Don't sleep on Palmer in Alaska high school football playoffs

commentOctober 5, 2012 

The Palmer Moose are the only unbeaten large-school football team in Alaska, champions of the Railbelt Conference and making their 13th straight appearance in Alaska's playoffs, the longest such active streak.

They are ranked No. 1, and have been perched there since halfway through the regular season.

And they have scored 40 or more points in each of their last four games and in six of eight games this season.

So, to recap, they haven't exactly stumbled into the postseason.

Yet, somehow, we have this eerie feeling folks are sleeping on the Moose (8-0) as the playoffs begin this weekend.

Maybe it's because Palmer didn't play in Anchorage this regular season, or entertain a team from Anchorage.

Maybe it's because Palmer traditionally delivers an old-school ground-heavy attack in this age of pass-happy spread offenses -- "Passing is a sign of weakness,'' Moose offensive coordinator Brad Hanson likes to crack. He's joking. At least we're pretty sure he's joking.

Maybe it's as simple as big-city hubris -- as if Palmer some time this postseason won't be up to the task against an Anchorage team.

Not buying any of that here in this corner of the typing factory.

Don't have a clue which team will end up rallying around a trophy come Oct. 20, but 8-0 verifies Palmer's legitimacy.

For one, Palmer head coach Rod Christiansen and his staff have been together since the dawn of time. OK, not that long, perhaps just since leather helmets. OK, still maybe not quite that long. But definitely since before cell phones.

Anyhow, the point is Christiansen and company can coach 'em up -- witness the 13 straight playoff berths. Plus, they're one of the state's most composed staffs, no small quality considering players routinely take their cues from coaches. Coaching with composure teaches composure.

Not saying Palmer will win it all, as it did in 1995 -- full disclosure: haven't seen Palmer this season, so not exactly feeling like a prophet -- but the Moose, who entertain underdog East on Friday night, will definitely have a say. East (5-3) seems to be peaking after a brutal early schedule -- the Thunderbirds won their last three regular-season games -- but it also hasn't faced an offense as explosive as Palmer's in a month.

And, remember, Service had to get past Palmer on its run to the state title last season, and did so -- barely. The Cougars' 34-32 quarterfinal squeaker over Palmer was every bit as close as that score. Service scored with less than five minutes, then picked off a pass deep in its own territory with 78 seconds left. Yardage gained in that game reflected how tight it was -- Palmer unleashed 402 yards total offense to Service's 401.

Cook Inlet Conference champion Service beat fellow CIC member South for the state championship last season and beat the Wolverines 21-14 a couple of weeks ago in a showdown that literally wasn't over until the final second elapsed.

Service (7-1, only loss came in Hawaii) entertains Juneau (4-4) in the first round and South (6-2) takes on West Valley (4-4) -- both Anchorage schools are the higher seeds in those matchups.

The way seedings break down, similar to last season, Service and South, both serious threats to win it all, could only meet in the playoffs if they advance to the championship game. Ditto for a Palmer-North Pole rematch.

Also on Service's side of the bracket are North Pole (7-1) and West (5-3), which meet up north Saturday night.

North Pole is another legitimate title contender. The Patriots muster an explosive offense -- they have scored 42 points or more in their last six games and have scored at least 32 points in every game. Palmer and North Pole played the thriller of the regular season, with Palmer winning 49-42 on the road. North Pole specializes in crazy, high-scoring games -- the Patriots closed the regular season with a 48-42 win over visiting Colony.

West likely must hope that senior all-state quarterback Conor Feckley returns from an injured knee that sidelined him for the final game of the regular season. The Eagles' best shot at upsetting North Pole would be in a shootout, and Feckley is their trigger man.

As for Juneau and West Valley, they are in tough spots too.

Juneau carries a three-game losing streak into the postseason, though credit to the Crimson Bears for getting this far without senior quarterback Phillip Fenumiai, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in his team's opener.

West Valley? Who knows? Will it be the Wolfpack team that was beaten by 2-6 Eagle River and barely beat 2-6 Lathrop? Or the Wolfpack team that dropped 47 points on Juneau last week?

Sometimes, that's the beauty of the playoffs -- you never know.

 


This column is the opinion of Daily News reporter Doyle Woody. Find his blog at adn.com/hockeyblog or call him at 257-4335.

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