Wildcats aiming to open season with win vs. Escanaba

When the members of the Alpena High football team take the field tonight, there’s a good chance many of them will have some goosebumps.

Playing in front of a supportive and enthusiastic home crowd to kick off the season can do that.

Alpena will begin the 2018 season at 7 p.m. tonight at Wildcat Stadium against Escanaba and like dozens of teams across Michigan on Friday, the Wildcats will be looking to start a new season on a winning note.

The season-opening matchup with Escanaba tends to be close and the Wildcats will have to play a complete game and minimize mistakes to come out the winners. Last season, the two sides went toe-to-toe in a shootout that ended with the Eskymos winning 28-16.

In four of the last five seasons, the outcome has been decided by two touchdowns or less.

“Honestly, I’d say the home crowd is one of the biggest determining factors. It (gets) you riled up and ready for the game,” Alpena senior running back Logan Guthrie said. “I think that is going to (give) us a big advantage, especially in this game because we’re coming out pretty strong this year and I have a lot of confidence in this game.”

The Wildcats haven’t won an opener since 2013, but if their scrimmage last week is any indication, they could do some exciting things tonight. Alpena participated in a scrimmage in Goodrich and was encouraged by the work it put in.

“Right when we had that scrimmage, I saw a really bright future for this team and I saw a lot of hard work and I saw a lot of finishing,” Guthrie said. “So much improvement from last year and I’m super stoked for this year.”

The Eskymos went 10-3 last season along with an appearance in the Division 4 semifinals. Escanaba tends to be a tough matchup for the Wildcats with a varied spread offense, but the Eskymos graduated several of their top playmakers.

Among those are talented two-way player Scout Wunder, running back Logan Carroll and linebacker Cody Vandermissen.

Regardless of who they’re lining up against tonight, the Wildcats have been preparing for tonight’s opener for months. Alpena coach Aaron Sims made conditioning a priority when he took over the program in 2016 and it’s something the Wildcats have embraced. Now in their third season under Sims, the Wildcats are well-conditioned, stronger and raring to go.

Guthrie said conditioning will help the Wildcats accomplish two of their main objectives tonight: come out hitting and finishing the game strong.

“We’ve been in the weight room every day. Every kid here power cleans over 200 and every kid is getting strong,” Guthrie said. “Every kid right now is conditioning and has been pushing their limits so we’ve got the best out of everyone.”

Many of the Wildcats may be filled with nervous energy as they wait for the season to begin.

But once the game begins, the Wildcats will be all business.

“I already know when I step onto that field I’m going to have the goosebumps and everything, but as soon as that first kick return happens it’s all going to go away and it’s going to be a bloodbath from there,” Guthrie said.

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