ESCANABA - The Alpena Wildcats unveiled their new pistol offense and began their new era with a flourish Thursday night, stinging the Escanaba Eskymos 15-7 in their home opener.
Both teams had plenty of miscues, and a steady sprinkle and a wet ball didn't help matters much, but the Wildcats defense held steady and their offense capitalized on two big plays.
"The kids just believed they could win. They fought the whole time and overcame adversity," said Alpena assistant coach Steve Zann, who coached the team in lieu of Mat Skillman, who had a family emergency.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Escanaba’s Cameron Beversluis (30) celebrates with quarterback Travis Heller (20) and Jake Walker (27) after an 81-yard catch and run by Beversluis put Escanaba on the board in the first quarter Thursday night against Alpena at the Escanaba Athletic Field.
Keith Shelton | Daily Press
Escanaba’s Trevan Wendrick carries the ball upfield during a kickoff return in the first quarter Thursday against Alpena at the Escanaba Athletic Field.
"They were inspired a bit for coach Skillman," said Zann.
It wasn't a good omen for the Eskymos when they fumbled the opening kickoff. Alpena got the ball on the Escanaba 41 yard line, but the Esky defense held. However the Wildcats only needed one play on their next possession. An 80 yard blast from 6-foot-1, 220 pound junior running back Jordan Ferguson put Alpena on the board and the Wildcats completed the two point conversion to lead 8-0.
Escanaba answered with 2:50 remaining in the quarter on a one-play drive. Quarterback Travis Heller found speedy Cam Beversluis on an island, and he ran untouched 81 yards into the endzone, cutting Alpena's lead to 8-7 after the extra point.
ALPENA 8 7 0 0 - 15
ESCANABA 7 0 0 0 - 7
Alpena -Ferguson, 80-yard run (2-point pass), 6:30
Escanaba - Beversluis, 81-yard reception from Heller (Myrick kick), 2:50
Alpena - Bell, 16-yard reception from Pintar (kick good), 7:04
Alpena - Tyler Pintar (10-23-92, 1 touchdown, 2 interceptions)
Escanaba - Travis Heller (7-17-138, 1 touchdown)
Alpena - Jordan Ferguson (13-137, 1 touchdown); Tyler Pintar (8-(-25))
Escanaba - Trevan Wendrick (11-23); Jake Walker (4-(-4)); Travis Heller (13-20); Cameron Beversluis (4-22)
Alpena - Kaleb Smith (3-44); Josh Bell (3-24, 1 touchdown); Tim Atkinson (2-15); Dylan Hoes (1-8); Matt Hamel (1-2)
Escanaba - Cameron Beversluis (3-126, 1 touchdown); Ryan Timler (1-13); Trevan Wendrick (1-1); James McNeil (1-(-2))
Esky had a couple other sporadic decent plays on offense, but in large part couldn't sustain a drive. Alpena didn't have much success in that regard either, but the Wildcats did cap a nine-play drive with a touchdown early in the second quarter.
"Offensively we had issues getting things going and sustaining drives," said Esky coach Jim Hansen. "We got some big plays and made some things happen, but we didn't finish."
After Esky turned the ball over on downs, Alpena started from their own 43. Quarterback Tyler Pintar and Ferguson drove the Wildcats down, Ferguson with an 11-yard run deep in Eskymo territory. That set up Pintar's lob to Josh Bell in the corner of the endzone to cap the game's scoring at 7:04 of the second quarter.
Pintar was right on target at times, hitting five different receivers in the game, but under pressure, he made a couple bad decisions. He was picked off twice and on one play, took a 19 yard loss, but came up with 92 yards through the air on 10-for-23 passing.
The Eskymos turned the ball over twice on special teams and Heller lost a fumble in the third quarter, though the Eskymos got it right back, recovering a fumble of their own on the very next play.
Alpena had three turnovers of its own on two interceptions and a lost fumble.
"At times, it looked sloppy. We lost the ball and we have to work on ball security a little bit better," said Zann. "The kids gave a great effort and worked hard. They worked till the finish."
Beversluis stood out on the Eskymo offense, catching three balls for 126 yards and a touchdown, and he looked good doing it. He added 21 more yards on the ground.
Hansen liked the effort of his defense but said it was for naught when his team had as many turnovers as it did.
"In the second quarter on, the defense played very well," he said. "We had three turnovers though, two on special teams. It's the simplest part of football. You cannot turn the ball over and expect to win."
Defensively, Alpena shut down nearly everything Escanaba tried up the middle thanks to the effort of Ryan Day and Cade MacArthur, who plugged up the holes.
"I thought they did a good job running the ball and stopping the run, and we did not do a good job running the ball. We did stop the run later on, but it's simple football. It's blocking and tackling and they did it better tonight," said Hansen. "We have work to do as a team, and I have a lot of work to do as a coach, obviously."
Escanaba resumes Thursday at Traverse City Central and Hansen said his team will have something to prove.
"We're a better football team than we performed this evening," he promised. "We're going to work hard and get better. This is one step in a long season."