Game-winning field goal puts Wildcat kicker Sam Cook in rare company
ALPENA — With Friday’s Big North Conference game tied 7-7 between Alpena and Gaylord in the waning moments of what was an offensive struggle, the Wildcats had the ball deep in Blue Devil territory after recovering a fumble at the 11 yard line with 2:44 left on the game clock.
Unlike earlier in the contest when Alpena threw an interception at the Gaylord two yard line, the Wildcats chose to play it safe and run the ball, milking the clock, with complete faith in giving sophomore kicker Sam Cook an opportunity to win the game with a field goal in the final seconds.
That’s exactly what Alpena did.
“The game was going under two minutes to go and we were in range so I was getting ready to go on the sidelines,” Cook said. “We ran a couple of plays and then with 52 seconds left they called me out there.”
Like all game-winning field goal attempts, this 21-yard try from Cook came with an immense amount of added pressure.
Not only was the game on the line with 52 seconds left, but Cook was shouldered with the chance to end Alpena’s lengthy losing streaks and give the program and current players a win they desperately craved.
On the road, in front of a homecoming crowd in Gaylord and having missed a field goal earlier in the game, from 21 yards out, Cook delivered for the Wildcats, sending the ball perfectly through the uprights to snap Alpena’s 13-game losing streak and eight-game conference losing streak as the Wildcats picked up their first victory of the season with a 10-7 win.
“We knew we could kick the field goal as soon as we got the turnover. Gaylord called a timeout before we ran the first play, so we decided to run the ball and burn some clock. We obviously wanted to punch it into the end zone, but we also knew we wanted to burn as much time on the clock as we could and send Sam out for the field goal and leave little time on the clock,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell said. “We trust Sam’s leg. We got ourselves lined up in the middle of the field instead of the hash and we ran a couple of inside run plays and on fourth down, it was a no-brainer for us, we were completely confident in Sam making that kick and winning the game for us.”
With the game-winner, Cook not only propelled Alpena to victory, but put himself in rare company, becoming just the second Alpena varsity kicker to make a game-winning field goal in the final seconds in program history.
The other game-winning field goal came in a similar fashion.
On October 18, 2002, the Wildcats were tied 7-7 with rival Traverse City Central in a game played in a massive downpour at Wildcat Stadium.
Alpena completed a pass in the final seconds of the game, but failed to get out of bounds, so the field goal unit was rushed onto the field for the eventual game winner.
The Wildcats were able to get lined up and Nate Grueter kicked what was the first game-winning field goal in program history to lift Alpena to a 10-7 victory.
Not only do Cook and Greuter now share some Alpena football history, both had something else in common.
Grueter was a standout on the varsity soccer team as well and the Wildcats used his leg on Friday nights to help the football team. Cook is that same dual-sport athlete, being a key part of both the Alpena varsity soccer and football team.
“There wasn’t too much pressure that I felt. Obviously I was thinking about it on the sideline, but once I run onto the field, my mind goes blank and I just focus on making the kick and doing my job to help my team,” Cook said. “Playing two sports is a big help, especially being a kicker on the team and being a defender in soccer. It feels good to have that opportunity to win a game and it’s a special feeling knowing that I’m a part of Alpena football history.”
Cook’s kick came as a sense of relief for an Alpena program that had been on the opposite end of games decided by a field goal in the final seconds.
The Wildcats were on the receiving end of a handful of losses by a field goal in the final seconds including a 17-14 loss to Bay City John Glenn in 2016, a 13-12 loss to Gladstone in 2009, a 29-28 loss to Petoskey in 2003 and a 9-7 loss to Traverse City West in 1997, so it was pleasing for the program to wind up on the positive side of history, while Cook kicked himself into the short list of Wildcat kickers to nail a game winner.