The Alcona football team has seen a lot of ups and downs since it last made it to the playoffs in 2000.
Since Dave Schneider took over the program in 2010, Alcona has been working to get back to the postseason and it finally ended the 12-year drought with a 6-2 record this season.
Alcona travels to Ishpeming today to take on the Hematites (8-1) at 7 p.m. in a predistrict Division 7 game.
The Hematites have a long playoff history and was a state runner-up in 2010, something Schneider is very aware of.
"Any time teams like this meet up, there is going to be a clear cut favorite. We're going to have to play close to perfect to beat these guys. However, I think we've touched on nearly perfect play throughout the season," he said.
Schneider said his team played perfect against Essexville-Garber in spite of a loss and said that like Essexville, Ishpeming presents a challenge.
"They're not bigger than Essexville. They had some huge boys, hard hitters on that team. We've faced some tough opponents this year, like Essexville and Manton and we've held our own. We can't give a team of this caliber a free quarter. If we can play four quarters of near perfect football, we will win," he said.
Alcona will be relying on its strong running game against a tough Ishpeming defense. Junior fullback Nathan Fettes has led the Tigers this year with 1180 rushing yards and quarterback Cody Franklin has also used his legs to great effect, rushing for 795 yards.
Ishpeming boasts hard hitting, run-based offense that focuses on using sheer physical force to make yards and score touchdowns. This approach has been highly successful against teams such as Iron Mountain and Gwinn with huge victories gained from effective, hard hitting football.
"We pride ourselves on controlling the line of scrimmage," Ishpeming coach Jeff Olson said. "Hopefully nothing happens where we go into panic mode and half to pass the ball a lot."
Hematites' fullback Eric Kostreva is an excellent example of the hard-hitting approach. He has carried the ball 157 times for 1,153 yards and has scored 17 touchdowns. Adam Prisk and quarterback Alex Briones have also shown the ability to run as well.
Ishpeming also has a powerhouse defense and has allowed only 124 yards and 7.5 points per game this season.
Olson said the Hematites will be wary of Alcona's playmakers like Fettes who can give opponents fits coming out of Alcona's T-style offense.
"They have some weapons we haven't seen yet. We need to make sure we're ready and make our assignments," Olson said.
Schneider considers the run-focused approach of Ishpeming to be an advantage for the Tigers.
"They aren't running anything we haven't seen before. We run the same type of offense and defensive plays. I coached in the Upper Peninsula for years and I know the kind of ball they play. It's basic but effective if executed well," he said.
The Tigers have been focusing on practicing combating these basic approaches. They have been practicing tackles, hitting, blocking and stopping long runs.
"Basically, we got to out power them and keep the ball out of the hands of the quarterback and the fullback. If we can shut those two down we can create confusion and have some success defensively which should open up our offense," he said.