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When it rains, it pours

Wildcats fall apart in second half, lose to TC Central

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Alpena running back Jordan Schultz runs between a pair of Traverse City Central defenders during the first quarter of a Big North Conference football game on Friday. Despite a strong first half, the Wildcats lost to Central 43-7 on homecoming night.

For a quarter and a half, the Alpena High football team was able to feed on the energy of its homecoming crowd and controlled the early stages of Friday’s key Big North Conference football game.

Unfortunately the Wildcats (3-4, 2-2 BNC), suffered a few tough breaks and unraveled in the second half as homecoming night was spoiled by rival Traverse City Central (6-1, 4-0 BNC) during a 43-7 loss in a downpour on Friday at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium.

“We controlled the game early in the first half, but didn’t capitalize on opportunities that we had,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell said. “At halftime we tried to keep our heads up, but the thing is, we know we can play with these teams. It is frustrating when you see the final outcome like this because we played a heck of a lot better than that.”

The Wildcats took the opening possession down the field, doing what they do best by pounding the rock. Jordan Schultz broke a 42 yard run on the opening drive to put Alpena into the red zone. But the drive eventually stalled out and the Wildcats failed to convert a fourth and short attempt.

Schultz was effective running the ball early, punishing Trojan defenders and carried the ball 12 times for 99 yards before leaving late in the first half with an injury. He didn’t return and the loss of Alpena’s senior leader hurt the Wildcats.

Alpena forced the Trojans into a three-and-out on their first offensive possession and the Wildcats once again put together a drive that stalled out at the Central 18 yard line.

The Wildcats dominated the time of possession, controlling the game and the ball early. They held the ball for nearly 10 minutes in the opening quarter and had chances to put points on the board, but came up short.

“Our plan this week was to run as many plays as we possibly could. We needed to capitalize on possessions and we felt like we did in that first series. We got down deep in Central territory, but stalled out,” Mitchell said. “We made little mistakes again today. we didn’t hold onto the ball. We put the ball on the ground way too many times and I don’t care about the rain or anything like that, we put the ball on the ground too much, committed silly penalties and little things that still, at the end of the day got us.”

Central broke a scoreless tie with 3:16 left in the second quarter as Austin Bills powered his way into the end zone for a three yard touchdown. Bills broke a 57-yard run earlier in the drive, breaking a handful of tackles and eventually capped off the drive with the touchdown to put the Trojans up 7-0.

Alpena quarterback Ryan Voltz threw an interception on the Wildcats’ next possession and the Trojans extended the lead to 14-0 with 1:23 left in the half when Josh Burnham scored from one yard out.

With less than a minute remaining in the opening half, Alpena quickly raced down the field, but was forced to put the ball in the air in the less than ideal conditions as a steady downpur continued.

Central scored on its opening possession of the third quarter to take a 20-0 lead. The ensuing extra point attempt went through the hands of the holder and was picked up and eventually thrown toward the back of the end zone for a two point conversion for a 22-0 lead, even as Central looked like it had an ineligible player downfield.

Alpena was again forced to punt on its next possession and endured some more tough luck as the punt sailed downfield and deflected off of a Central player. The Wildcats recovered, but the officials didn’t see the ball hit the Trojan player and Central gained possession.

“I’ve not been a part of a game in a while where the officiating was that bad. Obviously I’m not blaming them, but I was asking for explanations and didn’t get much of an explanation,” Mitchell said. “I don’t want to sit here and blame the officials, but those were a couple of tough breaks that could swing the football game. Those little things didn’t help, again it’s not why we lost the game, but it certainly didn’t help. At the end of the day, Central made more plays than us, plain and simple.”

The Trojans ultimately scored three times in the third quarter to take a 43-0 lead and begin a running clock.

The Wildcats will have their backs against the wall and need to win their remaining two games to have a shot at a playoff berth. The chase begins next Friday in Alpena’s final road test of the season against Petoskey.

The Wildcats were able to get into the end zone with 1:20 left in the game when Charlie Williams scored from five yards out.

“We learned from the first half of this game that we can play with anybody. Central is ranked and our blue collar brand of football matches up well with anybody I think. We can go out and play with anybody,” Mitchell said. “We will get Petoskey’s best game of the season next week. It seems like every year, we get their best game. They’re going to do everything they can to beat us and we’re going to do the same.”