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Humbled Wildcats aiming for win in Big North opener

The last two weeks have been humbling for the Alpena High football team.

Mistakes, miscues and inconsistent play have resulted in two losses, leaving the Wildcats with an 0-2 record for the first time since 2015.

While they may be humbled, the Wildcats know they’re better than what their record says and their aiming to prove it on Saturday when they host Gaylord in their Big North Conference opener.

Game time is set for 7 p.m. at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium.

“A big thing we’ve focused on this week is humility. Things haven’t gone the way we wanted, but it’s about bouncing back,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell said. “It’s humbling being 0-2, when right now we should be 1-1.”

The Wildcats are seeking their first win over Gaylord since 2014. Since then, the Blue Devils have won three of the last four matchups by nine points or less.

Bearing that in mind, Mitchell said his team–led by its senior core–has a strong feeling it can win this week.

“We’re focused on Gaylord, but we know this is a gettable game,” Mitchell said. “Gaylord is a solid team right now and we have to expect the unexpected.”

Under second-year coach Shawn Sargent, the Blue Devils are off to a 1-1 start. Gaylord won its opener 12-7 over Remus Chippewa Hills and lost to Gladstone 20-7 last week.

Gaylord quarterback Corey Deer is still finding his footing as he runs Gaylord’s speed-T offense, but the junior signal caller has shown poise under center and the sort of leadership Sargent is looking for in the huddle.

In week 1, he was 7-of-12 passing for 60 yards, ran in a one-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak and made big plays that eventually put the Blue Devils in position to win. Last week, he showed off his arm after hooking up with Jacob Cleaver for a 73-yard touchdown in a loss to Gladstone.

Last year, senior Ryan Stefanski helped lead the Blue Devils to a playoff spot and was hard to contain as a dual-threat quarterback.

Mitchell said he sees the same sort of potential in Deer, even with just two games of varsity quarterbacking under his belt. Mitchell has also hammered home the importance of preparation this week and said Gaylord’s likely got a few tricks it hasn’t unveiled just yet.

“He looks to be the best athlete on their team. Last year they had Stefanski, who could hurt you with his feet and I think this kid can too,” Mitchell said. “We’ve got to make sure our coverage is better, get pressure on him and not let him decide whether he’s going to run or throw.”

Alpena has had chances to win both of its games, but has failed to execute in key situations. Costly mistakes haven’t helped either and Alpena’s offense has struggled to move the ball at times.

To that end, Mitchell reiterated the importance of doing the little things–knowing assignments, carrying out blocks, getting to the ball–if the Wildcats want to give themselves a chance to win on Saturday.

“Our focus is on the little things. Last week we started off really well and we want to make sure our football IQ (is raised),” Mitchell said. “We’re not hanging our heads and we know we have to play better.”