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Football: Alexandria shocks the Spuds in the closing seconds

Alexandria quarterback Michael Empting (12) celebrates his 41-yard touchdown run with teammate Cody Branson after beating Moorhead's Otis Weah to the end zone Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in the Minnesota Class 5A, Section 8 semifinals at Moorhead. (David Samson / The Forum)1 / 4
Alexandria's Tyson Hoelscher bulls his way past Moorhead's Clay Hall (33) and Otis Weah Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in the Minnesota Class 5A, Section 8 semifinals at Moorhead. (David Samson / The Forum)2 / 4
Alexandria's Michael Empting beats Moorhead's Otis Weah to the goal line on a 41-yard touchdown run Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in the Minnesota Class 5A, Section 8 semifinals at Moorhead. (David Samson / The Forum)3 / 4
Moorhead's Otis Weah slices through Alexandria defenders Saturday, Oct. 28, 2017, in the Minnesota Class 5A, Section 8 semifinals at Moorhead. (David Samson / The Forum)4 / 4

Alexandria senior wide receiver Thomas Anderson wasn’t exactly sure where he landed, as he hauled in a 28-yard pass in the closing seconds of Saturday’s Minnesota Class 5A, Section 8 semifinal matchup with Moorhead.

It wasn’t until he saw his teammates running toward him that he realized he was laying in the end zone at Jim Gotta Stadium with five seconds remaining. He had just won the game.

“It was a route for the outside guy and I was hoping it was coming to me,” Anderson said. “I didn’t know exactly where I was, but I got up and saw everyone running down and then I was like, ‘Did that just happen?’ ”

It happened. And Alexandria left Moorhead with a 27-20 win, and a trip to the section championship game to defend its crown. The Cardinals will travel to top-seeded Brainerd on Friday at 7 p.m.

With less than 15 seconds to go, Alexandria quarterback Michael Empting took the snap from the Moorhead 28-yard line, stepped up to avoid pressure and threw to his left to Anderson. Anderson was one-on-one with a smaller defensive back. He got behind him, backpedaled, put his hands up, bobbled the ball, but somehow got his hands on it and untied the game.

“I know Thomas has some great moves out there and big strong hands,” Empting said. “I knew he was going to be one-on-one. I decided to let my guy make a play. He did. I just threw it up to him and he made a heck of a play. When he went down with it I couldn’t believe it. It was the greatest moment ever.”

The drive to get to that moment seemed just as improbable. After Moorhead’s Otis Weah went 95 yards for a touchdown to tie the game with 4 minutes, 24 seconds remaining, Alexandria got a holding penalty on the ensuing kick to put the Cardinals at their own 12.

On third-and-9, Empting scrambled for 9 yards and a first down. Another holding penalty made it first-and-20, but Empting found Cody Faber for 22 yards on second down. Three runs put Alexandria at the Moorhead 34 with 32.1 seconds left. Empting was seemingly done for, wrapped up for a sack and a 10-yard loss, but he escaped and got a first down at the Moorhead 28. After one incomplete pass, Empting found Anderson. And Alexandria found a win, 10 days after getting rolled by Moorhead 47-20.

“The game 10 days ago we came out flat, we weren’t flying around,” Empting said. “We just weren’t ourselves. That wasn’t us. This one right here is us. Still isn’t our best game. Still isn’t the best we can play.”

Alexandria (5-4) scored 13 points before Moorhead (6-3) ran an offensive play. The opening drive for the Cardinals went 80 yards on 11 plays. On fourth-and-goal from the Moorhead 1-yard line, Empting busted through to open the scoring. Faber recovered an onside kick and two plays later Empting went 41 yards for a touchdown to put the Cardinals up 13-0.

Moorhead answered with a nine-play, 53-yard drive to cut the Alexandria lead to six. The Spuds used nine run plays, seven of which went to Weah, including a 5-yard touchdown run.

Late in the second quarter, the Spuds stopped Alexandria on fourth-and-10 from the Moorhead 16. On the next play, Weah sprinted 84 yards for a touchdown. Moorhead’s kick went wide left and the game was tied at 13-13.

“Coming into this one 10 days ago, we were a banged up team,” Alexandria coach Mike Empting said. “We needed these 10 days to fix some bumps and bruises. Our guys were just ready to go. They got us in the regular season. To come back here and get them on their home field it’s a nice feeling. It’s anybody’s game. It’s a great game. It was fun.”

Alexandria took momentum into halftime on a touchdown with 38.3 seconds remaining. The Cardinals were set up at the Moorhead 41 thanks to a big kick return from Tyson Hoelscher. It took the Cardinals just five plays, including a 30-yard pass from Michael Empting to Hoelscher on fourth-and-1, to find the end zone. Michael Empting called his own number for a 1-yard touchdown run to cap the drive.

It’s the second straight season Alexandria has ended Moorhead’s season in the section semifinals. After going six straight seasons with an appearance in the section championship game, Moorhead has now back-to-back seasons without a trip to it.

“The end of the season is never fun,” Moorhead coach Kevin Feeney said. “There’s only one team that gets to the end the season the way you want. Unfortunately, we didn’t achieve our goals. It stinks. It stinks for our seniors.

“Their guys made plays in big situations all night long, even if it was just breaking a tackle for a few extra yards. Those little things turn into big things. That’s the beauty of football. Little things make big differences.”

A 13 7 0 7--27M 7 6 0 7--20A-Empting 1 run (run failed)A-Empting 41 run (Wosepka kick)M-Weah 5 run (Riveland kick)M-Weah 84 run (kick missed)A-Empting 1 run (Wosepka kick)M-Weah 95 run (Riveland kick)A-Anderson 28 pass from Empting (Wosepka kick)
Chris Murphy

Chris Murphy is a sports reporter for the Forum. He's covered high school and college sports in Chicago, North Dakota and Minnesota since 2009 and, for some reason, has been given awards for doing so.

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