Pursuit of perfection

At the beginning of the season it seemed like a pipe dream, but now just one opponent and 48 minutes of football stand in the way of the Alcona football team’s bid for history.

If the Tigers defeat Mio tonight, they’ll become the first varsity football team in school history to finish with a perfect 9-0 regular-season record.

“We’ve thought about it a little bit where if we beat this team or that team, we might run the table and we’re two days away from that opportunity. It’s pretty exciting,” Alcona coach Dave Schneider said Wednesday. “We know at the end of the day we’re going to be in the playoffs and we’re playing to host a playoff game. That’s what’s at stake here.”

In the midst of setting a school record for points (374), the Tigers haven’t run into much trouble on the way to an 8-0 start and leapfrogged a major obstacle with a double-overtime win against Whittemore-Prescott in Week 5.

The final team standing in Alcona’s way is no slouch though. Since a Week 1 loss to the Cardinals, the Thunderbolts are riding a seven-game win streak behind a high-octane passing attack.

“We’ve come a long away since Whittemore-Prescott,” Mio coach Jim Gendernalik said.

At the helm of Mio’s offense is senior quarterback Brad Rhoads, who has transformed into a top-rate quarterback in the Thunderbolts’ pistol formation. Rhoads had a tough task in replacing jack-of-all-trades Grant Price two seasons ago, but he’s become a deadly accurate gunslinger for Mio. Through eight games, Rhoads is 106-of-171 for 2,024 yards and 27 touchdowns.

“Brad’s progession has been a four-year thing and it’s unusual to see someone make those leaps and bounds,” Gendernalik said. “His transformation from four years ago is night and day.”

His accuracy has been helped by Mio’s multitude of weapons. Colton McGregor leads the area with 709 yards and has eight touchdowns. Seth Thomey is right behind him with 617 yards and nine scores. Chaun Obermiller and Bryson Devers have been nice compliments as well and both have also seen time in the backfield.

Alcona is no stranger to gaudy offensive numbers this season, having rushed for over 3,600 yards, thanks to a four-pronged attack that’s helped the Tigers gain more than 400 yards on the ground in six of their eight wins. Nathan Fettes leads Alcona with 1,212 yards and 16 touchdowns and Josh Mead (911 yards) could very easily break the 1,000 yard plateau too.

But for all the offensive firepower, Alcona’s defense is is in the midst of a banner year as well. Alcona has allowed just 74 points this season and Schneider credits defensive coordinator Terry Franklin for implementing a simple, but effective scheme.

“We bend a lot, but we don’t always break. We might give up a few first downs, but we stop teams,” Schneider said. “We feel like we need to go fast and make the field small. We keep things simple because we want them to play fast and free.”

Tonight’s game pits the champions of the North Star League’s two divisions against one another and Gendernalik knows his team has to slow down Alcona’s clock possession style if Mio is going to win.

“We can’t give them anything and we have to protect the ball,” Gendernalik said. “We need to find a way to stop them two or three times.”

James Andersen can be reached via email at sports@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5694. Follow James on Twitter @ja_alpenanews.