Football: Alexandria heads to Sartell with section seeding on the line
The Sabres (2-4) are coming off a big win at Moorhead that gave them a boost in the QRF rank that will seed Section 8-5A. If the Cardinals (1-4) want to catch them for a possible third seed, a win on Friday looks like a must.
ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria football team has two opportunities over the final three weeks of the regular season to try to secure a top three seed in the Section 8-5A field by going head-to-head against teams fighting for the same spots.
Up first is Sartell-St. Stephen (2-4) on Friday. The Cardinals will play both of their remaining games against section opponents on the road as they also go to St. Cloud Tech (1-5) on Oct. 19. In between there is a home contest against perhaps the best Class 5A team in the state in Elk River (5-0) on Oct. 14, but Alexandria is focused on what would be a big win if the Cardinals can get it against Sartell on Friday.
“We’re still battling for a third-place spot,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said on Wednesday. “This is a pretty big game, but I haven’t talked to the kids much about that. We just try to keep our focus on improving every day and being better this week than we were last week, then letting scores and wins and losses take care of themselves at this point.”
Sartell got a big win against Moorhead (3-2) in a 30-12 final on Sept. 30. Sabres senior quarterback Cole Hentges helped his team build a 16-0 lead by the half. Moorhead rallied to make it a 16-12 game, but Hentges threw a 17-yard touchdown to Parker Knutson and a 4-yard touchdown to Andrew Tavale to beat the Spuds in the second half.
“He throws the ball and he runs the ball,” Empting said of Hentges. “He’s got a really nice receiver in Parker Knutson who does a really nice job. He’s a big target and will pose a challenge for us. Cole throws a good football. He escapes the pocket really well. They run some zone read stuff and also some designed run plays for him, and he does a good job as a runner. He kind of reminds me of some quarterbacks we’ve had here a few years ago. I think if we can keep him under control, we’re going to be in a good spot.”
Alexandria is trying to get on track after three straight losses. The Cardinals were close to getting a big win last week before Brainerd (4-2) won a 15-14 game by scoring two touchdowns and a safety over the final 7 minutes.
Alexandria allowed just 34 rushing yards on 32 carries for the Warriors. Brainerd hit a couple of important passing plays, but the way the Cardinals had played most of the game defensively had a lot to do with Empting’s decision to take an intentional safety on a punt to make it a 14-9 game late in the fourth quarter with his offense backed up to their own 1-yard line.
Empting had a few days to think about that call, and said he would make the same decision after watching the game back on film. Instead of risking a blocked punt in the end zone or giving the Warriors a certain short field down a touchdown after the punt, he wanted to give standout sophomore kicker Daniel Jackson a chance to pin Brainerd deeper by kicking off from the 20-yard line. Instead, a long return by the Warriors and a personal foul penalty on the first defensive play set up Brainerd with field position deep in Alexandria territory before the eventual game-winning touchdown pass.
“The way the defense was playing, we were playing really well,” Empting said on Wednesday. “I just had all the confidence that if we put them on a long field that we were going to be able to do what we’d been doing all night, and that’s stop them and get the ball back to the offense with the chance to let them run out the clock to secure the win for us. You just don’t bank on (the personal fouls and long kickoff return) happening. You bank on the game going the way you think it’s going to go.”
Empting called this a resilient group for Alexandria with strong leadership among the players on the team.
“Last week was a tough game,” he said. “I thought we played pretty well. We had some mistakes that were just too much to overcome to get that win against Brainerd. I just think it’s important that we get the team as refocused on the process as we can and start focusing on Sartell and not worry too much down the road.”
The Sabres come into Friday’s game ranked No. 25 in Class 5A through the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net. Alexandria is ranked No. 38, so a win would give the Cardinals a head-to-head tiebreaker with the Sabres and inch them closer in that ranking. A loss would make things very difficult on Alexandria’s chances of catching the Sabres for that third seed.
Sauk Rapids-Rice is at the top of the 8-5A seed list right now with a 5-0 record and No. 8 QRF rank. Moorhead (No. 21 QRF) is second in the section pecking order, while St. Cloud Tech and Bemidji (0-5) round out the field in the fifth and sixth spots, respectively.
The top two seeds in Section 8-5A get a bye into the semifinals. The section will be seeded through the QRF on Oct. 20.
Empting is confident that this team will keep fighting and realize they have plenty to play for over the final few weeks.
“I try to keep reminding them that last year we were in about this same situation at this point in the regular season,” Empting said. “We obviously ended up winning the section and going to state. There’s still a lot out there for us. We just need to stay positive, keep embracing the process and keep working. I think the kids are trusting that.”