Card football: Alexandria falls to Bemidji in homecoming game
A battle of two teams with a combined 7-1 record lived up to the billing on Saturday afternoon in front of a packed house at Citizens Field.
Unfortunately for Alexandria, it would be Bemidji that came away with the big play to spoil homecoming and hand the Cardinals their first loss of the season in a 14-7 game.
The Cardinals were clinging to a 7-6 lead late in the third quarter when two special teams plays set Bemidji up for the winning touchdown. Lumberjacks' punter Jon Henry pinned the Cardinals near their own end zone when his kick took a Bemidji bounce and was killed at the three-yard line. Alexandria went three-and-out on offense and was forced to punt from its own end zone. Bemidji brought pressure, which led to a kick that was never squared up and traveled to the Alexandria 22-yard line.
The Lumberjacks wasted no time taking advantage of the great field position. Mitchell Hendricks hit Mitch Brown near the front, left corner of the end zone on the first play of the drive. Brown went up and got the ball before falling past the goal line for what turned out to be the winning score.
"Our return guy did the right thing," Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said of the punt that pinned his team deep in its own territory. "If it's inside the 10, you don't field it. You bank on the fact that it's going to go in the end zone from there. They got down, covered it and killed it inside the five."
The Cardinal offense put together a drive that took up almost six minutes of the clock after Bemidji scored. They brought the ball to the Lumberjacks' 20-yard line before it stalled with just more then five minutes to go. Alexandria had to convert a fourth-and-four but a fumble after the handoff forced the Cardinals to fall on the ball short of a first down.
They never got another opportunity to score. Bemidji used up the rest of the clock as it drove deep into Alexandria territory. The Lumberjacks converted two fourth and inches situations to keep the ball out of the hands of the Cardinals.
"I can think of a couple different plays where we had opportunities to do something and just couldn't capitalize," Empting said. "We just couldn't execute it, whether it was hitting a block or hanging onto the football, or whatever it is. I said that before the game started - two good teams, it's going to come down to who makes the fewest mistakes, and we made one or two more than they did today."
Alexandria lost despite putting up big numbers on the ground. The Cardinals stuck with the run all day and rushed for 279 yards. Parker Giroux finished with 100, while Michael Joerger ran hard for 97 yards. Cole Ellison added 82 yards from the quarterback position.
The Cardinals only score came just two plays into the second half. Parker Giroux ran a perfectly blocked counter and went 80 yards untouched to tie the game at six apiece. Nick Knoblach then made it 7-6 with the extra point.
"That was huge," Empting said of the quick strike. "We saw some things in the first half that we knew we would be able to take advantage of. But it's tough. We have a lot of guys playing two ways so it's difficult for us to sit our whole offense down during a defensive series and say, 'alright, here is what we have to do.' We kind of have to use halftime to make those adjustments. That play was one of the adjustments we made."
The Cardinals had other opportunities to score but couldn't punch it in. Their best opportunity came when they put together a drive that started in the first and took off about eight minutes of the clock in the second quarter. The drive stalled when the Bemidji defense stuffed Alexandria four times inside the five-yard line.
"Anytime you get inside the red zone and don't score, that's hard to swallow," Empting said. "That would have been big for us."
The Cardinal defense kept Alexandria in the game with two timely turnovers. Bemidji threatened to take a two touchdown lead on its second drive of a game. The Lumberjacks converted a third and long to set up a first and goal situation. A holding penalty and a five-yard loss on their next two plays backed them up before Andrew Strater intercepted Hendricks to get the Cardinals out of a jam. Bemidji was driving again on its first possession of the second half before Alexandria recovered a fumble to keep its lead in tact.
The Cardinals couldn't hold it, though, as they fell to 4-1 on the season. There is still plenty to play for as a conference championship and a high section seed are still up for grabs.
"We're going to play a lot of games, yet," Empting said. "This is just one and there's going to be a lot that we can learn from this, hopefully. Sometimes for the kids, it serves as a little bit of motivation. They don't want it to happen again, especially the way we played. It wasn't clean, obviously. We didn't play clean on either side of the ball or on special teams, and the kids know that. So hopefully they'll be motivated."
ALEXANDRIA 0 0 7 0 - 7
BEMIDJI 6 0 0 8 - 14
ALEXANDRIA LEADERS - OFFENSE - Rushing - Parker Giroux - 100 yards, TD; Michael Joerger - 97 yards; Cole Ellison - 82 yards
DEFENSE - Felix Coleman - 12 tackles; Jordan Domine - 4 tackles; Steffan Morical - 7 tackles; Brandon Hale - 6 tackles, 1 blocked kick; Charlie Wensman - 5 tackles; Brock Wood - 8 tackles; Andrew Strater - 11 tackles, 1 interception, 1 fumble recovery; Max Flowers - 4 tackles; Ethan Favor-Jackson - 6 tackles; Everett Fandrich - 6 tackles, 1 sack; Ross Carlson - 6 tackles