Card football: Late rally falls short in Section 8AAAA playoffs
The Cardinal football team showed off the same resolve that helped it turn around its season in the final three weeks but could not overcome a talented Rocori team in a 25-20 loss in the section semifinals on Saturday.
The Spartans came in rested and ready to go after earning a bye in the opening round. Running back Sam Moriarty got Rocori off to a fast start with a seven-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. The Spartans went on to take a 19-0 lead into the fourth quarter.
"That was tough," Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. "Especially going in knowing we had to control the ball, keep it out of their hands, control the clock - that type of thing. When you get behind, you have to pick up the tempo a little bit. We tried to stick to the game plan as long as we could, but when it got to be more than two scores, we needed to go to something different."
Alexandria tried to rally back in the fourth. Steffen Morical got his team on the board with an eight-yard touchdown run that made it 19-7. Rocori immediately halted any momentum the Cardinals might have had after quarterback Nate Meyer connected with Mac Mueller on a 12-yard scoring play.
Meyer did enough with his arm to keep the Cardinals off balance. He finished 10-of-19 with 128 yards and two touchdowns. Alexandria came into the game wanting to get the ball out of Meyer's hands, but Moriarty proved to be a difference maker in the win.
Logan Serum matched Meyer with his best passing game of the season. He scored on a one-yard run to make it 25-14 after he had connected with senior receiver Jordan Domine on a 60-yard catch and run the play before. Serum then found Brock Wood for a 13-yard touchdown reception as the final seconds ticked off the clock. He finished the day 10-of-19 passing for 189 yards.
"The defense at that point with a lead was playing a little softer," Empting said of having to throw the ball late. "So that loosened up that underneath stuff. The last touchdown was a pass to Brock as time expired. He hit him in the short flat and [Wood] turned it up field to hit the end zone. Logan did a nice job throwing the football there down the stretch."
An athletic Rocori defense kept the Cardinals from controlling the game on the ground. Alexandria ran for 305 yards against Sauk Rapids last Tuesday but was held to 135 yards on 44 carries against the Spartans.
"Their two defensive tackles really gave us headaches," Empting said. "We were forced into a situation that if we were going to run anything, we had to double team those two guys and then we're short a guy on the linebacker."
That defensive effort by the Spartans was instrumental in the win as they jumped out early and held on late. It was the eighth straight win of the season for Rocori as the Spartans punched their ticket to the section finals against Sartell-St. Stephen.
Alexandria rebounded after a tough start to the season. After a loss to Fergus Falls on September 16, The Cardinals' only losses came against Rocori and Bemidji, two teams with a combined record of 17-1.
"To be at the point where we were 0-3, even at 1-5, it would have been easy for those kids to say, 'Well, this season is done, we're going to look forward to the next thing we have going on,' " Empting said. "They didn't. They hung together, kept believing in themselves, kept believing in each other, kept believing in the coaches, and they never quit."
Alexandria was rewarded with three straight wins and a home playoff game on a season where the Cardinals finished with a 4-6 record. They were playing their best football at the right time of the year. They just ran into a good team in the Spartans.
"I don't have any problems with our effort," Empting said. "The whole season, I've been telling the kids, 'Never let a team that's not better than you end our season. If there's a team that's going to end our season, then they better be better than you.' Rocori was better than us, at least on that night they were."
ALEXANDRIA 0 0 0 20 - 20
ROCORI 6 7 6 6 - 25
SCORING - FIRST QUARTER - Rocori - Sam Moriarty, seven-yard run (kicked blocked
SECOND QUARTER - Rocori - Sean Terres, 29-yard pass from Nate Meyer (Christian Pedroza kick)
THIRD QUARTER - Rocori - Drew Vocelka, fumble recovery in end zone (kick failed)
FOURTH QUARTER - Alexandria - Steffen Morical, eight-yard run (Phil Pham kick); Rocori - Mac Mueller, 12-yard pass from Meyer (kick failed); Alexandria - Logan Serum, one-yard run (Pham kick); Alexandria - Brock Wood, 13-yard reception from Serum