Card football: A homecoming victory
The Alexandria football team took its first step toward trying to turn around its season on Saturday as the Cardinals ran away from St. Cloud Apollo late in a 26-0 win on homecoming.
Alexandria's defense created six turnovers on five interceptions and a fumble recovery. Four of those picks came in the fourth quarter as the Cardinals opened up what was a 6-0 game after three periods. It was a win this team admitted it had to have in front of a packed crowd at Citizens' Field.
"It feels great to get the first one, especially homecoming," senior Steffen Morical said. "As a senior, the game you remember is your homecoming game the most. We're just really happy to come out with a big win here, especially with a goose egg on the board for Apollo."
The Alexandria defense held Apollo in check all afternoon. The Cardinals allowed just 105 yards of total offense and held the Eagles' all-conference back, Nam Nguyen, to just 68 yards on the ground.
Nguyen was the focus of Apollo's offense after rushing for 118 yards in a loss to Bemidji in week three. The Cardinals executed their game plan against him all afternoon. The only time he really hurt them came on a long kick return in the fourth quarter that set up Apollo on the Cardinals' 13-yard line.
"All week we have been working on coming to the ball with leverage, making sure that we had somebody on our edge, pursuit coming from the inside and somebody coming from the alley," head coach Mike Empting said. "There were a couple of times that he was able to cut it up a bit, but it just came down to our guys keeping their leverage and doing their job."
That helped the Cardinals hold onto a slim 6-0 lead that they got on their first drive of the game. Logan Serum connected with Jordan Domine on a 34-yard strike down the left sideline. The senior receiver had a couple steps on his defender and Serum put the ball over his shoulder for the early momentum swing.
"I think from a psychological standpoint, getting out to that early lead was big," Empting said. "That was a real nice throw and catch. Great catch, tough angle for Jordan to make that catch, but Logan put the ball in a great spot."
The game remained close before a wild final frame blew things open. Gideon Burnham made it 12-0 three plays into the fourth on a three-yard run.
Senior Cody Brandt took over the game from there. He picked off freshman quarterback Ben Alvord on back-to-back Apollo possessions. He returned the second interception down to the Eagles' seven-yard line before Brock Wood punched it in from five yards out.
After that, it was Nathan Huss' turn to get in on the action. The junior cornerback halted Apollo's final attempt to get back in the game when he picked off an Alvord pass in the end zone after Nguyen had given the Eagles great field position. Huss then put the finishing touches on the win with his second interception of the night with 1:31 left in the game.
"It just came down to some guys making plays," Empting said of the turnovers. "Cody Brandt, we see it out of him in practice all the time. He's just got a great nose for the football...he picked off two passes and set us up in great field position. Then Nathan Huss made a great play down there that ended their last shot in the end zone."
The Cardinals were rewarded for never straying from a running game that was kept out of the end zone through three quarters. Alexandria ran the ball 49 times and finished with 290 yards on the ground. Morical gave his team the big play it was looking for when he broke off a 75-yard touchdown run down the right sideline to finish off the Eagles in the fourth.
The offensive line kept battling after two starters were knocked out of the game with injuries. Senior captain Jesse Hacker was also forced to leave but later returned after battling with a pinched nerve in his neck.
"We made a ton of progress," Hacker said. "We came off firing right away. We had two of our starting linemen go down. I had to go out for part of the game, too. But we had guys that stepped up in between. That second line brought it with them and kept it going."
Morical (17-136) and Wood (18-96) combined for 232 yards on the ground. Burnham also added 46 yards on nine carries. Empting decided to give the ball to his seniors heading into week three because he felt they had earned the right to turn around their final season. They repaid him on Saturday with a strong effort against the Eagles.
"I think, just being a senior, being biased, I think it's a good idea because us seniors have the most put into this program so far," Morical said. "It's great that Coach Empting wants to put it into our hands to help turn this season around and help lead this team."
The Cardinals hope the win over the Eagles is the spark this team needs to get going.
"It's been really tough having us go 0-3," Wood said. "That's really tough, especially as seniors. We didn't know what [would happen] coming out this week, but we knew we had to work our butts off. We pulled through with it, and it's huge. It's the turnaround of this year."
ALEXANDRIA 6 0 0 20 - 26
APOLLO 0 0 0 0 - 0
SCORING SUMMARY - First Quarter - Alexandria - Jordan Domine, 34-yard reception from Logan Serum; Second Quarter - No scoring; Third Quarter - No scoring; Fourth Quarter - Alexandria - Gideon Burnham - 3-yard run; Alexandria - Brock Wood - 5-yard run, Phil Pham PAT; Alexandria - Steffen Morical - 75-yard run, Pham PAT
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Rushing - 290 yards; Logan Serum - 2-5; Burnham - 9-46, TD; Morical - 17-136, TD; Wood - 18-96, TD; John Vogeler - 1-(-2); Mitchell Peck - 1-5; Tony Hubbard - 1-4; Passing - Serum - 2-9, 47 yards, TD, interception; Receiving - Domine - 2-47, TD
ALEXANDRIA DEFENSE - Tanner Rice - 3 tackles, 1 pass break-up; Nick Knoblach - 3 tackles, 1 interception; Morical - 3 tackles; Burnham - 7 tackles, 2 pass break-ups; Brandt - 10 tackles, 2 interceptions; Jack Wensman - 3 tackles; Huss - 7 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, 2 interceptions; Aaron Steidl - 1 tackle; Tyler Kelly - 1 tackle; Charlie Wensman - 7 tackles; Wood - 4 tackles; Max Flowers - 3 tackles, 1 QB hurry; Matt Sheets - 2 tackles; Zack McKay - 1 tackle; Hacker - 1 tackle; AJ Anderson - 3 tackles, 1 sack