The Alexandria football team does not have a bad loss on its schedule this season, and the Cardinals made sure it did not happen in the regular-season finale on Wednesday night.
With winless St. Cloud Tech (0-8) in town, Alexandria took care of business with a 35-6 win. It sends this group into the playoffs with a little momentum as the Cardinals wrapped up the regular season against a very good schedule with a 3-5 overall record.
“Defense played well throughout,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “It was 14-6 at half, and Tech came out on fire in the second half. We struggled to get going offensively, but in the fourth quarter we really started rolling again. We ended the game strong.”
The Cardinals did not have the start they wanted. A tipped pass led to an interception on their first drive inside their own 2-yard line. That led to a 1-yard touchdown run by Tech quarterback Josh Russell, but Alexandria scored 35 unanswered points the rest of the way.
The Cardinals finished with more than 180 yards rushing. Sophomore Walker Hennen (22 carries, 76 yards, TD) and senior quarterback Carter Steffensmeier (9-85, TD) provided a nice 1-2 punch as Steffensmeier scored from 8 yards out and Hennen added a 2-yard touchdown in the first quarter that made it 14-6 Cardinals after Myles Sansted extra points.
“I would say probably the biggest thing I’m happy about is how we were able to get our run game going,” Empting said. “We needed that. Walker being a sophomore, getting him going was huge, and (sophomore) Andrew Flaten got in there later too and picked up right where Walker left off. Our offensive line is getting it together.”
The Tigers did not go away quietly as they had a deep drive down to the Alexandria 4-yard line midway through the third quarter. Russell connected with Garrison Murry on a 35-yard pass during that drive, but a fumbled snap on 4th-and-3 from inside the 5 turned it over on downs.
“That could have been a huge momentum swing for them,” Empting said. “As it was, it ended up being a huge momentum swing for us.”
The Cardinals defense did not break all night as they allowed just a little more than 100 total yards, and the Alexandria offense put the game away with a 21-point fourth quarter.
Steffensmeier hit receiver Zach Gundberg on a 17-yard touchdown pass that made it a 21-6 game with 9:52 left after the Sansted extra point. On the next possession, it was Kelly Johnson on the receiving end of a 13-yard Steffensmeier touchdown pass. The third passing touchdown of the quarter went to Jaxon Schoenrock on a 4-yard pass with less than a minute left.
Steffensmeier finished with four touchdowns as he was once again a threat in the run and pass. He threw for 166 yards on 17-of-24 passing. Johnson and Schoenrock each had 5 catches.
“Carter has just done an incredible job all season long carrying the football,” Empting said. “There are just flat out times where he’s put the offense on his back and carried us. Then we had different guys step up, which is good to see. Jaxon Schoenrock and Kelly Johnson both had big plays. Zach Gundberg had a couple of huge receptions for us.”
Alexandria got the No. 4 seed in the six-team Section 8-5A playoffs and will host fifth-seeded Sartell-St. Stephen next Tuesday night at AAHS at 7.
The winner of the 4 versus 5 seed in the opening round will go on the road to face the No. 1-seed Moorhead on Oct. 30 in the semifinals. Sauk Rapids-Rice (6-2) got the second seed in the bracket.
Moorhead and Sauk Rapids-Rice both lost on Wednesday night. The Spuds were in Rogers (7-1) where they fell 23-7, while the Storm dropped a 12-6 game against Monticello (5-3). Sauk Rapids-Rice also lost their senior starting quarterback, Dominic Mathies, in week seven against Moorhead to an injury.
The Cardinals played close with Moorhead and Sauk Rapids-Rice in losses to both teams during the regular season. Alexandria has two wins in the last three games, and the last three losses came in one-possession finals.
The Cardinals are eager for another opportunity in the postseason next week.
“The message I’m going to send to our team starting tomorrow is it’s really about how we play moving forward,” Empting said. “We can do it. We just have to be consistent. It’s going to come down to how we play down the stretch here, because I think we can play with anybody.”
ALEXANDRIA 35, ST. CLOUD TECH 6
SCORING - FIRST QUARTER - St. Cloud Tech - Josh Russell 1-yard run; 2-point conversion no good (6-0); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 8-yard run; Myles Sansted PAT (7-6 Alexandria); Alexandria - Walker Hennen 2-yard touchdown run; Myles Sansted PAT (14-6 Alexandria)
SECOND QUARTER - No scoring
THIRD QUARTER - No scoring
FOURTH QUARTER - Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 17-yard pass to Zach Gundberg; Myles Sansted PAT (21-6); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 13-yard pass to Kelly Johnson; Myles Sansted PAT (28-6); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 4-yard pass to Jaxon Schoenrock; Myles Sansted PAT (35-6)