Card football: Late pick sends Alexandria into playoffs on the upswing
In a game of two evenly matched teams, turnovers and special teams proved critical as Alexandria came away with a 30-24 win over Moorhead on Wednesday night.
The Spuds ran the ball well behind a bruising attack by juniors Chase Morlock and Drake Benedict. Two costly interceptions and Alexandria's special teams made that a moot point on a night when the Cardinals moved to 3-5 with their second straight win.
Alexandria's Steffen Morical and Brock Wood had a big part in that. Morical pounded his way to four touchdowns and added a key pick in the first quarter that led to a field goal and a 10-0 lead. Wood then put the finishing touches on things with an interception as Moorhead was driving inside the Alexandria 25-yard line with less than a minute left.
"[Defensive coordinator] Russ Hinrichs did a great job of switching to cover-one," Wood said. "We had been struggling with that pop pass because it's right between that cover-two, the safeties and linebackers, so we switched to cover-one. The tight end that's usually catching it didn't even go out, so I just dropped right to the middle and it went right into my hands."
Alexandria never trailed in the game but could never pull away. Morlock got the Spuds on the board early in the second quarter before the Cardinals' Gideon Burnham answered with the first of two key special teams plays. Burnham took the ensuing kickoff and returned it all the way to the Moorhead two-yard line. That led to a touchdown two plays later.
Alexandria's Aaron Steidl then helped break a 17-17 tie late in the third. The sophomore linebacker came through untouched and blocked a Moorhead punt that gave the Cardinals the ball inside the Spuds' 25-yard line. That led to a seven-point lead for Alexandria heading into the fourth.
The Spuds answered by driving right down the field on their ensuing possession. Morlock scored his second touchdown of the night on an eight-yard reception from Aaron Lien.
Alexandria used a key first down catch by AJ Anderson on the next drive. The ball was tipped along the right sideline before Anderson hauled it in to convert on third-and-nine. That was the only pass the Cardinals threw all night, but it extended what turned out to be the game-winning drive.
"In a game like this, Moorhead and us were pretty evenly matched," Cardinals' head coach Mike Empting said. "Both teams really run the ball well. It often times is going to come down to who makes fewer mistakes and specials teams. We had, I think, better special teams, although they were able to get some yards in their kick return, but we made fewer mistakes too."
It also helped having Morical in the backfield and a strong push from his linemen. The senior back was the Cardinals' go-to-guy around the goal line all night.
"All the credit to the offensive line and the backs that are blocking for me," Morical said. "They did a great job. Teams know that we're going to run the ball. That's our offense. We run the ball about 95 percent of the time. Our line did a great job and our backs did a great job."
The end result was an Alexandria win and some momentum heading into the playoffs.
ALEXANDRIA 10 7 7 6 - 30
MOORHEAD 0 10 7 7 - 24
SCORING - FIRST PERIOD - Alexandria - Steffen Morical - 22-yard run, Phil Pham extra point, 7-0; Alexandria - Pham 24-yard field goal, 10-0
SECOND PERIOD - Moorhead - Chase Morlock - 1-yard run, Cody Rahman extra point, 10-7; Alexandria - Morical - 2-yard run, Pham extra point, 17-7; Moorhead - Rahman - 27-yard field goal, 17-10
THIRD PERIOD - Moorhead - Drake Benedict - 2-yard run, Rahman extra point, 17-17; Alexandria - Morical - 1-yard run, Pham extra point, 24-17
FOURTH QUARATER - Moorhead - Morlock - 8-yard reception from Aaron Lien, Rahman extra point, 24-24; Alexandria - Morical - 2-yard run, extra point no good, 30-24