Alcona finds success by sticking with what works

It was the one question Alcona football coach Jason Somers knew was coming and the one he was hoping not to answer.

What did Alcona’s seniors meant to the program this season?

Not two words escaped from Somers’ mouth before the emotion poured out.

“These guys are pretty special. This is my first group that I had all the way through. All of those guys played down here (against Nouvel) when they were sophomores,” Somers said, his voice cracking. “To see them mature and play the way they did today, I know they’re set up well for life and what comes behind football.”

It’s hard not to feel for the Tigers, especially after a breakthrough season like they one they just had. Players, coaches and fans wanted this one bad. A Northeast Michigan football team hadn’t reached a regional final since 2010 before Friday night. It’s all the more impressive when you look at Alcona’s schedule which included matchups against six playoff teams.

But Saginaw Nouvel is battle-tested in the postseason and has a dynamic player in quarterback Tate Hausbeck.

Was the first half of Friday’s game against Nouvel frustrating? Sure. But sometimes you can throw everything but the kitchen sink at the opposition and the best players still find ways to make plays. Watching him carve up Alcona’s defense reminded me of Lake City’s Drew Marion, who did the same thing to the Tigers in 2013. Sometimes you just have to tip your cap to the other team.

In tipping your cap to the other team, you also have to take time to appreciate just far Alcona has come.

All Somers and his staff have done since taking over the program in 2014 is win and reach new milestones. Of course having talent like Alcona has had always helps, but the players also need to buy in to the teachings of the coaching staff to be successful and they’ve done just that.

Consider that before 2012, the playoffs were basically a pipe dream for the Tigers. In four seasons, Somers has led Alcona to the playoffs three times and two division titles.

Consider that in the last two seasons Alcona is essentially less than a minute from winning back-to-back district titles. The Tigers stop Frankfort’s final drive last season and that crown is theirs.

Also consider that this team, perhaps a little less heralded than some previous Alcona teams, just did what no other Alcona team has ever done and won a district title.

The 2013 team which won the program’s first playoff game didn’t get this far. Neither did the 2016 team which set a new single-season program points record.

Some argue that Alcona’s play calling is too predictable, but you know what? It works and it’s not worth trying to fix what isn’t broken.

Admittedly, it isn’t flashy, it isn’t innovative, but it works for Alcona and that’s all that matters. It fits in line with the kind of smash mouth football the Tigers like to play. Alcona plays hide-and-seek with the ball in a way that is still confounding opponents as well as those watching the games. How many times has an Alcona running back taken a handoff, gotten lost in a pile up and then emerged from it racing off to the end zone untouched? Teams know exactly what the Tigers are going to do and yet they can’t stop them.

It’s the same system the Tigers have run for 30 years plus and as of late, it’s won the Tigers a lot of football games. As Somers told me earlier this season, everyone thinks Alcona can’t throw, but the Tigers practice it often and when they need to throw the ball, they do.

And for all the second-guessing, more often than not the Tigers find a way to win.

Two weeks ago, Alcona was sputtering against Johannesburg-Lewiston and the calls began for coaches to change things up. Yet in the second half, there was Alex Stephenson, working his way through the Cardinals defense to the tune of three fourth-quarter touchdowns–two of which were on the ground. Even against Nouvel, Alcona’s offense eventually found ways to score, breaking off several long runs and scoring five times against a team that’s a perennial playoff contender.

The Tigers have done things their way and as of late they’ve done a darn good job of it. The end of the season always hurts and who knows when Alcona will get another shot at a regional title. It may take one year or it may take five. But until then, fans should take a moment and enjoy the incredible ride Alcona’s been on.

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