Friday night’s game between Alexandria and Sartell-St. Stephen was a chance for one of these teams to show they still deserved a potential first-round playoff game despite both coming in with one win.
That third seed in Section 8-5A is up for grabs, and Alexandria gained some headway on it with a dominant performance against the Sabres (1-6). The Cardinals (2-4) put up a 29-point second quarter and rolled to a 43-22 win that snapped a three-game losing streak.
“Honestly, I think everyone on our team believes that we’re not a 1-4 team,” Alexandria senior defensive end Zander Homelvig said. “We obviously think that in our minds, but our game plan this week was to fix that. Like coach always tells us, we are a 1-4 team and we just have to deal with that, but the goal for this game was to prove to ourselves that we’re better than that.”
Alexandria controlled things in all facets through much of the night. The Cardinals put up 426 yards of total offense and worked with a short field during that second quarter because the defense forced punts after multiple 3-and-outs.
“What that does is it allows our offense to get into a rhythm,” head coach Mike Empting said. “We establish something and then our defense goes out and gets a stop and they go right back out there. We got our run game established, spread the ball around with a couple different backs and Carter (Steffensmeier) did a great job of extending plays and running when he had the opportunity. Kristen (Hoskins) was Kristen and that threat for us that we need to keep the top off the defense.”
Steffensmeier, the senior quarterback for the Cardinals, used his feet and arm to move the ball up and down the field. Steffensmeier finished 25-of-38 passing for 304 yards. He also ran for three first-half touchdowns on carries of 2, 3 and 24 yards.
“Down in the red zone, they’re always keyed in on our running backs going outside, so if we can sneak in a couple inside like we have been all year, that’s just what we try to do is run right off our center,” Steffensmeier said. “Then just moving in the pocket. I’m not looking to run, but I am. I drop back and if there’s nothing open, I just try to get what I can. With the receivers we have, you have a lot of the defense just dropping back into coverage. They’re all down field, so it’s easy to tuck it and run.”
Steffensmeier also connected with senior receiver Kristen Hoskins on touchdown passes of 35 and 29 yards. That 35-yard score came on a 4th-and-22. It was that kind of night for Hoskins again as he used his elusiveness to run away from the Sabres on his way to eight catches for 113 yards.
“That’s my guy right there. Kristen, you throw it out there and he’s going to catch it,” Steffensmeier said with a smile. “There’s not much to say. If he’s just a little bit open, you put it on him and he’s going to catch it and go. That’s my brother right there, for sure.”
Sartell’s first touchdown came on a 28-yard run from Donovan Lund in the second quarter, but his taunting penalty after the score set back his team 15 yards on the kickoff. A kick out of bounds put them back even further, and Hoskins got the ball on the second kick and reversed field after a couple moves to go 60 yards for the touchdown.
The Sabres scored two touchdowns late when Gavan Schulte found Carsen Gross and Austin Henrichs on scoring passes of 38 and 7 yards, respectively.
Alexandria responded with a drive deep into Sartell territory that resulted in a blocked field goal attempt, but it ate up the clock and flipped the field to not let the Sabres get any closer than a three-possession game.
There have been special teams plays that have hurt Alexandria this season at times, but they played relatively clean against the Sabres as Myles Sansted was perfect again on extra points. Freshman Daniel Jackson also had four touchbacks on kickoffs.
The Cardinals now have head-to-head wins over the two teams they are battling for that No. 3 seed with after also beating Bemidji 38-20 on Sept. 10. Moorhead (4-1) and Sauk Rapids-Rice (6-0) have seemingly put a lock on the Nos. 1 and 2 seeds in some order. Alexandria lost to those teams, but had chances to win both nights.
“We just have to clean things up a little bit, and that’s really the difference,” Homelvig said. “You go back to Moorhead. You take away a return touchdown off a kick, fix a pick six, a lot of mistakes on the defense as well. We just gave that up with dumb mistakes. If we clean that up like we did tonight in the first half, I don’t think there’s a lot of teams that can beat us.”
The Cardinals’ next big test comes with Elk River (4-2) on the road next Friday night. The Elks just handed Moorhead its first loss this year in a 50-46 game as they continue to run an offense centered around the run game.
“Stopping the run game has been a little bit of a challenge for us, and we have to figure that out,” Empting said. “If we can do that against Elk River, we should be able to put it together against other solid running teams.”
The Elks only losses this year are to Andover and Rogers, two teams with a combined 11-1 record.
The Cardinals outmatched Sartell much of the night on Friday. Now the challenge is getting over the hump against a team with a winning record on the road.
“It’s just do our job, do our assignments and stay true to our reads,” Homelvig said. “If we watch the film, every single time there’s a big play given up it’s when there’s just a little error. One person goes the wrong way, one person doesn’t step right. That’s the difference between a touchdown play and a 5-yard loss. Elk River is going to be a difficult team. I know in the past, they’re just a difficult offense to read, but if we can read them correctly and game plan properly, I think we have a good chance to win that game.”
ALEXANDRIA 43, SARTELL-ST. STEPHEN 22
SCORING -- FIRST QUARTER -- Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 3-yard run; Myles Sansted PAT (7-0)
SECOND QUARTER -- Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 1-yard run; Myles Sansted PAT (14-0); Alexandria - Kristen Hoskins 35-yard catch from Carter Steffensmeier; Myles Sansted PAT (21-0); Sartell - Donovan Lund 28-yard run; Parker Knutson 2-point conversion catch (21-8); Alexandria - Kristen Hoskins near 60-yard kickoff return; Zach Gundberg 2-point conversion catch from Carter Steffensmeier (29-8); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 24-yard run; Myles Sansted PAT (36-8)
THIRD QUARTER -- Alexandria - Kristen Hoskins 29-yard reception from Carter Steffensmeier; Myles Sansted PAT (43-8); Sartell - Carsen Gross 38-yard reception from Gavan Schulte; Parker Knutson 2-point conversion reception from Schulte
FOURTH QUARTER -- Sartell - Austin Henrichs 7-yard reception from Gavan Schulte (43-22)