The dream season of the Juneau-Douglas High School football team turned into a nightmare Saturday night as the Crimson Bears dropped a 31-0 decision to the defending state champion Dimond Lynx in the first round of the state football playoffs at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park.
As the final seconds ticked off the clock, a few tears flowed on the Juneau sideline as the seniors realized this might be the final football game of their lives. There was also some bittersweet feelings as the Crimson Bears realized they made school history by winning their first Cook Inlet Football Conference title and hosting their first playoff game, but they also saw a once-promising undefeated season end with two scoreless losses and an offense that struggled to score just 34 points in its last five games.
Not only did the Crimson Bears (7-2 overall) lose their first home playoff game in school history, but they also lost their first home game dating back to the 1998 season. Juneau had won its previous 13 straight home games. Dimond (5-4) also avenged a 10-7 loss to Juneau Sept. 21 at Adair-Kennedy.
"Right now all the players and coaches are kind of woozy," Juneau head coach Reilly Richey said. "There's a lot of disappointment, and it'll be a couple of weeks before it starts to fade away."
"We all know we had a good season, but it's really sad we went out with two losses," Juneau senior defensive back Willy Dodd said.
The Crimson Bears' game plan had been to try to run on Dimond's defense, but a holding penalty snuffed Juneau's first drive and the Crimson Bears had to punt after three plays. Juneau's defense bent, but didn't break on Dimond's first drive as the Lynx could only get to the 18-yard line. Juneau was moving the ball on its second drive, but the drive stalled at midfield and Dimond didn't fall for Juneau's fake punt.
On the next play after the fake punt, Dimond's Joe Chirhart took an option pitch and went off the right tackle, scoring on a 47-yard run to make it 6-0 with 3 minutes, 58 seconds to go in the first quarter. On the play Chirhart made a cut just as Dodd, who was Juneau's last defender, slipped on the turf and Dodd could only reach out and tap Chirhart's shoe as he went by.
"They didn't do anything different than the last time we played them," Dodd said. "We made some mistakes and it seemed like we were pinned back in our own end zone. They got us out of our game plan, which was to try and run more, and with Jacob Dutton hurt we didn't have much of a passing game."
Early in the second quarter, Dimond used a three-back veer set to drive down and score again. This time the Lynx scored on a one-yard dive by Brandon Joseph, and quarterback Jason Simmons ran in the conversion to make it 14-0 with 8:11 left in the half.
On Dimond's next drive, Juneau hurt itself with penalties. Dimond had a 20-yard touchdown run by Joseph called back by a holding penalty, only to pick up a first down because of a late hit by Juneau's Jason Cameron. Dimond took advantage of another late hit penalty by Bret West to keep its drive alive, then Chirhart scored on a one-yard run with 2:50 left. When Adam Hensel made the extra point, Dimond's 21 points at halftime were the most Juneau had allowed in a single game all season.
"We had problems with the veer they were running," Juneau senior lineman Jonathan Moore said. "We did decent against it last time."
In the third quarter, Chirhart returned the opening kickoff 86 yards to the 4-yard line. Juneau's defense stopped two runs by Joseph for minus-five yards, but Dimond responded with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Simmons to tight end Kris Hodges to make it 28-0. Hensel hit a 26-yard field goal later in the quarter for the final margin.
Simmons was Dimond's starting quarterback when the Lynx posted a perfect 11-0 record and won the state tournament last year. But this year he broke his collarbone in the second game of the season, and he didn't see his first action since the injury until Saturday. Having Simmons back in the lineup was a big key for Dimond, which has had several players miss games with injuries.
"I stood on the sidelines two weeks ago and watched a tough loss," Simmons said. "I wanted to play. At halftime we were thinking they could still come back. When I was here two years ago, we were up 14-0 at halftime and they came back to win (20-19) and that kept us out of the playoffs."
"Without a doubt, having Jason back at quarterback helped because that allowed us to move Chris (Flakes, who was quarterback two weeks ago) back to defense," Dimond coach Duncan Shackelford said. "It is tough to play a team twice in a row, and I think Juneau made very few mistakes against us the last time we played. Without practicing for three days, we watched a lot of film."
As Dimond's lead grew, Juneau started trying to force plays on offense and quarterback Brett Fairchild was intercepted four times and had several other passes that were very nearly picked off. Fairchild, the CIFC's offensive player of the year, had his worst passing day of the season with four completions on 26 attempts and only 22 yards. He did lead Juneau in rushing with 53 yards, as the quarterback draw seemed to be Juneau's best play on offense.
Juneau did drive close to the Dimond goal line as time was running down at the end of the game, but the drive ended with a loss on fourth down at the Dimond 14-yard line.
The playoff atmosphere was still a little new for most of the Crimson Bears, even though Juneau made its first trip to the state tournament two years ago. While a few of the Juneau players were on that playoff team, many of them didn't play so the experience was still new to them.
"This didn't seem like every other game we ever played this season," Moore said. "I don't know whether they (the Lynx) were used to it, but they stepped it up. This was great experience for our younger players, though."
Charles Bingham can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.