Card football: Alex runs all over Sauk Rapids-Rice
Watching the Alexandria football team on Tuesday night, one would be hard pressed to see much resemblance to the group that started the season 1-5.
The Cardinals struggled to do much of anything offensively on their way to a 0-3 start. At that point, the coaching staff stopped fighting a philosophy that didn't fit their personnel.
They moved out of the shotgun and switched to a more downhill approach, lining up quarterback Logan Serum under center and allowing the offensive line and a powerful group of backs to play to their strengths. Alexandria made steady improvement through its final five games of the regular season.
On Tuesday, the Cardinals were at their best in a 42-16 win over Sauk Rapids in the Section 8AAAA playoff opener. Alexandria dominated on the ground, racking up more than 300 yards rushing behind a bruising performance by Steffen Morical and an offensive line that played its best game of the season at the right time.
"Early on, we kind of were finding a way to lose games," head coach Mike Empting said. "We were not taking care of the football and at the same time did not have an offensive scheme that fit our personnel. Then we went along and had a couple of games where we found ways to win it. Tonight, that was kind of the challenge to our kids, can we figure out a way to put a team away now?"
The Cardinals were up to the challenge in the second half. Alexandria turned a 21-13 game at the break into a rout by outscoring the Storm 21-3 in the final two quarters.
The Cardinals wore down the Sauk Rapids defense along the way. Morical had some big holes to run through and finished by punishing the Storm once he got into the secondary. At 5'9," 177 pounds, the senior back plays much bigger than his measurables. He dragged multiple defenders with him across the goal line on his first two touchdowns. He finished with four touchdowns and 236 yards. He's found the end zone eight times in the last two games.
"It's all the line," he said. "It's all the backs. Everyone had a good night tonight. [Gideon] Burnham had a good run; Brock [Wood] had a good run. We all had good runs tonight and played well. The offensive line is really doing a great job for us backs. It's really easy, the holes are right there and we just got to hit them hard."
That offensive line has continued to improve since Alexandria made the changes on offense early in the season. Senior Kirby Kragenbring returned for the first time since going down with a knee injury during homecoming in week four. He helped out a group that dominated up front, despite the fact that Sauk Rapids knew what was coming on a regular basis.
"It's great," senior tackle Jesse Hacker said. "They stack as many guys as they can right on the right side of the line. If they know it's going to the left, they'll stack them on the left and we'll run it to the left and it will still go for 10 yards...they're bringing the whole kitchen sink at us, and we come out each time and bring it right at them."
Alexandria didn't even need to keep the defense honest by mixing in the pass. The Cardinals threw the ball just three times, completing two of those for first downs. The Storm committed to stopping the run but didn't have an answer for a ground game that is starting to fire on all cylinders.
"It hammers home that point that if you execute what you got, it's going to be effective," Empting said. "Even when we are in definite run-down situations - fourth and short, third and short, when they probably not only know that we're going to run it, but where we're going to run it, we execute and get bodies on bodies."
The Cardinals kept pulling away with that approach. Burnham added an 18-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that made it 21-13. Morical added his final two touchdowns in the third before junior Nick Knoblach finished off the Storm with an interception that he returned for a touchdown late in the fourth quarter.
Alexandria's reward is a rematch with No. 1 seed Rocori this Saturday night.
"One and done here," Morical said. "It's sudden death. We got to be ready to play. I'm not ready to be done yet."
ALEXANDRIA 7 14 14 7 - 42
SAUK RAPIDS 7 6 3 0 - 16
SECTION 8AAAA FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
1. Rocori, 2. Fergus Falls, 3. Sartell-St. Stephen, 4. Alexandria, 5. Sauk Rapids-Rice, 6. Little Falls, 7. St. Cloud Apollo.
TUESDAY, OCTOBER 25, 7 P.M.
Fergus Falls 28, St. Cloud Apollo 6
Sartell-St. Stephen 42, Little Falls 19
Alexandria 42, Sauk Rapids-Rice 16
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 29, 7 P.M.
AT HIGH SEED
Sartell-St. Stephen at Fergus Falls
Alexandria at Rocori
SATURDAY, NOVEMBER 5,
HUSKY STADIUM, SCSU
7 p.m. - Semifinal winners