Card football preview: Alexandria travels to Rocori tonight
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Cardinal football team finds itself in an unfamiliar position heading into its game against Rocori tonight.
For the first time this season, Alexandria will find out how well it bounces back after an emotional loss. The Cardinals feel they let one slip away when Bemidji spoiled homecoming with a fourth-quarter touchdown last week. A couple days to think about it has allowed this team to regroup and prepare for the stretch run with plenty of attainable goals still in front of it.
“This was a game that was definitely in our grasp,” head coach Mike Empting said on Wednesday. “And we feel like we let this one get by. So yeah, I think they are going to respond. We have good leadership on the team. They’ve been positive. When you lose, it’s easy to start pointing fingers. The kids have come together. They have worked hard this week and I think they recognize they still have a great opportunity in front of them.”
The chance to bounce back comes against a 1-4 Rocori team on the road. The Spartans are coming off their first win of the season after they beat Fergus Falls 37-13 last Friday. Quarterback Nathan Meyer had a big game against the Otters, rushing for 118 yards and throwing for an additional 136. Cody Luethmers added 99 yards on 18 carries.
The Spartans are another team that the Cardinals know they can’t take lightly. Alexandria has done a good job of that this season against opponents with losing records.
“They’re another team that’s kind of rebuilding again this year,” Empting said. “They got one win and when you watch them on video, they look better than a 1-4 team. That’s always kind of the danger. They are coming off a win and maybe have some momentum. We have to keep our focus, keep reminding the kids and ourselves that it’s bigger than one game. It’s about getting better every week.”
After watching the Bemidji tape, Empting feels the area his team needs to focus on is finishing off drives. The Cardinals had a 21-play drive against the Lumberjacks that ended with no points after they were stopped inside the five-yard line.
“We had lots of opportunities,” Empting said. “I thought we did some things really well during that game and the video confirmed that. We moved the ball on the ground, rushed for almost 280 yards…the bottom line was we got into the red zone and we made mistakes in there, and that can’t happen.”
Rocori will no doubt take a look at what Alexandria did wrong against Bemidji and try to exploit it. The good thing for the Cardinals is they feel those miscues are all correctable. Included in that is the punt and kick return games, which Empting said needs to get better.
Those mistakes on offense and special teams are areas that Alexandria has addressed this week in practice. It now hopes to show progress in those areas in a winnable game against Rocori.
There is still plenty for Alexandria to play for. The Cardinals remain one of just two teams undefeated in the Central Lakes Conference. Brainerd joined them at 4-0 after last week’s win over St. Cloud Tech.
At least a share of the conference title is well within Alexandria’s reach with only one CLC opponent on the schedule after Rocori. That comes next week at home against a 1-4 Little Falls team. The chance to play for a league title and a high section seed is plenty of reason for this team to bounce back after its first loss of the season.
“It’s been a good week,” Empting said. “The kids have been upbeat. They definitely hurt after the loss, but there are a lot of kids on this team who have a lot invested in this season. When you work hard for something and come up short, it’s only natural that it hurts. But we still have a lot to play for. They recognize that. They used the weekend to shake it off and they’re ready to go.”