Card football preview: Alexandria looks to limit big plays against ApolloEmpting says eliminating explosive plays will come with more experience
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Cardinal football team is finding out early this season that understanding schemes and executing on the field are two different things with an inexperienced roster.
Alexandria head coach Mike Empting chose not to look at any film from a 43-0 loss to Rocori in week two. His thought was that the best approach would be to move forward rather than beat his players up by watching video of a game where Rocori had six scoring plays of 17 yards or more.
It’s a problem that continued to hurt Alexandria in a 48-35 loss to Fergus Falls last Friday. The Otters were even more explosive than the Spartans, scoring on plays of 20, 27, 45, 53, 66 and 77 yards. This time Empting went back to the tape to try and find some answers. What he saw is that the issues right now are more physical than they are mental.
“When you give up big plays like that, there’s breakdowns all over the place that happened,” Empting said. “I was more concerned about it immediately than after watching the video because when it’s happening you’re questioning, ‘Was our defensive scheme poor? Are we not executing our scheme?’ We had opportunities during those big plays to stop them for four, five yard gains; we just didn’t make the plays.”
Empting was more encouraged by that than he would have been if his players didn’t understand their assignments. The physical errors are things he believes will be corrected as his players gain more experience.
Getting them those repetitions in practice was the focus this week as they prepared to welcome in a 0-3 St. Cloud Apollo team for homecoming on Saturday. Those reps during the week will help, but the best learning tool is still getting out on the field against opposing offenses on game nights.
“The plays that happened, we were in our base coverage that the kids have seen a hundred times or more throughout two-a-days and this season,” Empting said. “But it kind of goes back to making that transfer from a practice situation to a game situation. The kids know. They know [where they’re supposed to be] when we watch video. But knowing it and physically doing it or making the tackle are two different things. I think they understand; it’s just going to take a little bit longer.”
Something to Build On
The Cardinals have some momentum to build on offensively after doing some good things in the loss to Fergus Falls. Alexandria went out last Friday night and played its best game of the season on offense. The Cardinals put together 330 yards rushing behind an offensive line that won a lot of battles up front all night.
Sophomore back Jake Bear and junior Mitchell Peck were both productive behind their blockers. Bear ran for 135 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. He broke off a 48-yard touchdown run to give his team the lead in the first quarter. Peck added 120 yards and two scores on 18 touches.
“We thought coming into the season that the strength of the team would be on the offensive line,” Empting said. “It showed to be true on Friday night. Our offensive line was really strong, and our backs ran a whole heck of a lot better. I feel pretty good with where we are at offensively. I’m not satisfied. We’re in the business of continuing to improve and find areas where we can work to get better…but it was good for our kids, and I think, a little boost to their psyche.”
Keeping a Positive Approach
The expected growing pains with a young Alexandria roster this season might have also been heightened by a tough first three games on the schedule.
St. Cloud Tech, Rocori and Fergus Falls have combined to go 8-1 so far this season. All three have offenses with experienced playmakers that are averaging more than 32 points per game.
St. Cloud Apollo comes to town this weekend looking to get things moving in the right direction just like Alexandria. The Eagles have lost a couple of close contests, but are averaging a conference-low 10 points per game.
For the Cardinals, it’s an opportunity to show they are making progress in front of a homecoming crowd. That improvement is what this team is focused on and why Empting says this group’s morale is still strong through the early-season struggles.
“The kids have responded well,” he said. “They had a good practice and talking to them around school, they seem to be doing well, spirits are up. Our team leaders are going to take care of that. We understand we need to get better if we want to be there at the end of the season and playing good football.”