So much improvement was made by the Alpena High football team on Friday, but the Wildcats suffered a fate their all too familiar with as they dropped a heartbreaker on homecoming and Senior Night.
A 30-yard field goal by Corey Deer with five seconds left was the difference in a 30-27 Gaylord victory on Friday at Park Family Field at Wildcat Stadium.
The Wildcats (0-3, 0-3 BNC) put together easily their best effort of the season and were able find success on the ground, through the air and made critical stops when they needed to in order to give themselves a chance to earn their first victory of the year.
But in the end, they fell short and suffered a heartbreaking defeat.
“We really thought we had some good stuff going in the first half and it was just one of those weird games where they threw up a lot of jump balls and ended up with all of them it seemed like. Gaylord played well and we came out in the second half, we made adjustments and shut them down besides the three points at the end,” Alpena head coach Eric Mitchell said. “It’s one of those games where unfortunately we came up on the short end of the stick, but we know we got better this week. It’s not easy to lose, but it’s a heck of a lot easier to lose like this instead of the past couple of weeks.”
Both teams struggled putting points on the board coming into the game, but they figured out how to move the ball up and down the field with little issue in a first half that saw 47 points scored.
The Blue Devils found success early and often throwing the football and Deer shredded the Wildcats through the air as Alpena’s pass defense continues to be its Achilles’ Heel.
Deer tossed three touchdown passes in the first half, including a pair of scores to Gavin Freeman from 12 and 53 yards, while the other went to Adam Daust for 11 yards.
Alpena quarterback Ryan Voltz was equally impressive in the first half as the Wildcats matched Gaylord score for score in the opening half.
Voltz tossed a pair of first half touchdowns–one to Mason Mumford on a 12-yard slant for Alpena’s first score–and Voltz later completed a five yard touchdown to tight end Everett Zann late in the first half to tie the game at 20 apiece.
The other first half score came from senior Charlie Williams who powered his way in from a yard out.
After the Wildcats tied the game at 20 with 15 seconds left in the half, Alpena saw Gaylord run the ensuing kickoff back to the Wildcat 26 yard line.
With five seconds remaining, the Blue Devils sent Deer out wide, Quinn Schultz took the snap and threw up a prayer that was answered as Deer came down with the ball in the back of the end zone and Gaylord took a 27-20 lead into the break.
“For us, once again it was the little things. A special teams play at the end of the second quarter, we squibbed it and it was a good squib, but we crashed in rather than stay wide and Gaylord brought it all the way into our end and that’s what ended up being the difference in the game. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just the reality of it,” Mitchell said. “A little play like that makes a huge difference and we had a chance to knock the ball down in the end zone, but that’s just how it happened.”
Both teams made adjustments in the second half and the Wildcats held Gaylord scoreless for all but the final seconds of the game. They also made big plays forcing crucial turnovers when they needed to.
Voltz wasn’t as sharp in the second half as he was in the first and threw a pair of interceptions, but his defense bailed him out by forcing four second half turnovers.
Zann recovered a fumble after a muffed punt, Brian Frisch made two stellar defensive plays in the secondary intercepting a pass from Deer and deflecting a ball into the air that was picked off by Kadyn Budnick.
After Voltz’s second interception of the night, Gaylord appeared set to put the game on ice as the Blue Devils took over at Alpena’s 31 yard line. Schultz had his eyes set on the end zone, but before he crossed the goal line, the Wildcats punched the ball free and recovered a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown with 7:17 left to play.
Voltz made up for his mistakes in a huge way as he marched the Wildcats down the field and connected with receiver Mason Mumford on a pair of clutch plays.
Mumford caught an eight yard pass on fourth and five at midfield to keep Alpena’s hopes alive with just over three minutes left.
Two plays later, Voltz dropped a perfect pass to Mumford who made a terrific over the shoulder grab for a 42 yard touchdown and Sam Cook kicked the extra point to tie the game 27-27 with 2:36 to play.
“Defensively we made adjustments in the second half and we really cleaned it up and so did Gaylord. Rather than put our heads down when things got bad, we responded and made big plays and I think that speaks to the progress. That is to me the real progress that we stayed around in this game because could have counted ourselves out more than once, but we just kept battling,” Mitchell said. “We force that fumble and you’re thinking about not scoring too quick and we came up with a big play, but gave Gaylord a little to much time to move the ball down the field.”
Too much time is exactly what Alpena provided the Blue Devils as they drove down the field in 11 plays led by Deer who used both his arm and legs to set his team up for the game-winning field goal.
Deer finished the game 14-of-17 for 223 yards passing and three touchdowns. He also added 62 yards on the ground to lead the Blue Devils. Daust caught six passes for 83 yards and Freeman turned a pair of catches into 64 yards.
Voltz finished 11-of-24 passing for 108 yards and three touchdowns. Mumford hauled in six passes for 76 yards and a score. Budnick led Alpena’s rushing attack with 93 yards on eight carries and Williams added 86 yards on 22 attempts.
The Wildcats will face a tall task next week when they travel to Thirlby Field to take on the undefeated Traverse City Central Trojans.