers per game in their last four contests.
"That's one of our goals - to eliminate those turnovers and take the ball away from them a few times," Chalmers said. "There's a tremendous momentum change in a turnovers - psychologically and physically with field position. That's what really killed us in the first game."
Juneau must also be able to move the ball against a stingy Palmer defense.
JDHS should be heading into Saturday's game with confidence after effectively gaining yards against tough Scotts Valley, Calif. last week.
Despite losing 35-29, quarterback Chris Hinkley enjoyed a solid game. He passed for more than 200 yards and four TDs in the loss.
Two of those TD passes went to Daryl Lew, who set a new school record with 11 receptions for 141 yards. Lew and Alex Fagerstrom currently rank seventh and ninth state-wide in receptions.
While execution will be the key to victory for either team, both Palmer and JDHS will not lack for incentive.
In addition to a berth in the state semifinals, both teams will probably have revenge on their minds. JDHS defeated Palmer in the state championship game last year, while the Crimson Bears are looking to avenge Sept. 1.
"After that game," Robinson said of the Sept. 1 loss, "everyone was like, 'We want to come back and beat them on their field and get it done there.'"
The Crimson Bears will have that opportunity Saturday.
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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