As one of the Alpena football team's veterans, junior running back Jordan Ferguson knows just how tough the competition is in the Big North Conference.
"Every week it's a new competition," Ferguson said. "Every week there's new strengths and weaknesses with each team and we try to get at their weaknesses and get in and make our strong points come out and make plays."
Conference play has gotten the better of Alpena the last two seasons, as the Wildcats can claim just one Big North win-a 36-21 victory over Gaylord last season.
News File Photo
Alpena’s Jordan Ferguson (41) tries to tackle Sault Ste. Marie running back Ray’Nell Anderson, left, during a football game at Wildcat Stadium last Friday.
This season however brings a new sense of optimism and the Wildcats hope to start this year's conference slate off on the right foot tonight at Ogemaw Heights at 7 p.m.
"We're a lot more optimistic than we ever have been. Last year, we were optimistic, but this year I think, we've just been used to all these guys and we're comfortable with each other," Senior defensive lineman Ryan Day said. "We know each other really well and I think the main change is optimism and the belief that we can win games."
Turnovers and some missed opportunities hurt Alpena's chances for a win at home last week against Sault Ste. Marie and the Wildcats are hoping to rebound from their setback.
That won't be easy though as Ogemaw is looking to back into the win column after a tough loss to Traverse City West, during which the Falcons were limited to just 241 yards.
Last year Ogemaw was perhaps the hottest team in the conference, finishing the regular with four straight Big North wins, including victories over West and Cadillac. This year Ogemaw returned 17 starters, giving first-year head coach Bill Foster a lot to work with as the Falcons aim for a return trip to the postseason.
"From watching film of them against TC West, they run the ball a lot, right up the middle at us and we're really strong up the middle so hopefully we can make plays and get ahead," Ferguson said.
While Alpena's offense has been streaky at times in its first two games, the Wildcats' defense has been solid. Alpena limited Escanaba to 199 yards of offense in Week 1 and did a decent job of stopping Sault last week, despite the efforts of Blue Devils' quarterback Michael James.
Alpena switched from a 4-4 defense to a 3-5 this year and its worked well thus far, helping Wildcats' defenders like Day and Cade MacArthur put the clamps on the opposition's running game. The Wildcats have also made some big plays defensively at key times. Last week, Dylan Glennie recovered a fumble and Shane Trafalet came up with an interception in the fourth quarter.
Tweaking their defensive scheme may be helping somewhat, but Day said players are simply doing what they're taught to do, namely making plays.
"We all know each other, we all know where we're going to go and we trust each other on defense. That's the kind of the main thing about a defense: you have to trust each other and we're just trying to go out and make plays," he said. "There's no secret, no special formula, that's all we're trying to do."
James Andersen can be reached via email at email@example.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.