Northeast Michigan football is often dominated by running the ball and no team understands that better than Alcona.
Alcona's four-man rushing attack has proven to be a deadly offensive weapon in the North Star League and has driven the Tigers to a 6-0 record and has helped the Tigers outscore their opponents 260-62.
The Tigers have a solid chance to go undefeated and win their first conference championship in school history.
"I think that we've done a lot of things for the first time here and there's never been an undefeated team here. Is that in our sight right now? Sure, absolutely," Alcona head coach Dave Schneider said.
The Tigers utilize a Power-T offensive formation. This formation includes seven lineman, a quarterback, two halfbacks and a fullback. The halfbacks and fullback stand behind the quarterback, creating a "T." The quarterback then has the choice of three different runners to hand off to or he can run the ball himself.
"My goal is to have four guys chasing one player while the player with the ball is running in a touchdown. I promise them that that's what it would look like if they did it right and we've done it many times," Schneider said.
"My goal is to have four guys chasing one player while the player with the ball is running in a touchdown. I promise them that that's what it would look like if they did it right and we've done it many times."
-Alcona coach Dave Schneider
The numbers speak of the success of the Power-T in Alcona. Fullback Nathan Fettes leads the team with 965 yards in six games and 12 touchdowns. He averages 13.8 yards per carry. Fettes also holds Alcona's all-time rushing record as well as the record for touchdowns scored.
"He brings an incredible amount of toughness to the position, this year especially. He's already in a position where he's got a lot of things (about football) figured out. He brings a seasoned flavor to the group," Schneider said.
Quarterback Cody Franklin is Alcona's second leading rusher with 649 yards and eight touchdowns in six games. Franklin has also thrown for 302 yards and five touchdowns.
"Cody just brings raw speed. He's also smart and he understands how this offense works. When you have a running game that is as effective as our fullback trap game is and a quarterback as fast as Cody is, it is a nightmare to try and defend that," Schneider said.
Halfback Josh Mead has 586 yards this season, three scores and an average of 12 yards per carry. He is the only rusher on the Alcona squad that hasn't had a fumble.
"The unselfishness of what Josh and Garrette (Norling) do is astonishing. It all comes down to just how many touches are available in a game. You have to balance it out and thankfully we don't have any complaining going on. Guys understand and they want to win football games," Schneider said.
Norling has picked up 355 yards on the ground for an average of 7.1 yards per carry and six touchdowns. Norling also has 94 yards on five catches and one touchdown.
"Garette is a very good faker. I remember talking to him when he was a freshman about carrying your fakes out 20 to 30 yards and to fake until you hear the whistle. You'll see him faking down the field 25 to 30 yards. And that creates a conflict for the defense," Schneider said.
But aside from the numbers, what is it about Alcona's runners that makes the Tigers so successful?
A lot of this success is built on pure athleticism and strength. The Tigers' squad is filled with big, well-built players with a lot of speed. Schneider said Franklin, Mead and Norling run a sub 4.6 in the 40-yard dash.
"Everybody got in the weight room. Everybody got faster, bigger, stronger, so that really helped (us improve from last year)," Franklin said.
Alcona is also well known for its effectiveness running fakes. As soon as the ball is snapped, all four players tuck their hands to their waist and run. All four runners take off as fast and as hard as they can until the whistle is blown.
This creates a lot of confusion on the field as the defense struggles to spot the ball carrier.
"Coach (Schneider) always talks about the uncommon effort. A lot of teams, they'll try to hide the ball and run fakes like we do, but it's never to the extent where it looks like they're running like they want to score. When a player is running like that, it's hard to believe they don't have it," Norling said.
Fettes has also spotted the difference between his team's approach to faking and the approach that opponent teams take.
"(Other teams) are lackadaisical with their fakes. They're looking back on the play and trying to see how it plays out. We focused on our job and getting into the endzone," he said.
Although Alcona's runners rack up yardage, they understand the relationship between the effectiveness of the offensive line and the effectiveness of the running game. Senior Tony Dubay anchors Alcona's line and Alec Neumann, Aaron Carrasco and Lucas Weichel are among those other linemen who have opened up holes for the Tigers' backs.
"It's all in our line. Our line is amazing. They work together, they're stepping forward and getting a huge push on the defensive front. That sets us up to do our job and pick up the yards we need to win," Mead said.
Schneider attributes the success of his offensive line to intelligence and an intimate understanding of how to react against specific defensive formations.
"When (the offensive line) is lined up at the line of scrimmage , they're calling changes in the blocking scheme based on how the defense is lined up. When we get to a point where we're doing that sort of thing, we are a smart football team," Schneider said.
The effectiveness of Alcona's offensive line helps the backfield plan an attack. Only one player is going to get the ball per play, but every runner has a specific role during each play.
"Sometimes we have to fake a certain direction or block a certain guy. But whatever our role is in a play, we go 100 percent every time," he said.
Alcona's running game has allowed the Tigers to plow through its schedule this season and paid off two weeks ago during a 28-26 double overtime win against Whittemore-Prescott giving the Tigers their first win over the Cardinals since 1992.
"In spite of Alcona's success this season, players don't take it for granted or to rest on their laurels. They continue to practice every day, looking to improve their game on every front.
"The competition is always there. The coaches like to believe, like we do, that any team can beat another on any given day. You don't want to under estimate any team's chances to beat you. But, I feel like we're going to have the preparation to win every game. That's always the mind set," Norling said.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.