Wildcats look to gain confidence in regular season finale

News File Photo Alpena fullback Kaydn Budnick (32) evades a tackles from Gaylord’s Spencer Opperman during a football game at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium this season.

Despite another week full of uncertainty, including Alpena High School shutting down due to COVID-19 cases, adjustments have been made and the Alpena High football team will travel to St. Johns tonight as the Wildcats look to gain some much needed momentum in their regular season finale.

On Wednesday, school was shut down because some students and teachers may have been exposed. Three coaches were among those that have been forced to quarantine and will not make the trip to St. Johns tonight, including head coach Eric Mitchell who will now miss his second game of the season due to quarantine.

Assistant coach Steve Zann will once again take over the head coaching duties for the second time this season. Along with the coaches, 11 players, including seven starters will be out for tonight’s contest.

The Wildcats made a decision to cancel Alpena’s freshman game and make some call ups as the JV and varsity teams will each have some new faces on the field tonight.

“It’s been another interesting week to say the least. We brought up players from JV and combined our freshman and JV team to go over there and play St. Johns because they don’t have a freshman team so that worked out,” Mitchell said. “I think the players we brought up from JV will help. We’ve been without starters all year and unfortunately it’s something we’re accustomed to. We are just going to continue our next man up mentality and be as competitive as we possibly can be.”

The football season has been different and challenging, but the Wildcats have had to battle adversity and deal with results out of their control the past six weeks.

Alpena began the season without its head coach, suffered a pair of tough losses and a few frustrating and disappointing defeats along the way. The Wildcats enter tonight’s regular season finale winless, but hoping to end on a positive note and build some much-needed confidence before they head into the playoffs next week.

Tonight’s game against St. Johns (1-4) will be meaningful for both teams as each side wants to gain pivotal playoff points with a win to hopefully better their seeding before the playoffs begin.

As it stands right now, Alpena is last in its district and holds the eighth seed, which would mean the Wildcats would travel back to Thirlby Field in Traverse City next week to take on top seeded Traverse City Central and a rematch of a game which ended in a 57-0 drubbing just two weeks ago.

A win could potentially move Alpena up a spot or two depending on the outcomes in the final week of the regular season.

There is still plenty to be decided in this final week as Central travels to take on Macomb Dakota and both Midland and Midland Dow clash tonight in a matchup between the current No. 2 and No. 3 seeds.

Alpena currently has 11 playoff points. A win could move it up one spot to the seventh seed if Saginaw Heritage (0-4) falls to Mt. Pleasant (4-1).

“Not going back to Traverse City is big right now. We need to do our best to come away with a win tonight and find ways to get creative next week before the playoffs begin,” Mitchell said. “As of now, we would all be cleared for next week and we’re not the only team that is dealing with this.”

The Wildcats remember all too well what happened last year at home when they were stopped by the Redwings on a two point conversion that prevented Alpena from making the playoffs.

Revenge will certainly be on Alpena’s mind tonight against a St. Johns team that has had its fair share of struggles this season as well.

The Redwings started the year with three double digit defeats, but have played better as of late, shutting out Haslett in Week 4.

“St. Johns runs an offense similar to Petoskey and they have some key returners that we have to be aware of,” Mitchell said. “We remember what happened last year on our home field and we’ve definitely had this one circled. The kids who were on this team last year remember that feeling and we’re looking forward to getting some revenge tonight.”

Alpena put forth a much better effort last week, but once again came up short, losing 14-7 to Petoskey. The Wildcats are searching for that first win and are in need of a jolt of positivity after what has been a frustrating season.

“Every day our goal is to build this program and despite an unfortunate situation, this will help our program,” Mitchell said. “This will be an opportunity for kids to get more playing time and at a higher level where the game is faster. I think these kids are ready, if they weren’t ready, I wouldn’t put them in this position. These kids want to do what’s best for this team and this program.”


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