Grid preview: Lakers up next for Card griddersAn upset in the opening round of the Section 8AAAA football playoffs sets up a match-up of two teams that do not know a lot about each other with a trip to the section title on the line.
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
An upset in the opening round of the Section 8AAAA football playoffs sets up a match-up of two teams that do not know a lot about each other with a trip to the section title on the line.
Sixth-seeded Detroit Lakes upended third-seeded Sauk Rapids-Rice on Tuesday night. Their reward is an opportunity to travel to Alexandria tomorrow night, Saturday, and take on a Cardinal team that made it look easy in a 37-8 win over St. Cloud Apollo.
“This will be a little bit tricky,” head coach Mike Empting said. “We don’t know too much about Detroit Lakes. They don’t play any common opponents to us. So we are a little bit blind, but on the same token, they are too.
“I don’t know how good they are. It’s tough to tell right now. But obviously, we know Sauk Rapids is a pretty decent team. They handed us our one loss on the year. So that’s gotta be an eye opener for our kids to make sure we give this team its due respect.”
That has been a theme for the Cardinals in their last three games. Alexandria was favored heavily in all three games against Little Falls, Fergus Falls and St. Cloud Apollo. In all three games, the Cardinals heeded the message of their coaching staff when they warned them about what can happen when you give a team with nothing to lose an opportunity.
Alexandria came out and jumped on each team early. The end results were all easy wins. That has the Cardinals confident but cautious heading into a game against a 4-5 Detroit Lakes team.
“[Our confidence] is high, but it’s not too high,” Mark Whiting said. “We’re not too full of ourselves right now. We know that any team can come to play on any night. We just have to jump on them right away. Come out strong, come out firing and do what we need to do to take care of business.”
The Lakers used two touchdowns from quarterback Joe Mollberg to secure the win over the Storm on Tuesday night. His 36-yard touchdown pass to Nate Baker put the finishing touches on the victory. He threw for 132 yards on 5-of-8 passing in the game.
The Detroit Lakes defense also came up with big plays against the Storm. They created three turnovers, limiting the opportunities for Sauk Rapids to get back in the game.
That is exactly what the Lakers want to do against an explosive Alexandria offense. Creating turnovers is one of the best opportunities they have at pulling off the upset.
The trouble with that plan is the Cardinals have not been prone to turnovers. Alexandria has looked like a team on a mission this season after dropping a 14-7 game to Sauk Rapids in week one.
“We should have beat them the first game,” Whiting said. “We had 13 penalties for 75 yards. That just killed us, and we kind of wanted to face them again to get revenge on that because we knew we could beat them.”
That game seemed to serve as a wake-up call. That has kept them focused on the task at hand going into every game.
“For us seniors, if we have a couple of slips and one oops, we’re done and our high school careers are over,” Matt Peterson said. “Obviously, our goal is to be past that point, but you gotta work for it and take each week game by game.”
The Cardinals are confident that they will be able to score with Detroit Lakes. They have scored at least 30 in six of their eight wins this season.
With those kinds of numbers, it’s easy for the Alexandria defense to get lost in the shuffle. But that unit continues to make plays to set up their offense with good field position.
Tyler Iverson got two interceptions in the first half against St. Cloud Apollo. The first one led to a touchdown that made it a two-possession game early in the first quarter.
The first-team defense shut out the Eagles before they scored a touchdown on the second unit midway through the third quarter. Empting knows there will come a time when his defense is going to be counted on more heavily against stronger competition. He is confident in the players’ ability to step up to any challenges they will face through the playoffs.
“Our defense has to continue to improve,” he said. “We are going to have more developed schemes and the athletes that we face are going to be better and better, and they’re going to execute better. It’s going to be up to us defensively to just execute and play.
“We have very good athletes on the defensive side of the ball. They continue to demonstrate that. We get after the quarterback, we intercept the ball. We have playmakers on that side of the ball, too – Ross Thompson, Tyler Iverson, those linebackers. Our defensive linemen are really getting after it. They have to continue to develop. Continue to see those plays and recognize what’s coming at them.”
When the Cardinals put everything together, they are a tough team to beat. Eight straight wins is evidence of that.