Missed chances hurt Alpena in loss to Chiefs

CHEBOYGAN- For Alpena head coach Mel Skillman and his team, it has been a season of missed opportunities and bad breaks.

Both were on hand again in another frustrating loss, as the Wildcats dropped a 28-8 contest at Cheboygan, falling to 1-5 overall on the season.

While the Wildcats squandered away multiple chances throughout the contest, Skillman also cited his team’s lack of focus against the Chiefs.

“We just didn’t have our full concentration,” said Skillman following the game. “Coming on the bus there was a lot of fooling around, and I knew we were kind of in trouble when that happens. We weren’t thinking about the game, we were thinking about farting around.”

The Wildcats fell behind, 14-0, when Cheboygan quarterback Luke Harrington hooked up with receiver Nate Stempky on back-to-back touchdown passes of 11 and 13 yards.

After the Wildcats recovered a Cheboygan fumble, they drove all the way into Cheboygan territory with under a minute to go in the first half. However, they could not capitalize after a potential first down pass from quarterback Tyler Pintar to Kaleb Smith was ruled incomplete, handing the ball back over to the Chiefs, who maintained their 14-0 lead heading into halftime.

Skillman added not scoring points before halftime was a deflating moment in the contest.

“It was kind of frustrating (on the play) where the referee said it bounced, and our guy (Smith) was on his knees and had his arms under the ball, what did it bounce on?” he said. “I have a feeling that because of our record over the last few years, it seems any crazy play goes against us. If it’s a close play, it’s going to go against Alpena.”

After the Wildcats’ offense stalled again in Cheboygan territory on their first possession of the second half, Cheboygan running back Ben Pearson helped extend the lead to 21-0 on a 58-yard touchdown run with 9:24 left in the third quarter.

Nate Stempky helped make it 28-0 Chiefs late in the fourth quarter, intercepting a pass from Pintar and racing 45 yards down the sidelines for a touchdown.

Alpena finally put points on the board on the final play of the contest when backup quarterback Brady Marwede connected with receiver Elliot Zarins on a 27-yard touchdown pass as time expired.

Despite tossing two interceptions in the contest, Pintar threw for 138 yards in the contest, while Marwede had 82 yards passing.

For the game, the Chiefs finished with 346 total yards, including 216 yards on the ground, while the Wildcats finished with 299 yards against Cheboygan’s defense.

For the Chiefs, though, it was the big passing plays from Harrington that helped lift the Chiefs in the first half.

“They (Alpena) were just big and strong up front, so they were getting a push, forcing Luke (Harrington) out of the pocket at times, and then we were able to keep our eyes down the field, because even though Alpena kind of broke down our pass protection, our kids kept blocking them, so Luke was able to still allow his eyes to be down the field and find an open receiver,” Cheboygan head coach Jack Coon said of Harrington, who completed nine-of-13 passes for 130 yards and two touchdowns. “Our kids really do a good job of finding that open window.

Ball control was also an issue for the Wildcats, who ran just three plays in the opening quarter, while the Chiefs controlled the ball for much of the contest.

“We’re not handing people at the line of scrimmage,” Skillman added. “They (Cheboygan) were just knocking our people backwards. We couldn’t run the ball and we couldn’t throw the ball.”

While the Wildcats suffered their fifth loss this season, Cheboygan improved to 5-1, and can earn a spot in the playoffs with a victory at Sault Ste. Marie next Friday.

The Wildcats, who only rushed 79 yards against the Chiefs, were led by Jordan Ferguson and Ben Manning, who both had 22 yards apiece.

Josh Bell led Alpena in receiving with 48 yards on three receptions.