Football: Brainerd scores 15 unanswered over final 7 minutes to shock Cardinals on homecoming
Alexandria sophomore kicker Daniel Jackson kicked the third longest field goal in Minnesota State High School League history, but it was not quite enough as two touchdowns and a safety in the final minutes for the Warriors led them to a fourth straight win in a 15-14 game.
ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria football team may have played its best game of the season in many facets for three-plus quarters in front of a huge homecoming crowd on Friday, but Brainerd stormed back from 14 down over the final seven minutes.
The Warriors, a Class 6A program and winners of four straight games, scored two touchdowns and added two points from a safety. That completed a rally from a 14-0 deficit in the fourth quarter as the Warriors (4-2) shocked Alexandria (1-4) in a 15-14 final.
“We have to do what we need to do to get over the hump,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “We made some great plays throughout the course of the game, but when they kind of mattered down there, we were unable to do what we needed to do to secure a win.”
Brainerd quarterback Marcello Getty found a wide open Sean Holbrook for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 1:21 left. Holbrook leaked out into the flat near the right sideline and caught a short pass before trotting into the end zone for the go-ahead score.
Alexandria got the ball down to the Warriors’ 38-yard line on its final possession after a short pass to Walker Hennen went for a long run on the very first play. But Brainerd responded with a sack from Derron Tumpkin that set Alexandria back behind the 40.
On the next play, junior defensive back John Hagen intercepted sophomore quarterback Chase Thompson. The Warriors took a knee from there to run out the final 50 seconds.
“We hit a couple of plays to get down in there, and we didn’t need much more,” Empting said. “I’d give (sophomore kicker) Daniel (Jackson) a shot, but we’re a team that doesn’t have a lot of experience. We get into those situations and we get beat by the things that a lack of experience gets beat by.”
Alexandria took a two-score lead when junior running back Andrew Flaten ran in a touchdown on a 4-yard carry with 9:30 left to play. The two-point conversion run by Hennen made it 14-0. The Warriors answered with a 9-yard touchdown pass from Getty to Eli Hoelz with 6:55 left that made it 14-7 after the extra point.
Alexandria was forced to punt on its next possession, and a mishandled snap led to a block by Brainerd’s Brandon Stark that was scooped up and returned to the Cardinals’ 6-yard line.
Alexandria’s defense forced a fumble on the very next play to retake possession, but the Cardinals were backed up to their own 1-yard line on fourth down. Alexandria has young players being asked to step up on varsity at many positions, and that includes on the punting unit where they had already had a couple of miscues throughout the night.
“We had already had two snaps that weren’t great,” Empting said. “We got away with one in the first half because it was very close with (sophomore punter Boone Branson) being down (when catching the snap). Punting into the wind. We were going to give them a short field.”
Instead of risking a blocked punt and a possible touchdown, Empting elected to take an intentional safety on the punt by having Branson step out of the back of the end zone. That made it a 14-9 Alexandria lead.
“If I believe our defense is going to hold coming out of a punt from the end zone, then I got to believe our defense is going to hold coming out of a kickoff,” Empting said. “We have the best kicker in the state. Am I going to give him a chance to rip the ball down the field?”
Jackson consistently kicks the ball into the end zone for touchbacks under normal circumstances, but teams are forced to kick off from the 20-yard line after a safety in high school football. Jackson kicked it into the wind to right around the Warriors’ own 20, but a long return by Stark set up Brainerd on the Cardinals’ 43-yard line.
On the next play, Alexandria was called for a personal-foul penalty for targeting on a tackle. Getty followed that up by connecting with Hoelz on a 15-yard pass that set up the go-ahead touchdown pass to Holbrook.
“You don’t count on getting a 15-yard personal foul,” Empting said. “Those are the things we need to eliminate to get ourselves over the hump. You don’t count on a 35-yard return either. We’re going to go down and cover that thing like we have.”
Jackson nails 52-yarder
Up until the fourth quarter, it looked like Jackson was going to be a primary reason Alexandria would win the game.
The sophomore kicker made it a 3-0 lead at the half by nailing a 25-yard field goal in the second quarter. Then with 2:27 left in the third quarter, he booted a 52-yard field goal to make it 6-0 at a time when the Warriors could do almost nothing against the Alexandria defense.
“I’ve always just wanted this opportunity,” Jackson said. “I was hoping it would happen a few times this game, but I got the opportunity and just made the most of it. I’m just focusing on my ball contact (on the 52-yarder). I knew I would have the distance. I didn’t have to hit it extra hard or anything. I was just thinking it was a normal kick. I just had to hit it good.”
Jackson is a big weapon for this Alexandria team, both by his ability to consistently hit field goals and extra points, and also for the way he eliminates the kickoff return game for opposing teams.
