Alexandria football: Cardinals still searching for answersBemidji used a big second half to hand Alexandria its fifth loss of the season.
By: Eric Morken, Alexandria Echo Press
The Alexandria football coaches knew a young roster would mean some early growing pains this season. They just hoped a lot of those issues would be ironed out heading into the final weeks.
Instead, the Cardinals saw a lot of the same inconsistencies that hurt them in week one hurt them again in a 38-23 loss to Bemidji on Friday night. Alexandria played well in stretches, taking a 16-7 lead into the break. The second half was all Bemidji though as the Lumberjacks scored 31 points to drop the Cardinals to 1-5 on the season.
“There was going to be some learning,” head coach Mike Empting said. “We knew that from the onset, but when you get to game six, you hope you start to get things figured out a little bit, especially when you’ve seen essentially the exact same offense from three teams.”
Teams like Rocori and Willmar had success earlier in the season against Alexandria by running the zone-read, an offense that likes to spread teams out and let the quarterback make decisions after the snap by reading the defense. Friday night, it was sophomore quarterback James Hendricks and a host of talented backs who made plenty of big plays in the second half.
But the biggest of those plays came before Bemidji even touched the ball on offense in the third quarter. The Lumberjacks forced a three-and-out before senior Richard Seado took the ensuing punt down the left sideline for a 57-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals still led 16-14 at that point, but it got the ball rolling for Bemidji. Alexandria lost a fumble on its next possession. Hendricks needed just one play to make that hurt as he connected with a wide open Collin McNallan for a 32-yard touchdown.
The Lumberjacks never trailed again after that. They took a 31-16 lead with 9:15 left in the game after an interception led to the second of three touchdown runs by senior Brady Schmidt. Alexandria put together a nice drive after that as John Vogeler capped it off with a four-yard touchdown pass to Riley Hvezda.
That made it a one-score game with 3:05 left, but the Bemidji offense needed less than two minutes to finish things off with Schmidt’s third touchdown of the night. As a team, the Lumberjacks ran for 262 yards as Hendricks made good decisions on when to hand it off and when to pull the ball back and run himself.
“He’s a good athlete and he can make guys miss,” Empting said of Hendricks. “That’s why you run that offense. You have good athletes and you get guys in space. You create those one-on-one matchups. That’s what that does, it forces you to play 11-on-11 football. You can’t overload one side or cheat or anything like that. If you’ve got a bunch of good athletes that are good in space, it’s a tough offense to stop.”
The second-half comeback spoiled what was a good first half for Alexandria. The Cardinals used two Bemidji fumbles and a safety to take a lot of momentum into the locker room. Senior defensive end Ted Deitz set up the Cardinals’ first score when he scooped up a fumble and went almost 50 yards before getting stopped near the Lumberjacks’ 10-yard line. Senior Tyler Kelly punched one in from three yards out a few players later to give Alexandria the early lead.
The Cardinals put together their best drive of the night right before the half. They used 16 plays and converted two fourth downs before Jake Bear scored from one yard out to make it 14-7. A safety on the ensuing kickoff only added to the momentum that Alexandria was able to build in the first half.
“I think we were very happy with the way we played in the first half,” Deitz said. “Bemidji is a great team, second in state last year. We came out and we did our part as a young team against them. I thought we did a great job. We were all rallying together in that second half, just when they got momentum it was hard to stop them.”
Deitz said he felt that this game was going to be different than a lot of others this year after getting off to that fast start. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, it didn’t play out that way as they fell victim to another offensive outburst by an opposing team.
“These young guys are gaining experience and all that other stuff,” Empting said. “But it doesn’t do anything for our seniors who are here right now where this is their last year. You try like crazy to put something together for these guys, to make it special for them in their last year. It’s just tough.”
The Cardinals still hope to put something positive together over the final two weeks. It doesn’t get any easier though as they head on the road to play a 6-0 Moorhead team this Friday before welcoming in a 4-2 Brainerd team next Wednesday to wrap up the regular season.
“We’re a 1-5 team now,” Deitz said. “The way we played in the first half, I mean, there’s always hope. Playoffs are a whole new season. You start over with a brand new record. We got to just keep building up for the playoffs.”
BEMIDJI 0 7 17 14 – 38
ALEXANDRIA 0 16 0 7 – 23
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE – Passing – John Vogeler – 5-13, 24 yards, TD, INT; Receiving – Bear – 1-(-1); Aaron Steidl – 2-13; Hvezda – 2-12, TD; Rushing – Bear – 20-66, TD; Vogeler – 13-57; Cole Jodsass – 1-(-1); Mitchell Peck – 15-43; Kelly – 1-3, TD; Rushing total – 50-168; Passing yards – 24
ALEXANDRIA DEFENSE – Parker Bowden – 3 tackles; Ben Kluver – 1 tackle; James Holmquist – 4 tackles; Jodsass – 1 tackle; Jeff Swedberg – 3 tackles, pass breakup; Nick Knoblach – 13 tackles; Nathan Huss – 4 tackles; Steidl – 4 tackles; Kelly – 2 tackles; Christian Canavati – 10 tackles; Parker Revering – 3 tackles; Max Flowers – 3 tackles; Deitz – 4 tackles, forced fumble, fumble recovery, pass breakup
SPECIAL TEAMS – Kick returns – Kelly – 1-13; Bear – 3-38; Knoblach – 2-35; Punting – Steidl – 6-122, 20.3 average; Extra points – Chandler Davis – 3-3