Two teams that on paper look to be trending in different directions will meet in Alexandria on Saturday afternoon with a trip to the Section 8-5A title game on the line.
Moorhead was not likely to stay down long after a 2-8 season a year ago. The Spuds have bounced back nicely this season with a now 6-3 record after dismantling St. Cloud Apollo (1-8) in a 49-6 playoff-opening win on Tuesday night.
That has been part of a strong finish to the season for Moorhead. The Spuds will come into Saturday’s 2 p.m. kickoff in Alexandria having won five of their last six games, with the only loss in there being a 24-17 contest against St. Cloud Tech (5-4).
“It’s pretty much almost become expected that we’re going to see Moorhead two times,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “For us, I really feel like it’s about how we play more than what anyone else does. We were fortunate this year to have success early, and we earned this bye week. We needed to get some guys healthy.”
Getting guys back to full strength is something Empting kept coming back to as he looked ahead to facing the Spuds. Alexandria lost a couple of head-scratchers for those just looking at scores when the Cardinals fell to Sartell-St. Stephen (1-8) and Sauk Rapids-Rice (2-7) in the last two weeks of the regular season.
Empting can’t talk specifically about injuries to players, but he said they were missing key pieces on both sides of the ball the last couple weeks. He expects to have everybody back on Saturday, including senior quarterback Matthew Carlsen.
Carlsen was injured in the loss to Sartell and did not play at Sauk Rapids. Fellow senior captain Andrew Revering, a safety, also missed a big portion of the second half of this season after suffering an injury earlier in the year.
“I think we’re going to have everybody back on the field,” Empting said.
The Cardinals and Spuds last met on Sept. 6 in a game that was tied at the half. Alexandria exploded over the final two quarters and ran away with a 35-13 win.
“That was a long time ago for both clubs,” Empting said. “For the most part, they’ve been able to stay healthy. We’ve suffered a few injuries, but we’re going to have those guys back now. I think their quarterback has improved quite a bit from the beginning of the season. That’s probably one of the biggest things that sticks out.”
Moorhead’s Trey Feeney, son of head coach Kevin Feeney, is progressing like a lot of quarterbacks do at this point in their career. He started as a sophomore last season, and is now putting up some impressive numbers in the second half of his junior year.
Feeney had four passing touchdowns and one rushing score against St. Cloud Apollo on Tuesday. He connected with junior receiver Brady Walthall on three of those passing touchdowns.
“One thing about quarterbacks, they get the ball in their hands every play,” Empting said. “The more plays they get, the more things they see, and experience happens quickly for them. He’s back there in the shotgun, and they’ve got some (run-pass options) and that kind of thing. He’s making decisions and throwing the ball around, so we’ll see. It’s going to be nice to have our crew healthy again.”
Empting expects a very hungry Moorhead team to come into Alexandria on Saturday. The Cardinals have controlled this rivalry of late, including a 47-22 win last year in their only match-up. Alexandria knocked Moorhead out of the playoffs in 2017 with a 27-20 win.
“I think it’s going to be a good game on Saturday,” Empting said. “They’re riding a bunch of wins in a row, but like I said, I feel like we’re going to be healthy again, which is a big thing for us.”
That’s why Empting is confident that his players can put the last couple weeks behind them. The Cardinals expect to be back to playing the kind of football they did for the first six weeks of the season. They will likely need that kind of performance with a good Moorhead team standing in their way.
“I feel pretty good about it. I think the guys knew too where we were at with everything,” Empting said. “I think they know where we’re at right now as far as getting everyone back. There’s no easy games left. Everybody is winning to get to this point, and Moorhead has won to get to this point. Everybody is going to be good, and I think our guys recognize that. I think they also remember the team they were at the beginning of the season.”