In a battle between a pair of schools, much different in size and one team searching for its first victory and the other trying to win their second home game in as many tries, The Division 7 Sanford-Meridian Mustangs (1-2) did not back down from Alpena (1-2) and not only pushed the Wildcats to the limit, but came away with its biggest win in program history, handing Alpena a 26-20 loss and arguably the Wildcats most disappointing defeats in school history.
“This was a rough way to lose, but at the end of the day, it’s us again. We made mistakes, rolled the ball on the ground about six times snapping it, we were behind the sticks most of the night and got the news today that Jake (Zann) was out and we did what we could,” Alpena coach Eric Mitchell. “For us this one stings. I think with Jake it’s no brainer, but I still thought we played well enough to win this game. The mistakes all night hurt us and again, we just found ways to make those mistakes.”
Meridian scored on the first possession of the overtime period when quarterback Jace Burns plunged his way into the end zone from two yards out. The Mustangs faked the point after attempt, but failed to convert and held a 26-20 lead with Alpena getting their chance to win the game.
Unfortunately, mistakes doomed the Wildcats as they committed a false start penalty, quarterback Kalen Donajkowski filling in for an injured Jake Zann was sacked on third down and an interception ended the game as the Wildcats were stunned on their home field.
The Mustangs were not intimidated playing with house money against a much larger school and opened the scoring by taking the opening possession 57 yards on nine plays that resulted in Burns powering his way into the end zone from six yards out to give Meridian a 6-0 lead early and one that held after one quarter as the Wildcats struggled early to get anything going offensively with the absence of Zann.
After nearly a full half of struggling to move the ball, Alpena’s defense came up with a big play as Hunter Cohoon intercepted a pass deep in Mustang territory and the Wildcats cashed in as Donajkowski tossed a 19-yard touchdown to Cohoon and kicker Gabe Glawe added the point after to give Alpena a 7-6 with 3:30 left in the second quarter.
Just over two minutes later, Meridian answered with a big play of its own as Burns connected with a wide-open Blake Mager for a 48-yard score to put the Mustangs ahead 12-7 with 1:22 remaining in the half.
Just when it looked like Alpena was going to head into the break trailing, three plays later, Donajkowski threw a perfect ball and hit Carter Stark for a 52-yard touchdown to give Alpena a 14-12 advantage after two quarters.
“They (Meridian) loaded the box once they seen Jake was out and kudos to them, but we didn’t block very well, plain and simple,” Mitchell said. “We just got in our own way, a bunch of little mistakes that add up. Kudos to Kaleb (Donajkowski) for really balling out today. I would not have expected him to throw one touchdown, let alone three, but he found the open guys and did a great job. I’m very happy with the way Kaleb played. We just didn’t adjust offensively.”
Both teams were held scoreless as the Mustangs struggled to move the ball as the Alpena defense tightened up and despite gifting the Wildcat offense good starting field position, Alpena went backwards and failed to capitalize on great field position.
The Wildcats used another big play to extend the and once again it was Donajkowski throwing another long touchdown, this time to Easton Srebnik for a 64-yard score, but the extra point hit the upright and the door was still open with Meridian trailing 20-12 with 5:15 left to play.
Donajkowski filled in admirably at quarterback, throwing for 114 yards and three touchdowns, with 94 of those yards going to Srebnik who hauled in five passes.
The Mustangs kicked the door after scratching and clawing their way to pay dirt after an 11-play, 60-yard drive resulted in Burns throwing a nine-yard touchdown across the middle to Ethan Metzel to bring Meridian within a two-point attempt from tying the game after converting a controversial fourth row on the drive.
The two-point try was successful as Burns hit a wide-open Nickolas Metzger in the end zone to tie the game 20-20 with 1:52 remaining.
Alpena went three and out on the ensuing possession and failed to get off a good punt, once again, leaving the door open for Burns and the Mustangs with 48 seconds to go.
Burns marched Meridian to the Alpena 13-yard line after completing a pair of passes and getting a favorable pass interference call and with 2.9 seconds left in regulation, Burns scrambled to his left, but was brought down by Cohoon to force overtime.
Burns finished a superb night, leading the Mustangs to the upset win, accounting for four total touchdowns and over 200 combined yards through the air and on the ground.
“We need to clean up a lot of the little things. Little mistakes and we have to clean up defensively, offensively, hopefully we’ll have Jake back so our opponents don’t load the box,” Mitchell said. “I think letting this one sting, because we all feel this is a game we should have won, letting this sting is going to motivate us. We’re going to be whole, ready and pretty pissed off.”