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Alex football: A fitting finale at Citizens Field

Alexandria’s Justin Cumberbatch (left) finishes off a tackle against the Otters’ Adam Gerner as the Cardinals’ Joe Gorghuber helps out during the regular-season finale at Citizens Field. (Eric Morken/Echo Press)

The Alexandria football team went into last night’s Section 8AAAAA opener with a little momentum after taking care of Fergus Falls in a 21-14 game that put the finishing touches on a memorable 42-year run at Citizens Field. 

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 after getting just enough of Rund’s leg to help trip him up. “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 three fumble recoveries on the night, and they needed those with the way Fergus Falls moved the ball. The Otters were big up front and in the backfield. They powered their way to 268 yards rushing on 36 carries, but those turnovers proved to be too much to overcome.

“They were very big, very physical,” head coach Mike Empting said. “They were bigger than us up front. Their running backs were bigger than some of our defensive lineman. They just kept pounding it in there, but bottom line is our defense answered the bell when they needed to.”

Riley Hvezda forced one of the biggest turnovers with an interception in the fourth quarter. 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.”

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 before Vogeler scored on a 12-yard run on the very next play. He and Krivanek were on the same page all night as Krivanek caught six balls for 76 yards.

“We usually have a good connection in most of the games,” Vogeler said. “Whoever is open, I try to distribute the ball as well as I can. If he’s pressed up, I’m going to go the other way, but they were playing off of him most of the game. That’s why I kept going to him, and he kept catching the ball and getting yards for us.”

The Cardinals got important plays when they needed them all night. Parker Bowden got a big kickoff return right after the Otters had tied the game at 14 in the third quarter. 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.

“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.”


ALEXANDRIA 7 7 7 0 – 21

FERGUS FALLS 0 7 7 0 – 14

TOTALS – Alexandria – Rushing – 42-133, 2 TD; Passing – 10-18, 120 yards, TD; Fergus Falls – Rushing – 36-268, 2 TD; Passing – 7 receptions, 54 yards

ALEXANDRIA – Rushing – Vogeler – 14-56, 2 TD; Mitch Peck – 24-59; Jeremiah Burnham – 2-4; Justin Cumberbatch – 2-14; Passing – Vogeler – 10-18, 120 yards, TD; Receiving – Steidl – 1-26, TD; Krivanek – 6-76; Bowden – 2-9; Joe Gorghuber – 1-9

DEFENSE – Parker Bowden – 1 interception; Ben Kluver – 7 assisted tackles; Gorghuber – 6 assisted; Hvezda – 5 solo, 1 assisted, 1 interception; Jake Nienaber – 1 solo; Michael Helgeson – 2 solo, 1 assisted; Sam Helgeson – 3 solo, 2 assisted; Jeremiah Burnham – 1 solo, 4 assisted, 1 fumble recovery; Steidl – 2 solo, 7 assisted, 1 fumble recovery; Cumberbatch – 5 solo, 7 assisted; Parker Revering – 1 solo, 7 assisted, 1 fumble recovery; Nick Partington – 1 solo, 2 assisted, 1 sack; Jordan Karger – 2 solo, 3 assisted; Chris Leary – 2 solo, 4 assisted

SPECIAL TEAMS – Punt returns – Hvezda – 3-16; Kick returns – Bowden – 2-101; Peck – 1-11; Punting – Leary – 6-214, 35.7 average; Kicking – Danny Kuhn – 2-2 PAT; Nienaber – 1-1 PAT

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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