“He’s a huge part of our football team,” Empting said. “Every time we kick off and he puts it in the end zone and makes offenses have to go 80 yards, for a high school team, that’s a tall order. Knowing when we cross the 40, we’re approaching an area where we can get points. There were two other times in the first half where we were across the 35 where I was like, ‘We’ll get points out of this.’ Or at least give him a chance, but we took losses and end up behind the 40 and had to punt out of there.”
Jackson’s 52-yard field goal is tied for the third longest in Minnesota State High School League history, according to records on the MSHSL website. The longest is a 57-yarder made by Fabian Klienschumacher of Climax-Fisher in 2003. Ken Johnson (Centennial, Circle Pines) made a 54-yard field goal against Fridley in 1995.
Jackson has become a fan favorite for Alexandria when he steps on the field. He drew a huge ovation after his third-quarter kick.
“It’s super exciting in my journey as a high school athlete, and hopefully my journey to play college too,” Jackson said. “It’s nice to have that fan base to always keep me motivated. It’s really supportive. It’s always fun to go out there and kick.”
Jackson has already been offered a preferred walk-on opportunity to kick for the University of Minnesota in the Big Ten.
“It meant a lot. It was a step in the process,” Jackson said of the offer. “I’m hoping to eventually get a full scholarship. It was the summer coming into my sophomore year when I got that. A few years ahead of me. I’m just excited for what will happen in the next few years.”
Defense shines in stretches
Alexandria’s defense played well for much of the game against Brainerd.
Senior running back Damien Bentho ran for 226 yards and two touchdowns on 44 carries for Brainerd in a win over Bemidji on Sept. 23. The Cardinals held him to 33 yards on 22 rushes.
“The kids just played really well,” Empting said. “Our linebackers were on their keys all night long. Our defensive linemen I feel like were dominant in the run game. If they weren’t getting double teamed, they were making plays. When they had to get double teamed, our linebackers were free to make plays. It’s hard because those are things we worked on in practice this week, and they responded really well. It’s just those couple little things that hurt us.”
Brainerd has a good defense of its own where the Warriors are allowing 19.7 points per game through six weeks. The Cardinals ran for almost 80 yards against them, but Alexandria was unable to connect much in the passing game.
“I feel like we had our chances. We had receivers down the field, balls in their hands at different times,” Empting said. “As far as our run game, we worked hard at it. Made some changes to how we were blocking some stuff. We were able to run the football a little bit better. We still struggled, but some of the changes the way we run the ball made it a little bit more of a challenge to protect our passer. That’s something we’re going to have to look at too.”
Players and coaches were disappointed with how Friday’s game slipped away, but Empting said they were going to stay positive over the final three weeks of the regular season.
“I feel like this team still has a lot of growth in them, and I feel like they’ve come a long way already,” Empting said. “We lost to some very good football teams, and I think Brainerd is a very good football team…They’ve got a very good defense and some weapons on the offensive side. We grew a lot. We did some things really well, but a game like this, homecoming, it’s just hard to get past the what-ifs and the should-haves. We were really close.”
ALEXANDRIA 0 3 3 8 - 14
BRAINERD 0 0 0 15 - 15
SCORING - FIRST QUARTER - No scoring
SECOND QUARTER - Alexandria - Daniel Jackson 25-yard field goal (3-0)
THIRD QUARTER - Alexandria - Daniel Jackson 52-yard field goal (6-0)
FOURTH QUARTER - Alexandria - 4-yard run by Andrew Flaten; Walker Hennen 2-point conversion run (14-0); Brainerd - Marcello Getty 9-yard pass to Eli Hoelz; Bennett Bernander PAT (14-7); Brainerd - Alexandria safety (14-9); Brainerd - Marcello Getty 12-yard pass to Sean Holbrook; Conversion no good (15-14)
Rushes-yards: Brd 34-43, Alex 33-78
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Brd 18-25-188, Alex 12-27-89
Total offense: Brd 59-188, Alex 58-153
OFFENSE - Passing - Chase Thompson - 12-27, 89 yards, 2 INT; Rushing - Andrew Flaten - 13-60, TD; Walker Hennen - 12-21; Thompson - 4-(-18); Receiving - Hennen - 1-32; Kelly Johnson - 4-26; Kadyn Weber - 4-21; Mason Gorghuber - 2-13; Flaten - 1-(-3)
DEFENSE - Sawyer Rumohr - 8 tackles; Brayden Staples - 6 tackles, 1 TFL; Jacob Lanoux - 7 tackles; Jaxon Schoenrock - 4 tackles, INT; Bryr Homelvig - 11 tackles, 2 TFL; Kelly Johnson - 3 tackles; Isaiah Brown - 8 tackles, 1 TFL, fumble recovery; Mac Heydt - 5 tackles; Evan Kludt - 2 tackles; Hennen - 2 tackles; Hunter Athey - 3 tackles; Jordan Nicholson - 3 tackles; Ashton Sayre - 2 tackles, 1 TFL, fumble recovery