It has been almost two years since Alexandria met Sauk Rapids-Rice on the football field, so these teams will get reacquainted on Friday night at 7 in what figures to be an important Section 8-5A matchup down the line.
The Storm are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, but Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said after his team’s 38-20 win over Bemidji on Sept. 10 that Sauk Rapids-Rice is a program that doesn’t stay down long. He’s had a chance to watch some film on the Storm now as they welcome in Alexandria (1-1) with a 2-0 record after taking care of Sartell (1-2) and St. Cloud Tech (0-3) through the first two weeks.
“I just look at the way they play,” Empting said of what he takes from the Storm’s two wins over teams with a combined 1-5 record. “They’re a physical team. Their offensive line is physical and they know what they’re doing. They’re on their blocking assignments. Really regardless of the team that they’re playing, size and knowledge of assignments is going to make them a formidable foe on the offensive side. Then their defense is aggressive. They have good athletes. Looking at those things, I think they’re going to be a good football team for us to play.”
Sauk Rapids likes to run its offense by getting calls from the sideline after seeing what kind of defensive look opponents come to the line of scrimmage in.
The Storm can pass the ball with senior Dominic Mathies, who has five touchdowns passing and three rushing this year, according to Minnesota Football Hub. They also have big receivers to throw to, led by 6-foot, 5-inch junior Andrew Harren and 6-foot, 2-inch senior Alex Harren.
“I think they want to run the football, but they’re certainly not afraid to throw it if that’s what the defense is going to give them,” Empting said. “Their quarterback is capable. He throws the ball pretty decently, and he has big targets. Tall, lanky type guys with big catch radiuses it looks like.”
Alexandria is coming off a balanced attack against Bemidji in the passing game. Five different receivers caught a pass as the Cardinals and senior quarterback Carter Steffensmeier attacked the Lumberjacks (0-2) through the air for 251 yards.
Alexandria would ideally like to run the ball a little more at Sauk Rapids-Rice after putting up 57 yards rushing last week. The Storm are averaging 34.5 points per game through their two wins, second to only 2-0 Moorhead (38.5 PPG) in the section.
“Anytime we get against a team that has potential on the offensive side, it’s important to keep them on the sidelines,” Empting said. “Even if it’s not necessarily running the ball like I might desire, it’s finding a way to control the clock. Whether that’s a controlled passing game or running it. We just have to find a way to control the clock.”
Empting will put a lot of the focus on what his guys do on Friday night instead of what the Storm might do. He wants to see Alexandria continue to get better at taking care of the football after two offensive turnovers last week and a failed punt attempt on a snap that went over Mason Teaser’s head to set up a Bemidji touchdown at the 1-yard line.
“Then on the defensive side, it still comes down to execution,” Empting said. “We’ve been pretty solid there. I love the way we’ve been running to the football, and our aggressiveness. Tackling, we’ve had great leverage. We have taken the ball away. We’re doing things pretty well there, but I just want to see us keep taking steps forward.”