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Football: Crazy play, creative calls send Cardinals to a one-point win (w/video)

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Alexandria's Derek Pesta comes around the edge and prepares to hit Sartell-St. Stephen quarterback Ryan Giguere during the first half of Friday's 17-16 win for the Cardinals in their home opener. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 6
Alexandria's Cody Branson lowers his shoulder to take on the tackle of Sartell's Brady Schmidt during the first half on Friday night. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)3 / 6
Alexandria junior quarterback Matthew Carlsen looks for an opening as he scrambles from the rush during Friday's home opener against Sartell-St. Stephen. Carlsen had two touchdowns, one passing and one throwing, in the 17-16 win. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)4 / 6
Alexandria's defense swarms Sartell-St. Stephen quarterback Ryan Giguere during the first half on Friday. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)5 / 6
Alexandria's Paul Schwartz reaches for Sabres quarterback Ryan Giguere during Friday's 17-16 win for the Cardinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)6 / 6

There are games that stand out as offensive clinics. Games where maybe both teams go up and down the field by simply running their stuff and the defenses can’t stop it.

Friday night’s home opener for the Alexandria football team wasn’t one of those games. This one against Sartell-St. Stephen was more about crazy plays and creative play calling by the Cardinals. In the end, it added up to a 17-16 win after senior kicker Zach Wosepka nailed a 32-yarder with 1:58 left on the clock.

“We still have got to find a way to be more consistent offensively,” Alexandria coach Mike Empting said. “We’ve got to be able to establish something. That’s two games in a row now, so we’ve got to look at that. We struggled with some execution elements on both sides of the ball and special teams a little bit. On the same note, special teams kind of did it for us with Zach getting the game winner, which was huge. I’m proud of him.”

That game-winner by Wosepka was set up by what will likely be the most unlikely touchdown of the season on the previous Cardinals possession.

Alexandria was trailing 16-7 in the fourth quarter after taking a safety after a high snap on a punt late in the third quarter. They responded by driving deep into Sartell territory.

On third down from the Sabres’ 6-yard line, the snap from center sailed over junior quarterback Matthew Carlsen’s head. He chased after it, scooping the ball up almost 15 yards down field before rolling toward the left sideline. Carlsen threw the ball on a line toward the back of the end zone. It went right through the hands of the Sabres’ Derrick Olson before falling into the waiting arms of Alexandria’s Evan Lattimer for the touchdown.

“When I was going back, I took a peek over my head to see where to go,” Carlsen said. “I picked it up and tried to get around a guy and saw a couple guys open in the end zone. I just threw it up to them, which was probably a risky throw at that time of the game, but we got lucky and it worked out.”

The play (which is in the video above) got Alexandria to within two points after the Wosepka extra point, and it got the Cardinals a little national attention. The video was tweeted out on the echo_sports Twitter account. By the end of the night, ESPN’s SportsCenter Twitter account got permission to use it and had tweeted out the video to its 35.2 million followers.

That attention likely would not have been as much fun for the Cardinals had they not gotten out of the game with the win.

Alexandria got the ball back with 5:25 left in the game down by two. The Cardinals took a holding penalty that made it second-and-20, but a catch by Cody Branson before a lateral to Nolan Morical led to a gain of 21 yards and a first down.

Branson had a couple big catches on the final drive that set the stage for Wosepka deep in Sartell territory. The Sabres tried to apply the pressure on Wosepka by calling a timeout right before the kick. Instead, they did him a favor.

“I was actually really nervous when I first got out there,” Wosepka said. “When they took that timeout, it gave me a few seconds to breathe and calm down. I felt more calm after the timeout, so I think that actually helped. I got to clear my head, and then really it’s just walking off the steps and doing the same normal routine as always and praying that it goes in.”

In comfortable weather conditions like Friday, Wosepka said he is confident kicking from anywhere near the 20-yard line. He was set up on the 15 and had plenty of leg.

“Last year, I wasn’t as ready I don’t think, so we didn’t really go for any field goals,” Wosepka said. “I think I proved myself throughout the summer and the first few weeks of the football season that I can make these field goals for the team in these dire situations. I’m just glad I got the opportunity to show off my skills a little bit.”

The game featured two teams that struggled to move the ball for the second straight week, so the Cardinals got creative with their play calling multiple times. They hit on a halfback pass in the first half and had a couple other trick plays that caught the Sabres off guard.

“We had to be (creative),” Empting said. “They were just bringing everybody and we were having a hard time blocking them. We had to try to find a way to slow their charge and make them pay a little bit for what they were doing. We did execute that little hook and lateral over on the sideline. We had a couple other double passes that were there that we didn’t convert on.”

The Cardinals’ most effective drive came on their first score in the first half. The Sabres had fourth-and-goal from the Alexandria 3-yard line when Wade Odland knocked down a pass at the goal line. Alexandria proceeded to go 97 yards on a drive that ended with a Carlsen 4-yard touchdown run.

“That was pretty big,” Empting said. “I think it gave us a little bit of energy. It just would have been nice to keep that going. We do that and you think, ‘OK, we got something going here.’ Then we struggled with execution from that point again.”

Sartell’s senior quarterback Ryan Giguere did everything he could to try to break a long losing streak for the Sabres. He ran the ball hard all game and scored touchdown runs of 11 and 16 yards.

“He’s a good athlete,” Empting said. “We knew that coming in. I thought defensively we played pretty well again. I think we’re going to look at it and see we took an awful lot of snaps. That was definitely wearing on us there in the middle of the fourth quarter.”

The Cardinals bent but didn’t break. There are things to work on, but a win is a win. Alexandria found a way to get it done with some creativity and some good fortune.

“They definitely saw this as an opportunity tonight, so they came in looking to seize that opportunity,” Empting said of Sartell. “They played like a hungry team, but our guys in the end executed a few more and wanted it a little bit more.”

ALEXANDRIA    0 7 0 10 - 17

SARTELL           0 0 9 7 - 16

FIRST QUARTER - No scoring

SECOND QUARTER - Alexandria - Matthew Carlsen 4-yard run; Zach Wosepka PAT

THIRD QUARTER - Sartell - Ryan Giguere 11-yard run; Adam Magarian PAT; Sartell - Safety (snap over the head of Carlsen on punt. Recovered in the end zone and thrown away for intentional grounding).

FOURTH QUARTER - Alexandria - Carlsen 6-yard pass to Evan Lattimer; Wosepka PAT; Alexandria - Wosepka 32-yard field goal

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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