Bring on the Panthers

Alcona ready to face unexpected against Nouvel

News File Photo Alcona lineman Devon Mills (58) attempts to wrap up Oscoda’s Colin Lueck during a football game at Oscoda High School earlier this year. Mills and the Tigers will play Saginaw Nouvel in a regional final tonight.

LINCOLN–The Alcona and Saginaw Nouvel football teams have the same goal this week: prepare for the unexpected.

As two of the last eight teams still playing in Division 8, both teams have had success doing things their way, but tonight they’ll have to figure out a way to quell the opposition’s strength when they play in a regional final in Saginaw.

Kick off is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Alcona (9-2) is riding high after winning its first ever district title last week, but the Tigers will face arguably their toughest test of the season in playing Nouvel (11-0).

In 34 seasons of football, Nouvel has been a playoff mainstay, making the postseason 28 times and has only posted a losing record three times. The Panthers also have championship experience. They have three state titles to their credit, two in Division 6 and another in Division 7, which was won in 2011. The Panthers have also finished runner-up twice.

The two teams have met once before with Nouvel winning 38-22 in a 2015 Division 7 predistrict game.

“They throw the ball really well. They’ve got a great big quarterback and a receiver that runs really well. They also run the ball and they’re aggressive on defense,” Alcona coach Jason Somers said. “They remind me a little bit of Joburg on defense, they’re a little undersized up front, but they can run.”

Senior quarterback Tate Hausbeck, who stands 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, leads Nouvel’s offense and is 132-of-224 passing on the season for 22 touchdowns against two interceptions. He’s also a dual threat with more than 400 rushing yards. On the outside, Kenny Kujawa and Peter Snyder are Hausbeck’s favorite targets and 5-foot-11, 210 pound linebacker Alex Wrobel leads the Panthers defense and has his third consecutive season with more than 100 tackles.

Nouvel isn’t afraid to run plays in several different formations and patterns and with Hausbeck leading a group of 13 seniors, the Panthers have stayed calm under pressure. The Panthers trailed late last week against Harbor Beach, but rallied with two touchdowns in the final 6:21 to win.

“We have a group of seniors are really strong-willed and strong minded,” Nouvel coach Mike Boyd said. “They didn’t panic and they felt confident in their ability to come back in that situation.”

While the Tigers are wary of Nouvel’s passing attack, the Panthers are just as wary of Alcona’s ground game.

After a standout year offensively in 2016, Alcona is just 18 points a way from setting a new single-season record for points. The majority of those points have come from a dominating backfield behind an imposing offensive line.

While Alcona’s backfield may do all the scoring, the Tigers’ backs are more than appreciative of the efforts of Alcona’s linemen. The harmony between these two units has helped Alcona to score 526 points this season–an average of 47.8 per game.

“This year it’s been really nice having backs appreciate what we’ve done and say thank you,” senior guard Devon Mills said. “Without an offensive line, you can’t get any yards. Without backs, you can’t move the ball.”

Alcona’s ability to score with many players and score quickly and from multiple angles has the Panthers on the lookout.

“They’re good on both sides of the ball and much bigger than us. It’s a different kind of football and one that every coach would love to run,” Boyd said. “We’re going to have to do a good job on defense to keep the ball out of their hands.”

Though they’re the first Alcona team to reach this point, the Tigers will enter Friday’s game with the same mentality they’ve had the previous 10 weeks: every game is a new opportunity to prove themselves and to give their maximum effort.

“I think we just have to go out and do our thing,” senior quarterback Alex Stephenson said. “We’ve been playing well all season and we’ve just got to step up and finish this next game, do what we’ve been doing all year.”

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