The scenario for the Oscoda soccer team is simple tonight against Alcona:
Win and the Owls clinch the North Star League title outright.
Lose and they move into a first-place tie with the Tigers and a likely tie for the conference title since Alcona still has one more league game to play.
With that in mind, the Owls (10-4, 5-0 NSL) want to do everything they can to win when they play Alcona (7-8, 3-1 North Star) at 7 p.m., tonight at Oscoda High School.
"I think we will fare a little better this time. We have a regulation soccer field, so if we spread the field out, we should be alright," Oscoda coach Gary Schneider said.
Oscoda already got Alcona's number once this season. Last Monday, Eddie Silva scored four goals in en route to a 5-4 win in Lincoln. Alcona tied the game at four late, but Oscoda walked away the victor and handed Alcona its only league loss.
Knowing what kind of damage Silva and senior Eric Dennis can do, the Tigers plan on stepping up their defensive efforts to shut down the Owls.
"We know who their scorers are and we're going to keep an eye on them," Alcona coach Tim Munro said.
On the defensive side, Alcona will also be looking for a strong game from keeper Chase Matthews. Matthews, who is a first-year soccer player, has improved his game in the last several weeks and set a new school record for saves with 24 in a 4-3 loss to Bay City John Glenn on Thursday.
Both teams are more than familiar with one another having been rivals in the Huron Shores Conference the past three seasons. But both teams also started out this season with some uncertainty after losing talented players to graduation. Oscoda lost six players who earned either all-district or all-conference honors and Alcona graduated Jared Steiner and keeper Aaron Ritchie.
Oscoda's concerns were shortlived after the Owls earned wins over Laker and West Branch in a tournament in August. Alcona beefed up its nonconference schedule with games against the likes of Alpena, Petoskey and John Glenn and hopes to be better come playoff time as a result.
"This is my first year where before the season started, there's some concern. We had no go-to guy and my concern was scoring goals," Schneider said. "Then Eddie Silva showed up and it's like, 'Where did he come from?' All the kids have stepped up their game."
Alcona also has a good bit of youth on its squad this season, but players like Matthews have progressed with each game. Sophomore Jeff Schram and freshman Piet Brotha have turned into capable attackers and are good compliments to Alcona's junior 1-2 punch of Trenton LaVergne and Jason Steiner. LaVergne has become Alcona's most dependable scorer thanks to assists from Steiner among others, and netted hat tricks in back-to-back games last week.
"I told him that he has to step it up because we need the goals and in the last week and a half, two weeks he's done a good job with that," Munro said.
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.