The Alcona football team's Division 7 district final matchup against Lake City this afternoon may be the toughest test the Tigers have faced all season.
That isn't stopping Alcona coach Dave Schneider from liking his team's chances.
"I like our matchup this week better than last week. Our defense and our style of play is designed specifically to stop this offense. We're pretty fast and we have the ability to make the field small," Schneider said. "If we play well enough to win, we will."
After earning its first-ever playoff win last week against McBain, the Tigers (10-0) will get another challenge from Lake City (9-1), who has powered past most of its opponents with ease with a spread attack.
The two teams meet today at 1 p.m. at Alcona High School.
Schneider is excited about the matchup, because Alcona's defense has responded well against the spread, most recently shutting down Mio's pistol attack three weeks ago. The Tigers' speedy, smashmouth approach has shutdown some offensively potent teams and Alcona will need another big-time performance to slow down Lake City.
Lake City (9-1) at Alcona (10-0)
1 p.m., today Alcona HS
Notes: Second meeting between the two schools...Alcona won the last meeting 8-6 on Oct. 12, 1973...Lake City is making its ninth playoff appearance...Alcona is 1-3 in the playoffs all-time, Lake City is 2-8.
"Lake City's obviously a great program and they've got some really spectacular players on offense and defense," Schneider said.
At the top of that list is Lake City's senior quarterback Drew Marion, who has led a high-powered offense that's averaging more than 47 points a game. The 6-2, 200-pound dual-threat, has accounted for nearly 3,000 yards this season and 44 touchdowns in Lake City's spread offense. After an all-state season last year, when he accounted for 3,600 yards and 57 touchdowns, Marion's coach thinks he's even better this year.
"He's bigger, faster, stronger and he throws better. He's as good a quarterback as I've coached in 25 years," Lake City coach Tim Peterson said.
In the backfield, Jake Truesdale leads the Trojans with nearly 800 yards and Lucas Marion leads a deep group of receivers with 24 catches for 371 yards and three scores.
Lake City has reason to be confident as well, having earned wins over McBain and Evart this season while Beal City handed the Trojans their only loss.
But Peterson isn't looking past the Alcona's backfield, which features a trio of 1,000 yard runners in Nathan Fettes, Cody Franklin and Josh Mead and averages more than 450 yards on the ground per game.
"They're an athletic group of kids and the backfield is very talented," Peterson said. "The kids are very active."
Mead led Alcona's attack last week with 125 yards, but each of the Tigers' ball carriers chipped in offensively at key times. Franklin scored on a 14-yard run in the third quarter against McBain to knot the score at 28 and Ramblers never recovered.
While the one-and-done nature of the playoffs can be nerve-wracking for any team, Schneider said his players aren't playing with pressure and are solely focused on winning.
That sense of calm could serve the Tigers well in a region that some have called Death Valley because of the caliber of teams left. The winnner of today's game will play either Ishpeming or West Iron County next week.
"When you get into the district finals, you expect it to be (difficult). You expect that because the little sisters are gone," Schneider said. "It's going to be 48 minutes of punching in the mouth, getting back up and doing it again."
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.