The Crimson Bears refused to let the past dictate the outcome of last weekend's come-from-behind state quarterfinal victory against Chugiak in Juneau, and this week they hope to prevent history from repeating itself once again.
Juneau-Douglas (7-2) is set for Saturday's tilt against top-ranked and undefeated West High School (9-0), a team the Bears have not defeated since 2001.
JDHS exploded for 24 fourth-quarter points to defeat the Mustangs 24-7 last week, earning redemption after a last-second loss to Chugiak under the same circumstances in 2009. Juneau-Douglas coach Rich Sjoroos said that kind of late-game fireworks - and cannon blasts at Adair-Kennedy Memorial Park - has created a wave of momentum he believes his team will ride into the semifinals.
"There's definitely momentum," he said. "Coming out and finishing the way we did, that definitely revved everybody up, and I think we're going to carry it through into this game.
"That's the plan, anyway."
As for the plan on the field, Sjoroos said the Bears must do all they can to contain the Eagles' multitude of dangerous playmakers.
"You can't get too caught up with just one or two of their guys because they'll get the ball to any one of those guys," he said. "The way to approach it? Anybody who lines up with a West Anchorage jersey out on the field, you'd better make sure they're accounted for."
The Crimson Bears' secondary will be put to the test this weekend in Anchorage as West features four of the best receivers in the Cook Inlet Conference. J'Vonte Buster leads the team with 38 catches for 586 yards and five touchdowns. Will Sharp has 29 catches for 560 yards and five scores, Dahmir Bell has 25 catches for 415 yards and two scores, and Marcel Dixon has 16 catches for 178 yards and two touchdowns.
Sophomore Conor Feckley calls the shots under center. Feckley has completed 122 of 251 passes for 1,846 yards and 16 touchdowns on the year.
The Eagles don't run the ball as much as they throw it, but junior Terry Holtman leads the rushing attack with 469 yards and two touchdowns on 83 carries.
These players are part of the reason the Eagles have won 17 of their last 18 contests going back to last season, where West was knocked off 32-16 by North Pole in the state semifinals.
With two teams that like to spread the ball around, there is big potential for fireworks Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium.
"I think both teams are going to try and get it to their playmakers down the field and in open space. They've got several options they can go to offensively," Sjoroos said. "And people have to remember they have a really tough running back that they'll use when they need to. He's come up big for them this year."
And once again, the Bears will be undersized in the trenches when they take the field against the Eagles. But Sjoroos said that's nothing new to his squad.
"They've got more size and strength up front but that's been standard every week. So the challenge is going to be giving Phillip (Fenumiai) time to throw and receivers running precise routes," he said. "We just have to communicate with each other. We have to put our heads together, have a good plan in place and be able to adjust to it during the game. Hopefully, we'll find some things that work and stick with it."
And Sjoroos knows what's at stake in this semifinal matchup. Historically, the Bears haven't matched up well with the Eagles.
"Everybody talks about how Chugiak's had our number over the years, but I think we've had a lot more success against the Mustangs than we've had against West," he said. "This is the first time since all the way back at Colony where we're the true underdog going in to the game. We're playing on their home field and they've got their big, giant crowd.
"We'll have our hands full."
The state semifinal matchup between Juneau-Douglas and West High School kicks off Saturday at 1 p.m. at Anchorage Football Stadium.
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