Alexandria shows its potential in front of a big crowd during a 38-20 win over Bemidji in the home opener

A couple of second-half miscues allowed the Lumberjacks to close the gap, but the Cardinals showed flashes of what they can do offensively and defensively on the way to bouncing back from a week-one loss.

Alexandria's Calen Piepho (65), Zander Homelvig (54) and Sawyer Rumohr celebrate a fumble recovery by teammate Dayton Downing against Bemidji on Sept. 10, 2021. The Cardinals turned that fumble recovery into a touchdown drive that led to a 24-0 lead at the half in their win over the Lumberjacks. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

Both the Alexandria and Bemidji football teams needed a bounce-back performance in week two after opening-season losses to good programs in Hutchinson and Rogers. The Cardinals made sure from the start that they were the ones who got it.

Alexandria (1-1) jumped out to a 38-7 lead over the Lumberjacks and secured a 38-20 win. The Cardinals led 24-0 at the half, and continued to pull away in the second half until some late mistakes allowed Bemidji to get a couple easy scores.

Alexandria senior quarterback Carter Steffensmeier (20-of-28 passing, 251 yards) had a hand in four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing), and the Alexandria defense limited Bemidji to 174 total yards after giving up 36 points to Hutchinson in the season opener .

“There was definitely urgency in this game,” senior linebacker Dayton Downing said. “Also with it being our first home game, we definitely want that win. I think we were playing with intensity tonight and playing for each other.”

Downing had 13 tackles last week, and followed it up with a game to remember against Bemidji with three fumble recoveries.


Alexandria's Dayton Downing (4) celebrates his fumble recovery with teammate Wyatt Odland in the Cardinals' win over Bemidji on Sept. 10, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

“It definitely felt a lot better than Hutchinson,” Downing said of this defensive outing for the whole team. “We knew what we were doing. In the first quarter against Hutchinson, you could tell it was our first game. Now that we have a game under our belt, we went out there, filled in our spots, did what we needed to do and that’s what wins games.”

The Cardinals got rolling offensively midway through the first half as Steffensmeier developed a connection with junior receiver Kelly Johnson (8 catches, 88 yards). Johnson had multiple catches that helped move the chains, and he was a part of a balanced receiving group for Steffensmeier.

Junior Jaxon Schoenrock (12 yards) and senior Zach Gundberg (15 yards) both caught touchdown passes. Senior receiver Kristen Hoskins (6 catches, 95 yards) ran in a score from three yards out on fourth down in the second quarter as well that made it a 10-0 game after senior Myles Sansted had made it 3-0 with a first-quarter field goal from 27 yards out.

Alexandria junior receiver Kelly Johnson lowers his shoulder into the attempted tackle of Bemidji's Logan Willard after Johnson's first-half catch against the Lumberjacks on Sept. 10, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

“Carter made some really good decisions, especially early on in taking what the defense was giving him,” head coach Mike Empting said. “He had a good game running the ball as well. Kelly Johnson in the first half was really solid in that slot position. Then Jaxon Schoenrock, Zach Gundberg, they had some really timely catches for us when we were still building that lead.”


Bemidji got a couple of late touchdowns after Alexandria miscues. A fumble by Steffensmeier into the end zone was recovered by Barrick Nelson for a touchdown.

A high snap on a Cardinals’ punt attempt was then recovered on the Alexandria 1-yard line before Hunter Brodina ran it in on the very next play to make it 38-20 in the fourth quarter. The Lumberjacks’ first touchdown was also aided by a long kickoff return to start the second half that set up great field position.

“We won’t get away with that,” Empting said of upcoming games against good teams like Sauk Rapids-Rice (2-0) and Moorhead (2-0). “We have to figure out how to close out a game. We can’t play for three-and-a-half quarters. If we’re going to be competitive, we need to stop the run and we have to figure out how to run the ball effectively.”

Yards on the ground have been tough to come by since senior Will Heydt went down with an injury in the first half against Hutchinson. Heydt did not play against Bemidji, but he is expected back at some point after avoiding a tear to any ligaments in his knee in the season opener.

Alexandria junior running back Landon Seward gets into space for a long run against Bemidji on Sept. 10, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

“Will is an incredibly dynamic ball carrier,” Empting said. “He’s a hard one to replace. When he’s out, right now we just don’t have another player like that, short of putting Kristen back there, but then we lose him in another spot. (Junior) Landon (Seward) is doing a great job. He’s a good athlete and a strong runner, but it’s tough to replace a senior who has the athletic ability that Will has got.”

The Cardinals are also breaking in an offensive line that features a lot of new faces this year. It’s a group that Empting said will be undersized against opponents all year, but he’s confident they will continue to find ways to make plays to help move the offense like they did against the Lumberjacks.


“We are slowly progressing,” senior center Clayton Birdsall said. That first game, you could tell that some things were just not there. It kind of got clicking today with the five up front. We’ve been working really hard at practice to just keep building and trusting in each other.”

Alexandria senior center Clayton Birdsall jumps up to take on a block after snapping to senior quarterback Carter Steffensmeier on Sept. 10, 2021 against Bemidji. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)

Birdsall moved to Alexandria from Big Lake before his junior year. He suffered a torn meniscus early last year and missed much of the fall with that injury. He said there were a lot of nerves at play in front of a big crowd for the home opener.

“Being my first game here, I had some jitters, but once we got going in the second half it really came down to our steps (as linemen),” Birdsall said. “(Coach Ty) Granning talks about it all week. Once we had our steps down, it didn’t matter if they blitzed gaps or anything, we were there to fill them, and the offense started rolling down the field.”

The Cardinals will try to carry over this momentum against another good team next week. Sauk Rapids-Rice beat Sartell 27-0 in the opener and then St. Cloud Tech by a 42-21 final on Friday. Moorhead, which beat Brainerd 28-18 Friday, looms for homecoming on Sept. 24.

“We definitely don’t have any easy games, so it will push us to our max,” Downing said. “We just have to keep watching film, fill in our spots and we’ll win these games.”


Alexandria junior receiver Jaxon Schoenrock celebrates his 12-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter with teammate Kelly Johnson during the Cardinals' win over Bemidji on Sept. 10, 2021. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)


SCORING - FIRST QUARTER - Alexandria - Myles Sansted 27-yard field goal (3-0)

SECOND QUARTER - Alexandria - Kristen Hoskins 3-yard touchdown run; Sansted PAT (10-0); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 12-yard touchdown pass to Jaxon Schoenrock; Sansted PAT (17-0); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 15-yard touchdown pass to Zach Gundberg; Sansted PAT (24-0)

THIRD QUARTER - Bemidji - Jack Larson 6-yard touchdown run; Tavin Peterson PAT (24-7); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 3-yard touchdown run; Sansted PAT (31-7); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 3-yard touchdown run; Sansted PAT (38-7)

FOURTH QUARTER - Bemidji - Barrick Nelson fumble recovery in the end zone; Tavin Peterson PAT (38-14); Bemidji - Hunter Brodina 1-yard touchdown run; PAT no good (38-20)


Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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