Just one year ago the Juneau-Douglas High School football team stomped into its semifinal playoff game against South Anchorage as the big, bad and undefeated Goliaths from Southeast. Fast forward to this Saturday afternoon, and David's thong seems to be a considerably snugger fit.
The Crimson Bears (5-4 overall) are now the ones hoping to catch the Wolverines (9-0 overall) with a surprise blow on their rumble toward a perfect season.
"I don't think the records are much of an indication where our team stands at this point. We're not the team that lost those four games anymore," head coach Bill Chalmers said. "South had to win some pretty close games to get where they are, as well. They've been steady, but they haven't blown anybody out."
Juneau-Douglas does differ from last year's South team, and every other team, in one major way - running back Alex Fagerstrom is still toting its rock. The senior's numbers have reached Looney Tunes levels after the former quarterback switched positions for his team's push toward and into the playoffs. In the Crimson Bears' past three games, Fagerstrom has rushed for a combined 718 yards and 12 touchdowns. Counting extra points, he has accounted for more points (82) in three weeks than South allowed in all seven of its conference games this season (81).
As expected, the song will remain the same for the JDHS offense heading into the weekend.
"Alex is a guy who will carry the ball 40 times in a game if you ask him to and still match up against the other team's best receiver on defense," defensive coordinator Eddie Brakes said. "Not a lot of teams have a player of his caliber, and we're going to take full advantage of that this weekend."
Of course, in front of every great running back is one tough fullback, and sophomore Cameron Fronimos has filled that role for Juneau-Douglas since its mid-season offensive shakeup.
"Cameron stepped in right away at a position he'd never played before, and he deserves as much credit for our turnaround as anybody," Chalmers said.
If the Wolverines decide to stack up the line of scrimmage, quarterback Dakotah Smith has shown in recent weeks that he might have the arm to bypass such a blockade. The senior has made the most of his limited passing opportunities in the Crimson Bears' justifiably run-heavy offense by completing all nine of his pass attempts in the past three games for 151 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Smith has been under center for all five of the team's wins this season, and the coaching staff thinks that is more than a coincidence.
"Dakotah has to get the play from the coaches, make sure everybody understands it, double-check the snap count, control the snap, move to the right spot, and hand it off perfectly so Alex can keep his eyes up field," Chalmers said. "It's not an easy position, and Dakotah has been almost flawless."
Sophomore Eric Fagerstrom also has emerged as a multitalented threat for Juneau-Douglas in recent weeks, zig-zagging his way to two touchdowns and many more big plays while lining up at a variety of positions.
"Eric's just reliable. We might not get him the ball a whole lot, but he always occupies one of the other team's best defenders," Chalmers said. "He's a very underrated threat for our team, and the other coaches in our conference have noticed that as well. We might be an even better offensive team if we got him the ball more often."
Tight end Lawrence Fenumiai also has become a major threat since being freed from his offensive line responsibilities in the offense's mid-season shuffle. Senior Jack Perkins' move inside the offensive line freed Fenumiai to move to the edge, where he is still one of the team's favorite run blockers.
"He's just a big body who can move people around, and then he's had some big catches for us down the field using his height," Chalmers said.
Receiver Tony Tompkins and fullback Sam Nauer, both seniors, also have proven reliable targets for their classmate and provide their own changes of pace when lined up in the backfield.
The Crimson Bears' offense will have their work cut out for them against the Wolverines' "stack" defense, which uses defensive ends and linebackers who are interchangeable when dropping back in coverage or rushing the line.
"It's a defense designed to confuse an offense, and it's had us studying film every day this week - sometimes twice a day," Chalmers said. "You can't tell who they're sending (on a blitz). It could be any of their linebackers, and it's never the same one on the next play."
Juneau-Douglas' own defense has spent the week working on its pass coverage, which surrendered 174 yards and a touchdown to a Palmer team not known for its air attack. South, on the other hand, has displayed a robust passing game via its "fly" offense in recent years.
"We've shown we might be susceptible to a passing attack, and they've got a good one," Chalmers said. "But we've been working really hard at it, and our defense is the unit that always steps up when we have a big game. We expect them to do it again."
Senior quarterback Colin Graham is still behind center for the Wolverines and will look to repeat last season's performance in which he passed for 152 yards and two touchdowns against the Crimson Bears in his team's semifinals loss. This time, though, Graham has the No. 1 seed and his own perfect season on the line.
Saturday's kickoff is at 1 p.m.
Look for a full game story and stats in Sunday's Juneau Empire.
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