Fergus Falls on the gridiron tonightThe Cardinal football team could not enjoy its second win of the season for very long after coming out of Little Falls with a 31-21 victory over the Flyers last Friday.
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
The Cardinal football team could not enjoy its second win of the season for very long after coming out of Little Falls with a 31-21 victory over the Flyers last Friday.
Alexandria had to begin game planning for what will probably be its biggest test of the season tonight, Wednesday, when the Cardinals welcome Fergus Falls to town for the regular-season finale.
The Otters are the class of the Central Lakes Conference this season with a 7-0 record after they beat Brainerd 31-29 last week. That gave them at least a share of the CLC championship, but a win over Alexandria tonight would give them the outright title.
“I would say yes, they are the best team we are going to see this year,” Cardinals’ head coach Mike Empting said. “I have seen them on video and had a chance to watch them live, and I told the kids after that, that I can’t say Brainerd is better than Fergus Falls. They pretty much proved it with the head-to-head win last week.”
The Otters are a complete football team with a lot of athleticism at the skill positions. Quarterback Derek Hansen leads a Fergus Falls passing game that lives for the explosive play, while Matt Mithaugen carries the load as a dual-threat runner out of the backfield.
Mithaugen is coming off a huge game against the Warriors last week where he scored three touchdowns on 148 yards rushing and 90 yards receiving. He scored on plays of 44 and 59 yards in that game. It is those big plays by the Otters’ offense that has Empting concerned.
“Seeing them on film and then in person, they have the ability with their split ends and Mithaugen and their quarterback to go the distance from any place on the field,” Empting said. “That puts a lot of pressure on the defense.
“Our emphasis will be to not allow them the big play, especially through the air. Our defensive backs need to keep those routes in front of them and rally up and make the tackles. They might get the completions for 10 or 15 yards, but if we can keep it at that, that will be huge.”
The best defense against Fergus Falls may be an offense that can control the ball. The Cardinals will try to establish a running game to keep the ball away from the Otters’ offense. Limiting turnovers is also something Alex will have to do a better job of. Even in the win this past Friday, the Cardinals turned the ball over four times, which limited their ability to pull away from the Flyers.
“That’s going to be huge,” Empting said of controlling the football. “That is one thing we will have to do a good job with. We can’t turn the ball over against these guys. We’ve struggled with that all season.”
Matt Peterson will try and help Alexandria establish the running game. Peterson is coming off a great game against the Flyers where he ran for 175 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries.
Breaking loose on the Otters’ defense may prove to be more difficult, though. Fergus Falls is big up front on both the offensive and defensive lines, led by senior and future University of Minnesota lineman Josh Campion.
A win for Campion and the Otters would give them their first CLC title in team history. It would cap off a complete turnaround from Fergus’ first season in the conference in 2006 when the Otters went 0-9 overall and 0-6 in the CLC.
For Alexandria, it is a chance to play spoiler. This game does not hold significant playoff implications for either team, but it will not be hard for these two teams to get up for the season finale. Alexandria has gone 2-0 against the Otters in their first two seasons as conference opponents. That includes a 38-13 Cardinal win from a year ago.
Fergus Falls has a lot more to play for this time around, and the Cardinals would love nothing more than to keep them from an outright conference championship.
“We’re going to try and build some momentum going into the playoffs,” Empting said. “It’s a great opportunity to play spoiler. There is a developing rivalry between Fergus and Alex. Because of that, it shouldn’t take too much to get the kids fired up.
“But I’ll just remind them that it’s Fergus Falls and we have an opportunity to take away an undefeated season from them. We have an opportunity to take away an outright CLC championship and also to build momentum going into the playoffs.”