Wildcats travel to Petoskey for Big North Conference finale

News File Photo Alpena running back Logan Guthrie (34) tries to separate from Sault Ste. Marie defender Tate Kay (3) during a football game at Wildcat Stadium last month.

Recent history hasn’t been too kind to the Alpena football team as they have struggled mightily against Petoskey.

The two teams come into tonight’s matchup with identical 2-5 records, but the Northmen have had Alpena’s number for the last decade as the Wildcats have been unable to defeat Petoskey since 2006.

Alpena has struggled in those games, losing by an average of 28 points over the last 10 meetings and despite Petoskey’s 2-3 record, the Wildcats will have their hands full with a program that has had no problem scoring against them and features two of the top players in the Big North Conference this season.

“Petoskey is going to be a physical team, but we definitely think this is a winnable game and it’s all about coming out and executing every single play and we’re excited for it because this is one of the last weeks for us and we feel it’s a game we can win,” Alpena coach Aaron Sims said. “To end with a conference win would be a huge step forward for us. It would be great to get another win in the Big North and kind of move up that ladder a little bit and ending on a high note would be a great thing for the program.”

The Wildcats have seen their defense be exposed in recent weeks as Alpena has allowed 140 points over its last three games, which is 59 more than what the team allowed in the first four weeks of the season.

Stopping Petoskey will be no easy task as the Northmen have averaged 37 points during their current 10-game win streak over Alpena.

Petoskey features two of the top players in the conference as Jaylin Mitchell has been doing it all this year for the Northmen. He leads the conference in rushing yards with 381, but has only ran for one touchdown. Mitchell also ranks fifth in receiving with 146 yards and two scores.

In recent years, the Northmen have featured an offense similar to Alpena’s as a tight formation where they have success running the ball. Petoskey still uses the tight formation, but will also spread the field in order for quarterback Joel Wilson to go to the air. Wilson is second in the Big North in passing yards and attempts as he is 48-for-89 with 689 yards passing and has thrown eight touchdowns, tied for first with Traverse City Central’s Tobin Schwannecke who gave the Wildcat defense fits last week.

“They double tight it and pack it in tight, but they also spread it out and let their quarterback run around and throw the ball and make plays. They are definitely more diverse than they have been in previous years,” Sims said. “It’s something new we have to prepare for, but I think if our guys come out and play then we’ll be able to handle anything like that.”

With just one conference game remaining for each team in the Big North, Alpena running back and reigning conference rushing leader Logan Guthrie is fifth in rushing this year with 331 yards and would need to put together a big game in order to give himself a shot at repeating as the Big North’s rushing champion.

Along with Guthrie, the Wildcats will rely on Alex Arch on both sides of the ball to make plays. Eric Troy and Zach Suszek will also get some carries and help the Wildcats’ rushing attack. Alpena is hoping Suszek is able to break off big plays like he did a week ago when he ran for 151 yards on just 10 carries.

“We’ve had a lot of tough games this season and they have been games where we have hurt ourselves more than the other teams have hurt us and I still believe this is a talented team, but we just have to learn to take care of our business and understand that every single play is important,” Sims said. “We always try to execute at a high level and we haven’t been able to do that enough this year so it is our goal these last two games to execute well. I think we play physical, but it’s just that high level of execution that we’re after and we’re trying to chase perfection and nothing has changed. That’s what we’re going to aim for this week.”

Jonny Zawacki can be reached via email at jzawacki@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5690.