After losing to South last Friday night, Bartlett football coach Daniel Esparza assembled his team on the artificial turf at Anchorage Football Stadium, eschewed any meandering moves and plunged right into the line with the only line that mattered:
It's playoff time.
As eye-raising as that pronouncement sounded on that date -- it was Aug. 31 -- Esparza wasn't dealing in coach-speak or hyperbole.
His words were straight truth.
(The only thing more certain in area football is that Chugiak's Wolfgang Danger rocks the absolute coolest name. Best handle since South hockey player Quest Bain or Alaska Aces defenseman Kane Lafranchise.)
Anyhow, given that Alaska high school football starts well before actual classes begin and the regular season lasts a mere eight games, it really is make-or-break time for many teams.
And in the Cook Inlet Conference, where a seven-game league schedule means four wins basically guarantees a team one of the conference's four state playoff berths, this is a pivotal weekend.
That's particularly true for four teams - Dimond (2-1 CIC), East (1-2), Chugiak (0-3) and Bartlett (0-3) - because South (4-0) has pretty much locked a playoff spot, and defending state champion Service (3-0) and West (3-0) have nearly done so. At 0-4 in conference, Eagle River already is out of the playoff picture.
Bartlett plays at Dimond for the Lynx homecoming Friday night and must win to keep alive any hope of gaining a playoff berth. Not to put too fine a point on it, or dazzle you with our Anchorage School District diploma, but the Golden Bears will need to do something they haven't yet done this season -- score points in a CIC game -- to get the win. Dimond figures to need the victory badly as well because it closes its CIC schedule at the pointy end of the knife -- West, South and Service.
East plays West on Friday night, and the Thunderbirds, based on the season thus far, look to have some wiggle room on the schedule -- they close with Bartlett, Eagle River and Chugiak. Still, they hardly want to push their luck by entering the last three weeks of the regular season with three league losses already smudging their ledger.
Chugiak faces the toughest task this weekend. The Mustangs play Service on Saturday in Service's first game since voters in the Alaska Sports Broadcasting Network poll inexplicably dropped them to No. 4 from No. 1. (Granted, Service didn't look sharp in a 32-0 win over Eagle River last weekend. And, yes, all-state stud Amu Aukusitino didn't play. But he only sat out to heal an injury. Judging by the poll, you'd have thought Aukusitino turned up on the obituary page).
In any event, that slight in the poll no doubt will motivate Service, which no doubt is already motivated by coach Numi Ilalio being less than enthralled with their last two performances (both wins, it should be noted). Oh, and Service no doubt will be otherwise motivated because the Chugiak game marks its final tune-up before a Sept. 15 showdown with South in a rematch of last season's state championship game. So, to recap, it appears Service should be motivated.
The Mustangs probably saw this week's poll and thought: Awesome, appreciate the help. Anyone care to pile on and insult the Cougars' collective manhood? Perhaps say something rude about their moms?
Man, the Mustangs could find themselves up against it so bad even a dude with a name like Wolfgang Danger won't be enough.
They may have to call in superheroes Quest Bain and Kane Lafranchise to save their world.
This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.