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Card football: Defense dominates the day (w/video)

Alexandria senior Nathan Huss came up a little short as he dived for the left pylon during the first quarter on Saturday against St. Cloud Apollo. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)2 / 3
Junior defensive end Aaron Steidl pressured Eagles quarterback Ben Alvord into an incompletion in the second half. Steidl finished with a team-high 11 tackles for the Cardinals. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)3 / 3

The Alexandria football coaches were looking for improvement from their team after an 0-3 start to the season and that's exactly what they saw in a 21-7 win over St. Cloud Apollo on Saturday afternoon.

The Cardinals got off to an early 14-0 lead that set the tone. Mitchell Peck capped off a nice opening drive on a touchdown run from four yards out. Alexandria never trailed after that in what was a much-needed win in front of a packed house on homecoming at Citizens Field.

"I think they were looking for something," head coach Mike Empting said of his players. "They've been working hard. The kids have been positive. Practices have been very good. It's tough to go like that and not see it pay off, so I think for the kids to see something positive come out of that [is important]."

Something had to give coming into the day. The Cardinals had given up almost 40 points per game through the first three weeks and the Eagles had averaged just 10 points per game on offense. Empting has said all year that it would just take some time for his young defense to gain some experience before improvement started showing on the field.

That's exactly what happened against the Eagles. The Cardinals didn't give up any of the big plays that had hurt them in the previous three weeks. Apollo finished with just 140 total yards after throwing for 143 and losing three yards on the ground on 24 carries.

Turnovers crippled the Eagles all afternoon as Alexandria finished with five takeaways. The Cardinals wasted little time setting that tone as they recovered a fumble on Apollo's first possession. That turned into a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore Jake Bear that made it 14-0 in the first quarter.

It was the first of four fumble recoveries for Alexandria. Max Flowers jumped on two of those, while Aaron Steidl and Nathan Huss recovered one apiece. Steidl was all over the field with 11 tackles and a sack to lead a defense that played fast and aggressive all afternoon.

"I know that we were getting hands in there," Steidl said of Apollo's tendency to put the ball on the ground. "Nate Huss got his hands in once. I got my hands in once. Max Flowers got a couple hands in there. I think it was more of the hits than anything they were doing. It was them taking unexpected hits."

A 14-7 deficit and the Eagles' inability to run the football forced them to throw a lot in the second half. Alexandria was ready for it and had guys around the ball. The Cardinals were in on five pass break-ups, two each from Riley Hvezda and Christian Canavati and one from Nathan Huss.

It was an Alexandria secondary that got an immediate boost in the first game back for Nick Knoblach. The senior captain returned a little more than four weeks after having hernia surgery on August 21.

He pushed himself through rehab to get back on the field as soon as possible. Knoblach said he felt great, and it showed when he used his speed to close on a receiver and come away with an interception in the second half. He added three tackles to his line and brought with him some much-needed experience for this defense.

"This was a really big deal to me," Knoblach said. "I was just doing rehab as much as I could to get myself out there as soon as I could."

His interception came when Alexandria was still clinging to a seven-point lead. The Cardinals were finally able to open it up a little more midway through the fourth quarter when quarterback John Vogeler ran in from a yard out to help make it 21-7 after the extra point.

The Eagles had stopped Alexandria from the one-yard line on the first two plays after the Cardinals had first and goal. On third down, Vogeler faked the inside handoff and rolled out to the right where he had a wide open lane into the end zone.

Vogeler finished with 152 total yards. He was 4-of-7 passing but led the team in rushing with 97 yards on 15 carries. Bear added 47 yards and Peck finished with 45 as Alexandria ran for 217 yards as a team.

It was the kind of game the Cardinals felt they were capable of coming into the day. Now they hope to build on it as they head to Willmar this Friday night.

"We've had weeks where we've come into games and felt like we can play like this," Empting said. "I mean, we haven't been that far away. We just got more consistent today. We still had a couple issues on the offensive side, dropping the ball and penalties and those kinds of things that stopped drives. But all in all, the kids played really well."


ST. CLOUD APOLLO 7 0 0 0 - 7

ALEXANDRIA 14 0 0 7 - 21

ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE - Passing - Vogeler - 4-7, 55 yards; Receiving - Steidl - 2-37; Mitchell Thompson - 2-18; Rushing - Bear - 15-47, TD; Vogeler - 15-97, TD; Huss - 6-16; Parker Bowden - 2-16; Peck - 15-45, TD; Tyler Kelly - 1-(-4)

DEFENSE - Bowden - 2 tackles; James Holmquist - 1 tackle; Hvezda - 1 tackle, 2 pass break-ups; Cole Jodsaas - 2 tackles; Thompson - 1 tackle; Knoblach - 3 tackles, interception; Huss - 2 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, pass break-up; Steidl - 11 tackles, 1 fumble recovery, sack; Kelly - 2 tackles; Canavati - 3 tackles, 2 pass break-ups; Parker Revering - 6 tackles; Flowers - 2 tackles, 2 fumble recoveries, 1 sack

SPECIAL TEAMS - Extra point - Chandler Davis - 3-3

MorkenEric Morken Eric Morken started as a sports reporter for the Echo Press on July 9, 2007. He is a graduate of Augustana College in Sioux Falls where he majored in journalism and minored in history and communications. In his spare time, Morken enjoys hunting and fishing or just being in the outdoors. He is also an avid Minnesota sports fan. Follow Sports Reporter Eric Morken on Twitter at @echo_sports. Read Eric's sports blog, More with Morken at Areavoices.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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