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Citizens Field finale goes down to final play as Cards hang on (w/video)

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Alexandria linebacker Justin Cumberbatch (left) drove the Otters' Adam Gerner to the ground as he finished off a tackle with the help of teammate Joe Gorghuber on Wednesday night. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)2 / 2

The Alexandria football team finished off a memorable 42-year run at Citizens Field with a memorable 21-14 win over Fergus Falls on Wednesday night.

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Senior quarterback John Vogeler had a hand in all three of Alexandria’s touchdowns as he connected with Aaron Steidl on a 27-yard score in the first quarter and added two more touchdowns on the ground. 

The Otters got two touchdowns from Adam Evenson and had a chance to tie it on the final play. Quarterback Austin Rund rolled to his left looking to pass before scrambling down the left sideline for more than 20 yards. He ultimately came up three yards short as he got tripped up and fell just short of the goal line.

"Especially because it's the last game on Citizens Field," senior Aaron Steidl said of the emotions of that final play. "There's adrenaline pumping. You heard me yell, screaming. I was doing a little bit of a Clay Matthews stomp.”

The Cardinals’ defense had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries on the night. Riley Hvezda had a big interception in the fourth quarter as he grabbed a Rund pass in the end zone when the Cardinals were clinging to a seven-point lead.

“We were manned up and I was backing up, looking for my corner and he had him covered and I had my guy,” Hvezda said. “He threw it up a little short and I got it, and I didn’t realize where I was right away. I should have just fell down, but then we got the penalty that pushed us past the 20, so that was nice.”

Hvezda took the ball out of the end zone but a personal foul on the return set Alexandria up with the ball at its own 21-yard line. The Cardinals looked like they were going to be able to run out most of the clock late in the game, but a late fumble on the Otters’ 24-yard line gave Fergus Falls one last shot.

The Otters took over with 1:48 left in the game and marched down to near the Alexandria 25. They spiked the ball to stop the clock with four seconds left and set up for the final play. It made for some tense moments before the Cardinals were able to celebrate one last win at Citizens Field.

“We’ve kind of been building to this all year long, the finale on this field,” head coach Mike Empting said. “We talk about tradition in this program all the time and every player that comes through here knows about the tradition. To come out of this with a win the way we did, it’s just another memory. Put it down as the final page in the storied history of Citizens Field.”

Alexandria jumped out to a 14-0 lead against the Otters in the first half behind two big plays in the passing game from Vogeler. He connected with Steidl on a 27-yard strike on fourth-and-12 with 2:55 left in the opening quarter.

Vogeler then did his part to make it 14-0 in the second quarter on two consecutive plays. He hit fellow senior David Krivanek on a pass down the right sideline that went for almost 40 yards. Vogeler did it himself from there as he ran it in from 13 yards out on the very next play.

“It’s crucial to our success,” Vogeler said of grabbing that early lead. “When we can get that first touchdown, it allows us to play with confidence. It lets us get that momentum going, everybody gets pumped up. It changes the game right away.” 

The Otters weren’t going to go away quietly in this one, though. Adam Evenson got his first touchdown of the night with 1:14 left in the half when he ran one in from 18 yards out that helped to make it a 14-7 game at the break. Evenson scored again in the third quarter after a 58-yard run by Abram Aho set the Otters up deep in Cardinal territory.

That’s when Alexandria got an important kick return from senior captain Parker Bowden as he burst through an initial hole before breaking a few tackles. Bowden was finally taken down at the Otters’ 15-yard line, but it led to a Vogeler touchdown run on fourth-and-goal from inside the one. That gave the Cardinals a 21-14 lead that they wouldn’t relinquish on their way to moving to 2-6 and dropping Fergus Falls to 3-5.

“It comes down to the kids just continuously made plays that bailed us out,” Empting said. “Riley with that interception. Parker with that big kick return at a time when we really needed something. The kids did it. John on the touchdown plunge; he checked that on his own, saw that was there and took it upon himself and got that thing in the end zone. The kids played great and that’s what it comes down to. You get in games like this where it’s close against good opponents, and you’re players have to make plays. We did that tonight.”

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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