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Football: Cards try to carry momentum from dramatic win into game with unbeaten Storm

Sophomore quarterback Chase Thompson and senior receiver Kelly Johnson have developed quite a connection through two games.

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Alexandria senior Kelly Johnson looks to get free after making a catch at Bemidji on Sept. 9, 2022. Through two games this season, Johnson has 21 catches for 266 yards and four touchdowns in helping the Cardinals to a 1-1 start.
Madelyn Haasken / Forum News Service
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ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria football team is coming off one of its most dramatic wins in recent history , and the Cardinals will try to build on that with a home game against 2-0 Sauk Rapids-Rice on Friday.

The Storm have a 20-12 win over Sartell (1-1) and a 29-7 victory over St. Cloud Tech (0-3). The Cardinals rallied from 24 points down in the fourth quarter at Bemidji last week before winning on a field goal from sophomore Daniel Jackson in a 41-38 final.

Alexandria Public School officials say that as of Sept. 1, Kevin Engebretson is no longer coaching after a complaint was made against him on Aug. 31.

“I think the confidence grew from that game last Friday against Bemidji,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “With a young team, I think they need to feel some success, have some tangible proof that the work they’re doing is paying off and we’re moving in the right direction. Especially what we were able to do in that fourth quarter against Bemidji is something they can say, ‘Yep, it’s there. We’re going in the right direction. We just need to keep trusting the process here.’”

According to stats from the Minnesota Football Hub, Sauk Rapids-Rice is averaging 141.5 passing yards and 165 rushing yards per game through two weeks. Keegan Patterson and Jack Klein have both taken snaps at quarterback, and Klein and Broden Flakne each have over 100 yards rushing and lead the team in carries.

The Storm’s defense has allowed a Section 8-5A low 9.5 points per game.

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“They are very balanced,” Empting said of Sauk Rapids. “They’re about a 60/40 run-pass team. They’ve got a big running back. Interesting side note is their starting quarterback left the game against Tech, so not sure what that status is moving forward. Their backup did a pretty good job of putting two scores on the board against Tech when he was in there. Big up front. They’re very solid defensively.”

Thompson, Johnson develop connection

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Chase Thompson
Photo by Mark Ripley / Select Digital Memories

The Cardinals have put up some big numbers offensively through two weeks where Alexandria is averaging a section-high 31 points per game.

Sophomore quarterback Chase Thompson has hit the ground running. He threw for 364 yards with 4 touchdowns on 29-of-42 passing in Bemidji.

Through two starts, Thompson has 7 touchdown passes to one interception and has completed 48-of-75 balls for 577 yards. Thompson has not run a lot, but Empting likes his willingness to do so when that option is there to keep the defense honest.

“He’s just making sound decisions with the football when he’s throwing it,” Empting said. “He’s a smart player back there. Even in game, when something gets drawn to his attention, he’ll go out there and make it right the next time. Quick study. Good athlete, throws a good football and is making really good decisions right now.”

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Kelly Johnson

Senior Kelly Johnson has emerged as Thompson’s go-to receiver early on. Johnson has 21 catches, 4 touchdowns and 266 yards receiving through the two games.

Johnson came into this season as one of the most experienced athletes back for Alexandria after getting reps offensively as a sophomore. In addition to his play-making ability as a receiver, Johnson also returned a kick for 80 yards to help ignite the fourth-quarter comeback in Bemidji. He added 9 tackles defensively from the secondary.

“He’s worked so hard in the offseason,” Empting said. “He knew coming into his senior year that this season was going to be important to him. He put a lot of time in the weight room. He worked hard to make himself stronger and he worked on his football-related skills. They are definitely transferring. In each of the first two games, he’s been the best receiver on the field easily, and moving forward, I think that’s going to continue. He was very good for us defensively as well.”

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Keep growing

The Cardinals still have a young nucleus that is gaining experience, and the defense is looking to shore things up after allowing 42 points per game through two weeks.

Part of that has been having to deal with opposing offenses having short fields to work with, especially early in games.

Hutchinson had back-to-back touchdowns in the first quarter on Sept. 2 that started near the red zone. The Lumberjacks used a blocked punt and a defensive touchdown to add to their totals.

“We have to keep teams on a long field,” Empting said. “We’re young defensively out there. Our guys get a little bit anxious and it’s hard to play defense in the shadow of your own end zone. But we do need to shore up our responsibilities. We can’t wait until partway through the third quarter and fourth quarter so we can see things on video. That’s been the thing. We’ve shown it to them on video, and the kids have gone out and responded. They just have to trust that everything we’ve been working on in practice, we have to start the game playing that way.”

Starting better has been a focus for this group heading into week three. The Cardinals were able to overcome a poor start in Bemidji.

They are looking to put together four good quarters of football when they kick off with Sauk Rapids-Rice at 7 p.m.

“These guys are progressing very well,” Empting said. “Our young guys are getting a lot of experience, and they’re growing quickly. Not just our young guys, but even some of our juniors and seniors who did not see a lot of playing time last year are starting to get the hang of the speed, the tempo of a varsity competition. We’ve had some really good teams to start this season, and it doesn’t get any easier for us. We’re just going to keep growing.”

ALEXANDRIA AREA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE FOR SEPT. 16

Alexandria (1-1) vs Sauk Rapids-Rice (2-0), 7 p.m.

B-E (0-2) vs Sebeka (2-0), 7 p.m.

Osakis (2-0) at Staples-Motley (0-2), 7 p.m.

Minnewaska (0-2) vs Melrose Area (0-2), 7 p.m.

WCA-Ashby (1-1) at Pillager (0-2), 7 p.m.

Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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