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Wildcats eyeing homecoming victory over TC Central

The Alpena High football team is in unfamiliar territory heading into tonight’s crucial Week 7 matchup against Big North Conference rival Traverse City Central.

Not only is there an added motivation because of homecoming festivities, but the stakes are even higher and the Wildcats (3-3, 2-1 BNC) are hoping to celebrate its homecoming weekend beginning with a win tonight.

“We need another win this week. We’re obviously excited, it’s homecoming, there’s all of those little distractions like we talked about last week. We’re doing our best to minimize all that noise and really just focus on what’s important and that’s getting a win on Friday,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell said. “Crowd noise is going to play a factor. It’s hard to simulate in practice which is why we’ve been working on it in practice. There’s that distraction, there’s a distraction that we have a homecoming assembly Friday, there’s hallway decorating, a parade and all of that other stuff. We just have to remember, this is just a football game. There’s a lot of cool stuff going on, but to us it’s a football game and we need to just focus on that.”

Alpena is coming off of a huge road victory against Marquette last week. The Wildcats scored with two minutes left to play and held on for a three point victory to improve its playoff chances.

Alpena could take one more giant step closer to a playoff berth with a win over the Trojans (5-1, 3-0 BNC), but it will be no easy task.

The Wildcats got a glimpse of a similar offense last week as Marquette ran a similar spread style of offense, but the Trojans have a more playmakers than what the Redmen had last week.

After the graduation of dual threat quarterback Tobin Schwannecke, Central hit the jackpot when they landed 6-foot-4 senior quarterback transfer Peyton Smith from football powerhouse Ithaca. Smith has lived up to the hype as he’s leading the BNC is passing with 520 yards and seven touchdowns through the air with no interceptions in conference play.

Smith has plenty of weapons alongside him including Trey Searles and Josh Burnham. The duo has combined for nine touchdowns in their three BNC contests.

Searles leads the BNC in receiving with 13 catches for 263 yards and four scores. Carson Hall is second in the conference with nine grabs for 190 yards and a pair of scores.

Burnham and Austin Bills lead the backfield and Smith has the capability to tuck the ball and run when needed to as well.

The Wildcats are hoping to find ways to limit the big plays and slow down a Central offense that scored more than 30 points in five of its six games.

“Central runs a similar offense that Marquette did and those two played a close game earlier in the year. We got to watch that film and our confidence is up right now. We know we can play with anybody, we just have to go out and play our best football every chance we get,” Mitchell said. “We need to attack space. Central does a great job using their size and speed, but, just like every team, they have pockets. They’re don’t deviate a lot, they do the same things all of the time. I’m expecting to see a lot of jet and for them to try and out-athlete us and our job as coaches is to make sure that doesn’t happen. They do have speed where we don’t, but we can still put ourselves in a position to attack that speed.”

As talented as Central is, the Wildcats have no shortage of athletes on their sideline.

This game will feature the two top passers in the BNC as Smith and Alpena sophomore quarterback Ryan Voltz try to lead their team to victory.

Voltz has enjoyed a strong first year as signal caller. Voltz is second in the conference with 347 pass yards and four touchdowns in conference play.

Along with Searles and Hall, Alpena has the No. 3 and 4 leading receivers in the conference as senior Kelley Stark has five catches for 158 yards and a pair of touchdowns and junior Charlie Williams has 133 yards receiving and two scores to go along with his conference-leading 17 catches.

The Wildcats will once again rely on its ground game to set the tone as Eli Winter and Jordan Schultz come in as the second and fifth leading rushers in the BNC respectively. The duo has combined for more than 600 yards rushing and six touchdowns in Alpena’s three conference games.

“I think the kids are going to feed off of that momentum tonight. We are more prepared for this moment now than we have been in the past. It’s my sixth year with the team and at no point have we been 3-3 overall, 2-1 in the conference and have the kinds of opportunities that we do tonight,” Mitchell said. “When we started the season, we had one goal: to make the playoffs, our other goal like everyone else, to win the league championship and the third one is make it to Week 14 and win a state championship. Right now we have a great opportunity to progress to six and more importantly get that next win in the conference. For us, it’s not worry about the first or the last or anything else, let’s just go out and play solid, fundamental football, punch the other team in the teeth and get back to basics.”

With a win tonight, Alpena will not only improve its playoff chances, but the Wildcats can also put themselves back in conference title contention. A win by Alpena will create a three-way tie for first place.

This will be the third time in the last 21 years that Alpena will enter a game against the Trojans with a .500 record or better and it will be just the second time in those past 21 years that the Wildcats will square off against Central with a winning record in the BNC.

Recent history is not on Alpena’s side as the Trojans have won the last nine matchups by an average of 29 points per game. Alpena’s last win over Central came in 2009, in overtime on homecoming night.