LINCOLN-Northeast Michigan is buzzing today with excitement in anticipation for the first football games of the 2013-14 season, and very few games are as highly anticipated as the Alcona and Atlanta matchup.
Both teams team saw some success last season and are hoping to continue that success this season. Alcona went 6-3 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2000. Atlanta suffered a small setback after forfeiting a few wins, but still finished tied for third in the North Star League.
There's even a little bit of history to the game: Alcona coach Dave Schneider coached the Huskies for two seasons and Atlanta has beaten Alcona the last two times the two squads have played in Lincoln.
News File Photo
Atlanta’s Josh Barrett runs the ball against Central Lake in this 2012 photo. Atlanta will open the 2013 season tonight at Alcona.
Schneider believes his team can change that streak.
"Atlanta has a real physical approach to football, with real strong players on their team. One of our key approaches in the past was getting more physical, and we're going to hit them just as hard as they hit us," Schneider said.
Alcona utilizes an aggressive running game, and use an offensive formation with one fullback and two halfbacks. They have a huge ace-in-the-hole with senior fullback Nathan Fettes. Fettes rushed for 1,180 yards and 11 touchdowns last season, and looks like he's in better shape than last year.
The Tigers' running game is balanced by senior right halfback Garrette Norling and senior left halfback Josh Mead. Norling was especially effective for Alcona defensively last year, with 113 tackles and 13 forced fumbles.
"I think we have two of the best halfbacks in the area, maybe even in the state, with Josh and Garrette. Both have really bulked up a lot since last season, and they're even faster than they were then," Schneider said.
Alcona also has a huge running risk in senior quarterback Cody Franklin. Franklin is just as fast as his runners, and rushed for a field long touchdown against Manton last year. A quadruple running threat may throw Atlanta off-balance, and give Alcona some major yards.
But first Alcona is going to have to get past Atlanta's hard hitting defense. Atlanta has a penetrating defensive style, one that relies on hard hitting defensive lineman and a lot of linebacker rushes.
Senior defensive end Jake Chambers could cause a lot of defensive heartache for Alcona's run game. Offensively, Chambers is sure to be Atlanta's go-to man in the air, after picking up 594 yards and 11 touchdowns as receiver last year.
Alcona is also likely to experience a hard time from senior center and defense lineman Jake Wojtoviets, a big, hard hitting player with an intimidating presence on the field. Junior linebacker Seth Teets could also cause problems for Alcona, after picking up 105 tackles last year.
Offensively, Atlanta relied on the throwing and running skills of quarterback Garrett Badgero in 2012, but running back Josh Barrett was also a key part of the Huskies' offense. Barrett picked up 466 rushing yards last year, and scored three touchdowns. Barrett is likely to come into his own this year, without Badgero dominating the rushing.
Alcona hopes to strike hard against Atlanta's running game, and hopes to take advantage of their defensive aggressiveness.
"We're going to try to get them to over penetrate the line. If they're bringing too many guys at us down the center, it can open up our outside game. We're going to come at them big, physical and fast defensively to take away their running game," Schneider said.
Atlanta coach Troy Cheedie was unavailable for comment at press time.
Eric Benac can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5690. Follow Eric on Twitter @EricBenac.