Stephenson leads Tigers past Joburg

News Photo by James Andersen Alcona quarterback Alex Stephenson (left) is tackled by Johannesburg-Lewiston defenders Caesen Campbell, center, and PJ Bucy during the first half of a Division 8 playoff football game on Friday at Alcona High School.

LINCOLN–Alex Stephenson found multiple ways to beat Johannesburg-Lewiston on Friday.

The Alcona senior quarterback ran for two touchdowns and threw for another, all in the fourth quarter, to help the Tigers defeat the Cardinals 28-12 in a Division 8 predistrict game at Alcona High School.

The win moves Alcona (8-2) to a district final next week at home against Hillman, who upset top-seeded Au Gres on Friday.

Trailing 12-8 after three quarters, Alcona pulled ahead with 10:06 to play when Stephenson found Tim Hutchinson over the middle for a 41-yard touchdown to put Alcona up 14-12. Hutchinson caught a huge block from Luke Loyer on the way to the end zone for the go-ahead score.

The Tigers have long established themselves as a run-first team, but Stephenson’s pass proved to be the right call at the right time for an Alcona offense that was stuck in neutral at that point.

“We pass the ball like five times a year or whatever it is, but we’re really good at it. People say we don’t do it because we’re not good at it; bull, we’re really good at it. We just don’t do it, it’s not who we are,” Alcona coach Jason Somers said. “When we’re in those situations I feel like we can do that all day long.”

On Alcona’s next two drives, Stephenson found the end zone on the ground, scoring on four and five yard runs respectively. He added conversion pass to Loyer and Damion Stewart on the respective drives as well.

Stephenson’s fourth quarter heroics were complimented by an improved defensive effort from the Tigers, who forced a punt, intercepted a pass and stopped the Cardinals twice on fourth down in the second half.

Mason’s Clark’s interception, just two plays after Stephenson’s touchdown pass, gave Alcona the ball at its own nine yard line, but the Tigers moved the ball steadily upfield until Stephenson broke through for a 57-yard run. Four plays later he found paydirt on a four yard run.

Linebacker Devon Mills led Alcona’s defense with 13 tackles.

“They’re seniors and they just figured it out. Coach (Terry) Franklin made an adjustment on our D from what he saw and put us in good position and the kids were able to execute,” Somers said of his defense. “I love all these kids. There was a time where I didn’t know what they were going to do and they pulled it off. Kudos to them.”

Joburg led 12-8 at halftime after quarterback Tanner Shimel scored on a six-yard keeper with 4:19 left. Alcona marched from to the red zone from its own 20 in the remaining time, but a completion from Stephenson to Loyer in the final seconds fell a few yards short of the end zone.

Alcona got the ball to start the second half and moved the ball well again after starting on its own 36. After converting a third down, which was measured, the Tigers struggled inside the 30 yard line and eventually turned the ball over on downs.

Jack Hutchinson gave Alcona an early lead, scoring on a 10-yard run with 8:08 left in the first quarter. Stephenson connected with Stewart on the conversion for an 8-0 lead.

Jack Hutchinson led Alcona on the ground with 223 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries.

Joburg answered back on the next drive as Shimel connected with Timmy LaPointe for a 24-yard touchdown and cut the lead to 8-6 with 6:34 left in the opening quarter.

With their third ever playoff win wrapped up, the Tigers will turn their attention toward winning a district title for the first time. Alcona has reached the district final game twice in the four seasons, but has lost both times.

Alcona defeated Hillman 28-8 back in September, but Somers is counting on a seeing an improved Hillman squad the second time around.

“It is (exciting) and to be able to have it on our home field, I know we’re going to be juiced up and boy oh boy, Hillman’s gotten way better,” Somers said. “It’s going to be a shootout.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.