Coming off first win, Wildcats turn attention to TC Central
ALPENA — Emotions were high last Friday when the clock hit zero as the Alpena High football team celebrated its first victory in nearly two years, knocking off Gaylord, 10-7.
The win was one that head coach Eric Mitchell, his staff, the kids and the program desperately needed so there was plenty to be happy about. Now, the Wildcats (1-5, 1-3 BNC) are putting aside the happiness and must be laser focused and serious heading into their homecoming matchup tonight against one of the top teams in the state, as Alpena welcomes rival Traverse City Central.
“We know the challenge that lies ahead for us this week and we know that we have to win all facets of the game. The biggest thing for us is that we have to win the field position battle, because if we don’t they can and will take advantage of a short field,” Mitchell said. “We know they are a quick team, we have to make sure they are not at full speed by winning the battle at the line of scrimmage. If we can do that we may be able to limit them and we’ll be alright.”
This may be the final meeting between Alpena and Central for quite some time, putting an end to a longest standing rivalry. Both Central and Traverse City West will play in the Saginaw Valley League next season.
Tonight’s matchup marks the 67th time the two schools have met and despite Central leading the series by a comfortable 45-21 margin, the Wildcats have had their share of victories and upset over the Trojans.
Central comes in loaded with talent and experience and a ton of momentum, having won five in a row, The Trojans are undefeated in Big North Conference play and currently ranked seventh in the latest Division 2 AP Poll with a chance to secure another BNC title tonight.
Central (5-1, 4-0 BNC) suffered its only loss of the season in the opener to then top-ranked DeWitt. Since then, the Trojans have made quick work of their past five opponents, four of which Alpena has lost to this season.
Central has also shut out its last two opponents and have outscored the opposition by nearly 200 points the season.
Headlining the Trojans stellar group this year is quarterback Josh Burnham. The 6-foot-4, 215 pound quarterback and linebacker is a Notre Dame commit and his talents will be on full display as he’s put together a strong senior campaign and will look to put a damper on Alpena’s homecoming festivities
Burnham will not be the only standout the Trojans possess and Alpena will be tasked to slow down.
Senior wide receivers Dante Williams and Ben Van Es are two of Burnham’s top targets, have lots of speed and have done damage all season.
Along with the pair of receivers, Central has a potent rushing attack led by Carson Bourdo and former Alpena native Reed Seabase, who is enjoying a stellar junior campaign.
“We know that they have a lot of talent and we expect them to run a lot of jet and a lot of sweep. They want to get their athletes out in space and use their speed. Our job is to limit that and not allow them give them the opportunity to get out in space and get to full speed,” Mitchell said. “We’ve spent a lot of time watching film this week on ways that we can slow them down. They are a good team and are explosive, we know that, but we’re getting healthier and the last couple of weeks the strength has been our defense, so we need an even better effort than what we put together the past few weeks and if we do, we could make this closer than what a lot of people think.”
The Wildcats haven’t beaten Central since 2009 and many of the past 11 meetings haven’t been close.
The Wildcats hope after a much-needed win last week, the confidence and momentum gained from that first win will at least allow Alpena to stay in the game.
“We obviously want this one. For us, it’s taking it personally because there’s probably not a lot of people that think we can even be competitive with them,” Mitchell said. “For us, it’s making sure we take advantage of every opportunity that we get, have absolute confidence in ourselves and understand that they are going to make plays, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the game is over when they do. We just need to play four quarters of really good football.”