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Wildcats ready for lengthy trip to take on Escanaba

Courtesy Photo Alpena running back Nicholas Geister (12) tries to outrun a Traverse City Central defender during the second quarter of a Big North Conference football game.

ALPENA — Despite last week’s lopsided defeat against Traverse City Central, the Alpena High football team took plenty of positives from that game.

Aside from giving up big plays, the Wildcats continued to show small signs of improvement. Offensively, Alpena moved the ball well and put together a 13-play, 97-yard scoring drive. Although it was the Wildcats’ only score of the night, they did manage to put a pair of lengthy drives together early in the game.

The Wildcats are hoping to continue their recent trend of better performances tonight when they make the long trek above the bridge to Escanaba, in what Alpena coach Eric Mitchell views as another winnable game that his program needs.

Tonight’s matchup has the potential to be an exciting one between a pair of 1-6 teams. Both teams are out of postseason contention but hope to end the season strong. A win tonight is required if either team wants to finish the year with a winning streak heading into next season.

This marks the first time in the last six full seasons that Escanaba will finish with a losing record and fail to make the playoffs.

The Eskymos are also on the wrong side of setting a school record as they have given up 281 points this season, ranked fourth-most in a single season in program history. If Alpena’s offense can finish drives, hit some big plays, and figure its offense out against a struggling defense, the Wildcats could put Escanaba on the wrong side of history tonight.

A big offensive night is something Mitchell thinks his team is capable of.

“It’s a very winnable game for us and we realize that. Although they have scored a bunch of points this year, they’ve also given up a ton. Watching them on defense, I feel like they have some similar woes to what we do at times, they wait for guys to run to them, rather than running to the ball carrier,” Mitchell said. “For us this week, it’s not about just hope to put up 10 points and win, but we want to score and I think we can. Two points of emphasis for us, when we get to the red zone, we have to score. The other is watching them, they’re not necessarily giving up long drives, but they’re giving up big plays so for us it’s about getting our guys in space and giving ourselves opportunities to score early and often.”

After winning its season opener, the Eskymos have dropped six straight. This marks the 49th meeting between the two programs and it is a rivalry that has been dominated by Escanaba.

The Eskymos hold a 40-8 all-time record against Alpena and the trip up north has never been too kind for the Wildcats as they have won just one game in the last seven trips to Escanaba.

“The long trip is not fun for anybody, but we’ll make it work and power through that,” Mitchell said. “It’s going to be a full day, but we’ll take a few stops, stretch our legs and try to stay as fresh as we can, but at the same time, remain focused on the task at hand and making sure we are in the right mindset getting off that bus.”

The Eskymos are allowing an average of just over 40 points per game and have allowed 29 more points total than the Wildcats have this season.

With both sides surrendering a ton of points, the difference tonight could be the fact that Escanaba is averaging over 20 points per game offensively. The Wildcats’ inability to finish off drives has limited them to under 10 points per game.

Offensively, Alpena’s ground game has improved behind the strong running of Kadyn Budnick and the Wildcat passing game was effective early last week as quarterback Ryan Voltz has plenty of dependable receiving options in Colt Gray, Mason Mumford, Luke Young, and Brady Niedzwiecki.

“We’re excited. We know that last week’s score didn’t necessarily show how we played and all of us know this,” Mitchell said. “This week is a pride week and knowing what we’re playing for and for us to be proud of what we’re doing and show it on the field.”

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