Every time the Alcona football team enters the locker room, the Tigers are reminded of last year's 41-16 loss to Whittemore-Prescott.
"We've had a sign in our locker room, counting down the days to this game," Alcona coach Dave Schneider said. "Every exercise those kids did in the weight room this offseason, it was directly intended to get us ready to play this football game."
With Whittemore heavy on its mind, Alcona (4-0, 3-0 North Star League) is hoping the extra preparation for the Cardinals pays off at 7 p.m. tonight when the two teams play at Alcona High School.
Tonight's game could determine the winner of the North Star League title and could go a long way in determining the playoff matchups for both teams should they reach the postseason.
"It's a big game for the league championship. I've been at Whittemore-Prescott six years and we've played well against them, but we've had more nail-biters than we've had lopsided victories," Cardinals' coach Kevin Frederick said.
Schneider's first three years against Whittemore haven't gone well, as the Cardinals have outscored the Tigers 123-28. But Schneider believes strongly that Whittemore can be beaten. The Cardinals (3-1, 2-0 NSL) cruised in their first three games, but were stopped in their first real test last week by Standish, who's ranked fifth in the Division 5 AP poll.
Alcona is looking for its first win over the Cardinals since 1992 and to do that the Tigers will attempt to put the clamps on Whittemore dual-threat quarterback Jens Gillings. Gillings was held to 86 passing yards last week, but totalled nearly 700 yards of offense and 17 touchdowns before that.
"He's pretty special. Very rarely do you get a quarterback that possesses the ability to run and throws like he does," Frederick said of Gillings. "He's got the intangibles too. He's a team leader and he's one of our top defenders."
While the Cardinals have Gillings, Alcona isn't lacking in offensive production either. The Tigers have rushed for nearly 2,000 yards on the ground, while averaging nearly 500 yards a game. The Tigers have the ability to pound the ball inside or get to the edge for outside gains. This should serve Alcona well as Schneider expects a game of tough, smashmouth football. Defensively, Alcona has been strong as well, forcing eight fumbles and coming up with 22 sacks and 86 tackles for loss.
The importance of tonight's game isn't lost on either team, but for the Tigers, a win tonight would also be a huge pick-me-up for the team from a mental standpoint.
"They've whipped our (butts). They've been more than a thorn in our side. They've been an absolute nemesis for us," Schneider said. "You whisper the name Whittemore-Prescott around here and it vibrates through the building. They play a tough, nasty brand of football and we're going to meet that nasty and that toughness and we're going to change our fortune."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.