Cards' defense comes up big in homecoming win over Apollo
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Alexandria football team created five turnovers on Saturday afternoon on its way to a 21-7 win over St. Cloud Apollo on homecoming.
The Cardinals played in front of a packed house at Citizens Field, and they gave their fans plenty to cheer about from the get-go. Alexandria methodically moved down the field on the game's first possession before Mitchell Peck punched in a touchdown from the five-yard line.
The Eagles put the ball on the ground on the very next possession. It was the first of four lost fumbles for Apollo and it set up a touchdown run by sophomore Jake Bear that helped make it 14-0 in the first quarter. That was exactly the kind of start Alexandria was looking for as it searched for its first win of the season.
"That set the tone big time," junior defensive end and tight end Aaron Steidl said. "We came down and kind of stumped them after two [quick scores] in a row. We were running the ball pretty good there. Our running backs were doing well, our line was blocking really well. Everything was just clicking."
Apollo scored its only touchdown on the next possession before the turnovers made it all but impossible to get any closer. The Eagles were close to punching in the tying score in the first half when they lost a fumble around the Alexandria 10-yard line. It was the first of two fumbles deep in Alexandria territory, the second of which put the finishing touches on the win late in the fourth quarter.
Quarterback John Vogeler gave Alexandria some breathing room with 6:42 left in the game. He faked the handoff up the middle and rolled out to the right side with nobody in sight. Vogeler coasted into the end zone from a yard out as the Cardinals took a 21-7 lead.
Apollo went to the air a lot in the second half and Alexandria was ready for it. The Cardinals deflected multiple passes and got an interception from senior captain Nick Knoblach.
Knoblach is a little more than four weeks removed from hernia surgery that was expected to keep him out almost six weeks. He pushed himself in rehab to get back sooner than that, and he wasted no time providing this team with a big boost in the secondary.
"The wind was definitely a factor today so when they were with the wind we knew they were going to pass it a lot," Knoblach said. "So we just had to be ready for it and we were. It worked out good."
Knoblach's injury before the season made a young defense even less experienced through the first three games. As a result, the Cardinals allowed almost 40 points per game through that stretch.
Head coach Mike Empting felt like his guys would continue to progress as they got more game reps. They did that on Saturday as they played fast and aggressive to never let a struggling Apollo offense get going. That's what had Empting the most excited about his team's much-needed win in the fourth week of the season.
"The kids are just starting to recognize what they're seeing now," he said. "They're recognizing it sooner, that it's run or pass and getting to where they need to be faster. That was what we were struggling with and it's just the youth of these kids...they're just going to keep getting better."