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Wildcats come up short, drop regular season finale at St. Johns

News Photo by Jonny Zawacki Alpena running back Jason Smolinski (30) tries to split a pair of St. Johns defenders during the third quarter of a football game at St. Johns High School on Friday.

ST. JOHNS — An unusual week for the Alpena High football team ended with an all too familiar result as the Wildcats dropped another close game in their regular season finale, losing 14-6 to St. Johns on Friday.

Once again, Alpena was hurt by crucial turnovers in key moments. The Wildcats fumbled the football inside the 10 yard line midway through the fourth quarter trailing by eight and turned the ball over on their final possession of the game by throwing an interception in the end zone with 59 seconds remaining.

“I was notified at 11:30 a.m. that I was able to be cleared to come coach and then we had a few more guys get cleared at 2 p.m. so we had to make arrangements so we could all get here. I’m just glad we were all able to be here and play tonight,” Alpena head coach Eric Mitchell said. “Once again the turnovers late really hurt us and we just can’t afford to make those mistakes. I was proud of how we battled all night and given the circumstances I was extremely happy with how we came out and played. Unfortunately we just came up a little short again in a game that we definitely could have won.”

All of the scoring in the game came in the opening quarter.

Alpena was forced three and out on its opening possession and the Red Wings came out and drove right down the field, finding the end zone on a touchdown pass from quarterback Caleb Teeples to Aiden Koneval from seven yards out.

St. Johns gained even more momentum and took full control early on as Alpena’s next play from scrimmage was a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Bailey Nobach as the Red Wings jumped out to an early 14-0 lead.

Alpena looked sluggish in the early minutes and could have packed it in, but the Wildcats tightened up defensively and put a scoring drive of their own together late in the quarter. Alpena responded after the pick-six with a 13-play scoring drive that resulted in a one yard plunge into the end zone from Charlie Williams.

“When we threw the interception for a touchdown we could have packed it in, but credit to the guys for responding and continuing to battle all night,” Mitchell said. “I think early on we just weren’t quite ready. We had guys getting to the field right before game time so we made adjustments all game and all of our kids responded well and I was proud of that.”

Alpena forced a turnover early in the second quarter, when Logan Momrik recovered a muffed punt, giving the Wildcats the ball in St. Johns territory, but Alpena was unable to take advantage.

Both teams played the field position game during the third quarter as the Wildcats kept St. Johns in check.

Despite a few key injuries down the stretch, Alpena found its offensive rhythm midway through the final quarter as the Wildcats made a push to potentially tie the game.

Alpena’s biggest play of the night came just under six minutes remaining in the game when Kadyn Budnick ripped off a 54 yard run down the sideline that set the Wildcats up inside the 10 yard line.

One play later, the Wildcats coughed up the football at the nine yard line with 5:13 left to play.

The Alpena defense did what it needed to and stopped the Redwings, forcing a punt and getting the ball back with 2:30 left at the St. Johns 41 yard line.

The Wildcats moved down the field and faced a third down and nine from the 19 yard line. A jump ball in the end zone intended for Mason Mumford in double coverage was intercepted by Teeples to secure a St. Johns win.

“It’s obviously not the outcome we want, but I can’t be upset,” Mitchell said. “We battled all night, but shot ourselves in the foot once again.”

The Wildcats will wait to see who they will play next week in the opening round of the playoffs.

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