LINCOLN-It's been a season of firsts for the Alcona football team and the Tigers added another accomplishment to their list on Friday.
The Tigers gained 535 rushing yards and ran past Mio 50-12 at Alcona High School to finish the regular season with a perfect 9-0 record.
The 9-0 finish marks the first time that an Alcona varsity football team has finished undefeated in the regular season.
"We've been expecting these feelings for a long time and it's just as much as we thought it would be. It feels great and we're really proud of ourselves," Alcona running back Garrette Norling said. "It's a week-by-week kind of thing, we study each team, we learn the ins and outs, what we need to do and we're really focused on our day-to-day efforts."
Nathan Fettes scored four touchdowns and had 145 yards on 18 carries for Alcona and the Tigers' defense limited Mio's passing attack for most of the night.
The win puts Alcona in the driver's seat to host a playoff game next week and adds another accomplishment for a team that captured the North Star League-New Division and beat Whittemore-Prescott for the first time in 21 years.
Atlanta 55, Rogers City 6
Gaylord 20, Alpena 13
Hillman 48, Hale 7
Owendale-Gagetown 42, Posen 6
Pickford 41, Onaway 6
In a battle of the North Star League's two division champions, the Tigers left little doubt who was the better team. Alcona scored on its second play from scrimmage and moved the ball at will against a Mio defense that at times just looked plain overmatched.
Norling added 175 yards on 11 carries and two scores for the Tigers and Cody Franklin had 110 yards on nine carries and a touchdown. Josh Mead had 12 carries for 55 yards and ran in a conversion.
It was Franklin who burst through tackles for a 55-yard touchdown on Alcona's second play and Fettes added touchdown runs of two yards and 52 yards on ensuing drives, giving Alcona a 24-0 lead with 10:46 left in the first half.
Mio (7-2) entered the game with a seven-game winning streak, but had trouble moving the ball against Alcona and was hurt by penalties, particularly in the second half. Playing without senior running back Bryson Devers, the Thunderbolts relied more on the pass and some of the big gains that helped them in previous weeks just didn't materialize or were broken up.
"It was a great defensive effort and offensively, I'm sure we rolled, but I think this was about defense tonight and I think a lot of people thought Mio was going to be successful," Alcona coach Dave Schneider said.
The Tigers forced turnovers on three of Mio's first four drives. Alec Neumann and Josh Mead both intercepted Mio quarterback Brad Rhoads and Dawson Forsythe had a fumble recovery.
Rhoads, who has passed for more than 2,000 yards this season was 15-of-24 for 134 yards and two touchdowns, both to Chaun Obermiller.
Obermiller had six catches for 63 yards.
"It was a terrible night, they're a very good team," Mio coach Jim Gendernalik said. "They grounded everything."
Mio finally got on the board late in the first half with a drive that lasted more than four minutes and began at the Thunderbolts' 38-yard-line. A personal foul on Alcona late in the drive moved Mio into the redzone and on 3rd-and-10, Rhoads found Obermiller in the left corner for a touchdown.
Alcona put the pedal down in the second half, scoring on all four of its drives. With the Thunderbolts stalling offensively because of penalties, Alcona found the end zone with ease and initiated a running clock twice in the fourth quarter.
Norling scored on a 15-yard run with 8:27 left in the third quarter and on Alcona's next drive Fettes found paydirt on a six-yard run after a chop block by Mio gave the Tigers good field position after a 64-yard run from Norling.
Norling found the endzone again on a 14-yard run late in the third quarter to put Alcona ahead 44-6. Fettes capped Alcona's scoring on the next drive with a five-yard score.
The Thunderbolts didn't score again until the fourth quarter when Rhoads found Obermiller for a 15-yard score with 9:41 to play. The rest of the time Alcona's defense stood tall, forcing two Mio punts and two turnover on downs.
The end of the regular season comes as a relief for Alcona, but the Tigers know they have bigger goals in mind and they'll be watching the MHSAA's selection show on Sunday to find out who their first playoff opponent will be.
"There's just such a relief. This has been in my entire 26-year career, this has been the most nervous I've ever been before a football game. We try to downplay that stuff and tell our kids we just have to go out and play football, but I was wound up," Schneider said. "All year our theme has been start fast and finish strong and we just wanted to start fast and boy we did."
James Andersen can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.