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Football: Cards host Rocori for homecoming

The Cardinal football team knew heading into the season that there were not going to be many breaks in the schedule this year in a tough Central Lakes Conference.

Alexandria has started the season 0-4 and two of those losses have come against CLC opponents in Sauk Rapids-Rice and St. Cloud Apollo. The Cardinals will have a chance to make up for those losses in the second half of the season when they play their final four games against conference opponents.

It starts this weekend when they welcome Rocori to town for homecoming on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. The Spartans are not a team the Cardinals can look past with a very good Brainerd team looming on the schedule for next week.

Rocori enters the game with a 2-2 record but is coming off a game where it pushed the No. 7 ranked team in the state in Class 4A to the very end. Fergus Falls got all they could handle from the Spartans' Nick Schneider last week as Schneider ran for 178 yards and three touchdowns. That was not quite enough, though, as the Otters held on for a 28-26 win.

Alexandria will have its hands full trying to keep Schneider in check. The 225-pound senior running back has received interest from Big 10 schools like Iowa and Minnesota about playing for their programs next season. This week he will be the focus of the Cardinals' defensive scheme as they try to get their first win of the season.

"A big key to slowing him down, we feel, is to not let him get his shoulders turned up field," head coach Mike Empting said. "What has worked well for us in the past has been to keep bouncing his runs to the outside and to not let him get a head of steam rolling down field. He is a big, strong, fast runner that we need to be sure we contain."

One way to try and slow down Schneider is to keep the Rocori offense off the field. Alexandria's running game has gotten on track in the last two games as the Cardinals have carried the ball for more than 100 yards in both.

Matt Peterson has gotten the bulk of the carries recently. He has run for 182 yards and a touchdown in the last two games.

"We need to dominate the time of possession, which will keep Rocori's offense and Schneider off the field," Empting said. "Defensively, we have to contain Schneider and limit his runs. We have to make Rocori go the length of the field, which means not giving up the big play."

Big plays and turnovers have hurt the Cardinals through the first four games of the season. Alexandria has proven that it can move the ball on teams. What the Cardinals need to do now is prove they can put the ball in the end zone.

"We need to execute offensively and the biggest part of that will be to not turn the ball over," Empting said. "We have ended some very promising drives the last two games with turnovers that have really taken the wind out of our sails during the game. Those turnovers are lost opportunities where we were having success moving the ball on our opponents."

If Alexandria can limit those turnovers this Saturday, it could go a long way in determining whether or not the Cardinals get their first win of the season.

The 0-4 start is obviously not the way Empting wanted to start the season. He knows the important thing now is for his team to learn from that start to get better in the final four games of the season.

"The kids have taken each loss thus far pretty hard," he said. "Anytime you give your all to something and have it come up short, it hurts. That is the nature of the game, but it is well worth taking that risk. That is one of the life lessons taught in sports.

"The kids have been really great," Empting said. "This team is led by a great group of seniors who have stayed positive and have rallied the team after each game. As a coach, you try to find out what we need to improve upon, as a team, to give us the best chance to win the next far the kids have really stuck with us as coaches and with each other."