Alexandria football preview: Another challenge awaits against BemidjiThe defending Class 4A runner-up comes to Alexandria with a reloaded roster
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
In a season where the Alexandria football team is searching for improvement from week to week, head coach Mike Empting thought his team took a step back through two quarters against Willmar last Friday.
Empting said his team wasn’t ready to play as they fell behind 27-0 by the half. The Cardinals were able to bounce back a little after the break. They scored the only two touchdowns, but it wasn’t near enough to climb out of that early hole.
“We did not play very well in the first half on either side of the ball,” Empting said. “We had a lot of missed assignments defensively, missed tackles. Offensively, turnovers and penalties hurt us. In the second half, I thought we played a lot better. We played with more energy and the kids executed their assignments better.”
That’s what Empting hopes his team will carry over into a week six match-up against another good opponent in Bemidji. The Lumberjacks will come to Citizens Field with a 3-2 record and fresh off a runner-up finish in the Class 4A prep bowl in 2011.
Bemidji lost a lot of athletes from that team but seems to be restocking rather than rebuilding. The Lumberjacks’ only losses this season came at Moorhead (5-0) by four points and at Brainerd (4-1) in a 40-23 game.
“They’re athletic,” Empting said. “Offensively, they run the same zone-read type that we see from Rocori and Willmar. We see that a lot so we should be getting pretty good at defending it.”
All in the family
Like defending Rocori and Willmar, the key to slowing down the Lumberjacks will likely depend on how well the Cardinals can control another talented quarterback. James Hendricks is a sophomore but has been waiting for his chance to take over this offense as head coach Troy Hendricks’ son. James just had to wait for his older brother, Mitchell, to graduate.
Hendricks has stepped in this season and played well in replacing his brother. Last week, he threw for three touchdowns, including a 55 and 31-yarder, in helping the Lumberjacks to a 37-0 win over Grand Rapids.
“He’s young,” Empting said. “But he’s a coach’s son so he’s a kid who knows the game a little bit and has been around it.”
Empting said his players will once again have to be sound in their assignments and make the plays that are there to be made on defense. Bemidji has averaged almost 30 points per game this season, but that challenge is nothing new for this Alexandria defense. Of the Cardinals’ four losses, three have come against teams averaging more than 30 points per game.
That means there is little room for error with a young Alexandria team. Penalties and turnovers hurt the Cardinals against Willmar, and those are things that can’t happen if Alexandria wants a chance to upset Bemidji.
“Especially on the offensive side,” Empting said. “When we’re second-and-20 or third-and-15, that’s pretty tough for us to overcome. We’re not that kind of team. We’ve got to be mostly error free.”
to add up
The Cardinals also have the challenge of trying to overcome a few key injuries that will keep players out again this week.
Running back Justin Cumberbatch is dealing with a stress fracture in his foot that still has him in a walking boot. Cumberbatch is a powerful between-the-tackles runner for Alexandria when healthy. His injury has added extra carries for guys like sophomore Jake Bear and junior Mitchell Peck.
Senior starting left guard Brian Krebs has also been out since the Fergus Falls game after suffering a concussion against the Otters. Senior Cole Jodsass is also playing through a shoulder injury that has limited him to just offense after playing cornerback on defense as well early in the season.
Injuries are a part of every season for every team. It’s a matter of having depth that can help teams overcome that. So far, the guys who have stepped in for Alexandria have done what the coaches are looking for.
“Mitch Maday has done a very good job [replacing Krebs],” Empting said. “He’s giving us everything he’s got. When Justin went down, that just put Jake and Mitch into more of a full-time role. Tyler Kelly as well, it got those guys out there on offense more. When Cole went out on defense, that’s about the time Nick Knoblach came back. The kids are working hard. They’re giving it all they got. We’re just young in spots.”