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Football: Cardinals run into a talented defense as Andover takes the opener

Alexandria junior running back Blake Hoelscher gets into open space at Andover on Aug. 30. Hoelscher scored the Cardinals' only touchdown in the season opener on a three-yard reception from Matthew Carlsen. (Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories)1 / 6
Alexandria senior Braden Anderson wraps up Andover's Ben Steckman during Thursday's season opener. (Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories) 2 / 6
Alexandria junior Derek Pesta dives to make a tackle during Thursday's season opener at Andover. (Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories)3 / 6
Alexandria's Brendin Houck (72) and Blake Hoelscher (27) wrap up on a tackle during Thursday's season opener at Andover. (Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories)4 / 6
Alexandria's Taylor Jendro waits to haul in a pass during Thursday's road game at Andover. (Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories)5 / 6
Alexandria sophomore running back Nolan Morical looks for an opening to the outside during Thursday's game at Andover. (Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories)6 / 6

The Alexandria football team watched the video of Andover’s scrimmage on Aug. 25 leading up to Thursday’s season opener, and one thing that stood out to head coach Mike Empting was the play of the Huskies’ defense.

Their speed and athleticism on that side of the ball showed up on tape. It did again on game night as Andover used its defense to get a 26-7 win on its home field.

“They were big, physical up front,” Empting said. “Nice lines on both sides of the ball. Their defense was very active. They flew to the football. Physical, fast, athletic on the defensive side. I would venture to guess they’re probably one of the better defenses we’re going to see this year.”

The Cardinals struggled to move the ball offensively all night. The only touchdown for Alexandria came in the second half on a three-yard pass from Matthew Carlsen to running back Blake Hoelscher after Hoelscher snuck through the line out of the backfield. Zach Wosepka followed with the extra point, but Alexandria could manage nothing else the rest of the way.

“We had some flashes here and there where we would pop a play, but we really struggled to get anything established consistently on the offensive side,” Empting said. “I thought defensively we played pretty well. We had several stops inside the five yard line. Stopped three two-point attempts. It was 12-0 at halftime, but we took a lot of snaps on the defensive side of the ball. The combination of struggling to move the football and taking so many defensive snaps just wore us out late in the second half.”

Andover was big up front on both sides of the ball, Empting said. On the lines is where the Cardinals are especially inexperienced this season after losing so many players to graduation.

“We’re just young up front and getting some guys experience will go a long ways,” Empting said.

He did not question the effort of his team. The Cardinals made a more than two-hour trip to face a perennially good team and kept itself within striking distance throughout the night.

“Can’t fault the effort at all,” Empting said. “I think our guys definitely came ready to play. I think Andover is a good team. Looking back on it will shed more light on how significant this game was, but I think they’re a pretty good team. Very good defensively.”

The Cardinals will put it behind them and get ready for their home opener next. They welcome in Sartell-St. Stephen at 7 p.m. on Sept. 7 after the Sabres battle Cambridge-Isanti in their home opener on Friday.

“I think we have a lot of things that are fixable,” Empting said. “That’s the big thing. I think another big takeaway is we did some things very well on the defensive side, but definitely have some things to fix on the offensive side that are fixable right now. That’s encouraging.”

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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