The Alexandria football team has faced three programs in the middle of good seasons in Hutchinson (5-1), Sauk Rapids-Rice (6-0) and Moorhead (4-1) already this year, and Elk River might be the toughest to prepare for out of any team on the schedule.
The Cardinals (2-4) go to Elk River on Friday night to open up a new stadium for the Elks (4-2). The excitement of that should only add to the atmosphere for another good Elk River team whose only losses are to Andover (6-0) and Rogers (5-1).
“It wasn’t that long ago that we opened our place up here and all the excitement and energy that came along with it. That was pretty cool,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “I expect something quite similar there in Elk River, and maybe even a little bit more because it’s in season. It’s something that’s been building, and they’re having a good season.”
The Elks are coming off a 50-46 win at 4th-ranked Moorhead last Friday night where they ran all over the Spuds. That snapped Moorhead’s 11-game winning streak after Elk River ran for 470 total yards and scored 29 second-half points. The Elks were also the last team to beat Moorhead in the 2019 state quarterfinals in a 58-55 game that ended on a 57-yard pass play in the final seconds.
The Elks use a lot of movement and deception with multiple backs to keep defenses guessing in their run game. Elk River had five touchdown runs of at least 50 yards against Moorhead.
Running back Dylan Rogers rushed for 207 yards and three touchdowns on 16 carries, and quarterback Cade Osterman added 154 yards and two touchdowns on 10 carries.
There are times when it is hard to even tell who has the ball in the Elks’ run game with each player committed to disguising the play by finishing fakes. Elk River also has a big offensive line to run behind this year that makes this offense go.
“The biggest thing is our guys up front can’t try to look for the ball,” Empting said. “They are foot-to-foot in there, seven linemen from end to end, and there’s just going to be a lot going on. If they try to look up and try to find the football, they’re going to get moved off their marks and that’s not going to be good for anybody. Then it’s important for our linebackers to play with good eyes. They have to be on their keys and know what they’re looking for.”
Alexandria is coming off one of its better performances of the season against Sartell (1-6) last week in a 43-22 win. The Cardinals put up 426 yards of total offense and got four total touchdowns (two rushing, two throwing) from senior quarterback Carter Steffensmeier. Sophomore running back Walker Hennen also ran for 71 yards on 21 carries.
Seven different receivers caught a pass for Alexandria against the Sabres. Kristen Hoskins broke out with 8 catches for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and Jaxon Schoenrock, Zach Gundberg and Kelly Johnson combined for 14 catches and 145 yards.
Elk River averages 36.8 points-per game. There is a good chance the Cardinals will have to score in bunches with them in order to come away with a win.
“We’re going to have to play on both sides of the football, that’s for sure,” Empting said. “It’s going to be challenging on the defensive side, not only what they do, but how they do it and the people they have up front. We went four weeks in a row where we basically saw the same offense. Now we’re going to see an offense that we really don’t see from anybody else. They have players that fit the roles that they ask them to play.”
Alexandria has played right with good teams on its schedule this year. Elk River provides another opportunity to get a win against one of those teams with just one game left in the regular-season after Friday night.
“We’ve had those opportunities week in and week out this year, and this is just the next one,” Empting said. “Against a good opponent at their place with some energy and some momentum for them, we’re going to have to play well. Absolutely.”
State-ranked teams clash in Osakis
Another big game will take place in Osakis on Friday night when Class AA’s 10th-ranked Osakis (5-1) hosts 6th-ranked West Central Area-Ashby (6-0).
Both teams are undefeated in Section 6AA and Midwest (White) District play. The winner will likely go on to win the district and also earn the No. 1 seed in the section playoffs.
The Knights are rolling the last couple of weeks after 45-6 and 42-27 wins over Crookston (1-5) and Breckenridge (4-2). WCA-Ashby averages 34.2 points-per game and allows just 11.7.
Running back Anthony Sykora had 129 yards and two touchdowns on just 12 carries against Breckenridge last week. Hunter Norby caught three balls for 78 yards and two touchdowns, and Evan Paulson threw for 178 yards and three total touchdowns.
Osakis can mix the run and the pass well offensively this year too.
The Silverstreaks got 248 yards passing from sophomore Kyle Mages against Perham (4-2) last week. Senior Bauer Klimek was his favorite receiver with 8 catches, 181 yards and a 70-yard touchdown. Sophomore Drew Imdieke (18-73 2 TD last week) and Tyson Hagedon (9-62) provide a good 1-2 punch on the ground for Osakis as well.
The Silverstreaks average 35.5 points per game and allow 16.5. Senior lineman Brady Mages helps lead that Osakis defense as he finished with two sacks and 10 total tackles last week.