If Juneau-Douglas High School wants to bring home the first state football championship in school history, the team will have to fight through injuries to some of its key players.
The Crimson Bears (9-1) take on the Palmer Moose (9-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Anchorage Football Stadium for the state title.
Josh Lehauli, the Railbelt Conference defensive player and return specialist of the year and first-team fullback, suffered an injured collarbone in last Saturday's 21-3 state semifinal victory against East Anchorage. Despite the pain, Lehauli still managed to gain 67 yards from scrimmage and came up with a key interception.
"He's got something, a pinched clavicle," JDHS head coach Bill Chalmers said Wednesday. "He's having it worked on by a chiropractor and we've got some special pads on order and he'll be ready to go on Saturday. I don't think you can keep him out of a football game like that. It's causing him a lot of pain right now, but it's not debilitating and it's getting better every day."
Even if Lehauli is less than 100 percent, battling through injuries has become commonplace for Juneau-Douglas.
Two days before opening the season, JDHS lost senior defensive captain Pat Kohan to a broken fibula. Against Wasilla, sophomore defensive end Faifo Levale injured his shoulder and saw very limited action in the final three games of the regular season.
The Bears' standout offensive lineman, Joe Monagle, is playing with two broken fingers while fellow lineman Justin Behrends suffered a foot injury against East.
Despite the injuries throughout the season, the Crimson Bears dominated nearly every opponent they played.
alaska state championship
who: palmer vs. jdhs
when: saturday, 1 p.m.
where: anchorage football stadium
what's at stake: jdhs could win its first state football title. palmer won the title in 1995.
"We trust each other and I think that's what the biggest thing is," Levale said. "We all trust each other and we've got people that can back us up if we're not there. If we get tired during the game, we have guys that can fill our spots. That's what's great about this team. We've got a lot of personnel besides the starters."
The key matchup in the state championship game may be how Juneau-Douglas' defense attacks Palmer's shotgun-option offense.
In the Crimson Bears' 50-7 win over the Moose on Sept. 2, Levale played a monstrous game as Palmer assigned two offensive linemen to block him.
Levale will again be looking to attack Palmer quarterback Jeremy Weber.
"My job, if he doesn't pitch it or not, is to go after him," Levale said. "If he doesn't make the right decision, that's his fault. It's my duty to make him think that. Same for Joe (Kohan). His job is the same."
Defensive tackles Lane Miller and Behrends will try to stop the fullback dive, while linebackers Tres Saldivar, Brian Maller and Lehauli, along with the secondary, will try to out Palmer's running backs on the outside.
"I just find the ball and get in," Maller, who plays middle linebacker, said of his responsibilites.
The Moose, however, played the September game without breakaway threat Devon Conroy. The speedy halfback has amassed 287 yards of total offense and three touchdowns in the Moose's state semifinal and quarterfinal victories and will be dressed on Saturday.
"Conroy is a punt returner, a kickoff returner, a kickoff man, he's defensive secondary, he's a receiver, he does it all and he's a leader," Chalmers said. "He's kind of a combination of Pat Kohan and Josh Lehauli. We have to know where he is at all times, and (JDHS quarterback) Chris Hinkley has to watch him when he's throwing the ball."
Another player Hinkley and the rest of Juneau's offense much be concerned about is stud linebacker Jake Heun.
Heun is capable of changing the momentum of a game with a big hit or by forcing a turnover. Chalmers knows, however, he has an offensive line that can handle any situation.
"Not that you'll ever neutralize Heun, but we're not going to let one person dominate our game any more than we expect to have one person dominate theirs," Chalmers said. "It's a team effort."
Tim Nichols, sports editor, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org