The Alexandria football team went into its final regular-season game with the goal of heading into the playoffs on the right foot. Not only did they pick up a win to finish the six-game season 3-3, but they did it with their best performance of the year.
The Cardinals dominated the St. Cloud Apollo Eagles 50-0 on Wednesday night at Alexandria Area High School. Putting up a statement win heading into the most crucial stretch of the season can’t be understated.
“This is what the doctor ordered for us,” head coach Mike Empting said. “The plan was to get out there, get some things squared away and get some momentum heading into the playoffs. We wanted to get everybody involved, and we wanted to feel good about all aspects of our game. This was a good way to end the regular season at home.”
Senior Nolan Morical ran in two touchdowns in the first 10 minutes but left the game with a lower-body injury. Empting said the staff is going to take some more time to evaluate the star running back but noted Morical was in good spirits after the game.
Morical’s early departure cleared the way for Will Heydt to have a breakout game out of the backfield. He had a pair of touchdowns on 16 carries with 120 yards rushing.
“He’s been an all-star backup at the running back position for us all year long,” Empting said. “We lost Nolan earlier in the season, and Will stepped in then too. Will is a tremendous athlete on the defensive side of the football for us. When Nolan went down with a little tweak, Will stepped in and did what he does, and that’s run hard. It’s nice to know you have those guys in your back pocket when you need them.”
Heydt's big night on the ground was followed by another eye-popping performance. Senior captain Aaron Jost spends most of his time on the defensive side of the football but saw himself getting a few carries on offense Wednesday night. He broke off his first for a 40-yard touchdown before adding a 15-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter. He had a total of 108 yards on six carries.
"He was pretty excited, and so were the rest of the guys for him," Empting said. "He's our starting linebacker. He's a good athlete. He's a big, competitive and physical guy. When he's on offense, he's typically the tight end for us. Because of the circumstances, he got the opportunity to carry the ball out of the backfield and made the most of it."
Another guy that had an opportunity to make an offensive impact was senior quarterback Aaron Stotesbery. Although, he didn't find out he was going to start until the day before kickoff.
"It was a very rapid switch," Empting said. "We didn't find out we were going to be without Carter until (Tuesday). It was a quick tutorial for Aaron before practice yesterday. He's been another guy that's started for us elsewhere. He is usually at the wide receiver position. He's another good athlete that got put in his spot because we had to shuffle some guys around."
Stotesbery didn't have to carry the game through the air. He was 4-for-5 passing for 40 yards. However, he did hit Ikubun Taiwo for a 23-yard touchdown connection.
Alexandria's defense did not mess around. Apollo had only four first downs on 11 drives. When threatening to score late in the fourth quarter, the Cardinals got a big stop to preserve the shutout.
"Our guys did a great job on the defensive side with their assignments," Empting said. "Last week against Bemidji, that was something we struggled with a bit. For most of the game, we were pretty decent tonight. We had a couple of breakdowns, but overall it was an excellent team-defense performance."
The Cardinal's win gives them a first-round home game in the Section 8AAAAA tournament next week. While it's not official yet, Alexandria will likely play Brainerd (1-4) in the first round. On Oct. 23, the Cardinals beat the Warriors 49-14 on the road. However, Empting expects an improved effort.
"I fully expect them to be much better than what we saw the first time we went there," Empting said. "They have a rich tradition of football in Brainerd with an experienced coaching staff. There has been some turnover, but those guys know what they're doing. I think they're going to come here ready to play. It should be another fun matchup."
ST. CLOUD APOLLO 0 0 0 0 - 0
ALEXANDRIA 14 10 19 7 - 50
SCORING- FIRST QUARTER- Alexandria- Nolan Morical 4-yard touchdown rush (Myles Sansted PAT good); Alexandria- Morical 7-yard TD rush (Sansted PAT good); SECOND QUARTER- Alexandria- Sansted 30-yard FG good; Alexandria- Will Heydt 22-yard TD run (Sansted PAT good); THIRD QUARTER- Alexandria- Heydt 2-yard TD rush (PAT no good); Alexandria - Aaron Jost 40-yard TD rush (Sansted PAT good); Alexandria- Aaron Stotesbery 23-yard TD pass to Ikubun Taiwo (PAT no good); FOURTH QUARTER- Alexandria- Jost 15-yard TD rush (PAT good)
TEAM TOTALS- ALEXANDRIA- 19 first downs, 53 total plays, 352 total yards, 312 rushing yards, 40 passing yards 1-1 third down, 3 penalties for 25 yards, 1 punt for 42 yards, 1 turnover; APOLLO- 4 first downs, 42 total plays, 62 total yards, 41 rushing yards, 21 passing yards, 2 turnovers, 5 penalties for 25 yards, 3-14 third down, 0-2 fourth down, 7 punts, 28.5 yards per punt;
ALEXANDRIA OFFENSE- RUSHING- Nolan Morical 76 yards, 12 carries, 2 TDs; Will Heydt 120 yards, 16 carries, 2 touchdowns; Aaron Jost 108 yards, 6 carries, 2 TDs; James Schwartz 6 carries 37 yards; Kristen Hoskins 5 yards; PASSING- Aaron Stotesbery 4-5, 40 yards, TD; RECEIVING- Ibukun Taiwo 23 yards, 1 catch, TD; Kelly Johnson 1 catch 9 yards; Morical 1 catch, 9 yards; Kristen Hoskins 1 catch, -1 yards;