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Another rivalry awaits Alexandria in Brainerd

The Cardinals really believe they are close to putting a complete game together, but head coach Mike Empting knows they need to get over the hill and show that on the field before it really matters. They have a chance to do that against longtime rival Brainerd on Friday night.

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Alexandria sophomore running back Walker Hennen looks for an opening against the Moorhead defense on Sept. 24, 2021. Hennen and the Cardinals will go on the road as they try to snap a two-game losing streak when they face Brainerd (2-3) on Friday night at 7. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

The Alexandria and Brainerd football teams are both hungry for a win to try to get things turned around as these two familiar opponents kick off in Brainerd on Friday night.

The Warriors (2-3) have wins against Coon Rapids (1-4) and Sartell-St. Stephen (1-4), but are coming off a 19-6 loss at Bemidji (1-2). Brainerd struggled to get things going offensively in that game as the only touchdown came on a Nathaniel Staehling 1-yard run in the second quarter.

Bemidji’s defense held the Warriors to negative 17 yards rushing on 21 total carries.

Brainerd’s defense was on the field 67 plays that night with the offense not being able to sustain many drives. Warriors’ quarterback Marcello Getty had 175 yards passing with two interceptions against the Lumberjacks. Eli Hoelz was his primary receiver with five catches and 124 yards.

Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said Brainerd’s skill position players look talented on tape. What the Warriors don’t have is the same size up front that the Cardinals have run into against Sauk Rapids-Rice and Moorhead over the last two weeks.

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Alexandria (1-3) is coming off a game against third-ranked Moorhead (3-0) where the Cardinals played well during much of the night before falling 37-31. Their two straight losses are against two of the top teams in the Section 8-5A field with Sauk Rapids-Rice now 4-0 after a 33-7 win over Cambridge-Isanti (1-3) last week.

Hutchinson, which handed Alexandria a loss in the season opener in the rain, is also 3-1 with its lone loss coming to 4-0 Becker. That’s a combined 10-1 record for the three programs that have beaten Alexandria this year.

“When it really comes down to it, we are what our record says we are,” Empting said. “I talked about this with the kids too after a couple of these games. If we want to consider ourselves to be in the upper echelon of our section, then we have to start finding ways to win those games against those teams. Until we do that, we’re not there. Having said that, I think we are very close.”

Empting strongly believes that the Cardinals can turn a corner to being more consistent in all phases, but they need to prove that on the field. There have been moments where the offense, defense and special teams have had some miscues that led to holes that were difficult to climb out of.

“It wasn’t like a total system failure across the board,” Empting said. “We just have to sometimes find a way to get out of our own way to be successful. Are we close? Yeah, we’re really close, but that doesn’t get us over the hill. Until we do those things and beat those teams that have that combined record of 10-1, then we’re not there yet. But we’re learning from all these things.”

The Cardinals want to take another step in the right direction this week. The 31 points they scored last week was the most points Moorhead has allowed all season.

Passing continues to be the most effective way for Alexandria to move the ball as Carter Steffensmeier threw for 203 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions against the Spuds. Kristen Hoskins broke free for his biggest game this season with 178 yards and two touchdowns on eight total catches.

Alexandria is still working on finding a consistent running game after putting up 109 yards on the ground behind four different ball carriers last week. That includes Steffensmeier getting more involved as he ran for 53 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries against Moorhead.

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“For us to do well offensively in our run game, our quarterback has to be accounted for,” Empting said. “Carter has been much better this year as a runner. On pass plays, he keeps plays alive and buys time back there. He’s picked up some big, critical first downs and touchdowns running the football. He’s having a very good year. Now, he can’t be our sole run game. We need to be able to give the ball to our running back and our running back has to be able to get the yards. There’s a lot of moving parts to that.”

The Cardinals know they can’t let many more losses pile up as they try to position themselves for the playoffs at the end of the month. Empting sees a group of players who still believe in what they can accomplish this season.

“We just have to iron out a couple of things, and we could potentially put ourselves back in that upper echelon, back in a section final type thing,” he said. “We’re almost for sure going to run into one of those teams again (like Sauk Rapids-Rice or Moorhead). It’s just a matter of doing those things -- stopping the run, generating a run game. We don’t have to run 55 times, but we have to be good enough at it so they have to respect it so it opens up the rest of our game. Our practices have been great. The attitudes, spirits of the kids have been great. They’re working hard every day.”

ALEXANDRIA AREA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE FOR OCT. 1, 2021

Alexandria at Brainerd, 7 p.m.

Brandon-Evansville at Ortonville, 7 p.m.

Parkers Prairie vs. Osakis, 7 p.m.

WCA-Ashby vs. Crookston, 6 p.m.

Minnewaska at Rockford Area, 7 p.m.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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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