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Football: Hutchinson offers huge test right off the bat in Alexandria's home opener

The Cardinals will host the defending Class 4A state champions and University of Minnesota recruit Alex Elliott in Friday's season opener. Sophomore Chase Thompson is set to make his varsity debut at quarterback for Alexandria.

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Alexandria head coach Mike Empting talks with his team during a break in the action at the Cardinals’ opening day of practice on Aug. 15, 2022. The Cardinals open the season on Sept. 2 at 7 p.m. with a home game against Hutchinson, a team that went 12-1 in 2021 and outscored three opponents 118-20 in the state tournament on the way to a Class 4A championship.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — An Alexandria football team that comes into this season needing to gain experience with some younger players will not ease into anything during Friday’s home and season opener.

The Cardinals host the defending Class 4A state champions at 7 p.m. when Hutchinson comes to town. The Tigers, who beat Alexandria 36-20 on Sept. 2 last year during a rain-soaked game , finished 12-1 in 2021 and outscored opponents 118-20 in three wins at the state tournament. The Tigers are 1-0 already after beating St. Cloud Apollo 46-0 on Aug. 25.

“They have a strong tradition in football,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “They were a tough matchup for us last year at their place. They went on and had a very good season, and they look as good as they did a year ago. They run the ball really well. They’re a well-coached team. Very disciplined. It’s going to be a pretty strong early test.”

The Cardinals like their talent, but know reaching their potential may take time after so many seniors played key roles a year ago.

The Tigers ran the ball on 55 of 58 offensive plays in last year’s 42-14 win over Kasson-Mantorville in the state championship game. They gained 423 yards on the ground, with Alex Elliott and Mitchell Piehl each accounting for over 100 yards.

“They are definitely a system program. They start running their stuff early, get very, very good at it, and on top of that they have the players all in the right places,” Empting said. “They have the players to fill the roles that the system needs across the board, especially on the offensive side. But they’re really good defensively too. They’re physical with a lot of good athletes on the field.”

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Elliott is a senior this season and has committed to the Gophers at the University of Minnesota. He is a two-way player at running back and linebacker.

Elliott blocked a punt that led to a touchdown against Apollo, scored offensively and added a sack defensively in week one. He is listed at linebacker through many of the college recruiting services. That may be where he ends up in college, but he is also part of a deep and talented backfield offensively for Hutchinson.

“He’s a pretty good running back too,” Empting said. “He’s just a good football player. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

Hutchinson’s offense averaged 37.3 points per game in 2021, and the defense allowed just 10.7. The Tigers had a talented offensive and defensive line that paved the way for that, and nothing has changed there.

“We got to be disciplined defensively,” Empting said. “That’s going to be the biggest thing. Discipline for us means we have to play with good pad level. They’re big and they’re physical. If we try to stand belly to belly with them, we’re going to get moved…They run the ball out of a number of formations. They have a quarterback (junior Logan Butler) who’s actually a pretty decent passer this year. They rely on the run game, but I don’t think they have to be one dimensional. We have to play disciplined football.”

Thompson takes over at QB

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Alexandria sophomore Chase Thompson releases a throw during practice for the Cardinals on Aug. 15, 2022. Cardinals' head coach Mike Empting said on Aug. 29 that Thompson will get his first varsity start at quarterback in the season opener this Friday when Hutchinson comes to Alexandria Area High School.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Empting said sophomore Chase Thompson will be the starter at quarterback on Friday night.

Thompson entered practice this August in a position battle to try to win that job after two-year starter Carter Steffensmeier graduated. Chase is the brother of Treyton Thompson, who is a sophomore 7-foot center this year on the men’s basketball team at the University of Minnesota.

Chase Thompson, 6-feet, 7-inches and 192 pounds, does have varsity experience in basketball from his freshman school year, but Friday will be his first time leading the offense on the varsity field in football. Thompson has a strong arm that he has showcased throughout practices.

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“He’s just got to be patient, take what the defense gives him,” Empting said of what he wants to see from Thompson in the opener. “We have to be able to run the ball still too, but we have to be effective throwing it, and I think there can be some gaps in that defense throwing the ball. You just have to be patient. Let the defense be wrong and make good reads. That’s the biggest thing.”

Isaiah Brown is a senior on the roster this fall who transferred to Alexandria as a student from Roseville, where he played quarterback.

At 6-feet, 3-inches and 209 pounds, Brown has been taking practice reps at both defensive end and quarterback, but as of Aug. 29, Empting said Brown was only eligible as a junior varsity athlete. There was still work to be done to become eligible as a varsity player through the Minnesota State High School League rules for a transfer student .

Controlling the ball key against the Tigers

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Alexandria assistant coach Ty Granning talks over the proper footwork with his linemen during a drill on Aug. 15, 2022 in the Cardinals’ first practice of the 2022 season.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Empting said that juniors Walker Hennen and Andrew Flaten are two players who will rotate in at running back next to Thompson in the backfield.

Hennen, 6-feet tall and 182 pounds, got 91 carries for 237 yards as a sophomore in 2021. Flaten also carried the ball 19 times for 61 yards. Both are a year older now, and the maturation for an athlete from the sophomore to junior year often matters quite a bit when playing at the Class 5A level.

Alexandria would love to run the ball against Hutchinson to keep the Tigers’ offense off the field, but Hutchinson’s size and athleticism up front and at linebacker makes that difficult for opponents.

“I think that’s going to be key, however we can control the time of possession,” Empting said. “Whether that’s throwing the ball on those intermediate and short routes, just catching the ball more like extended handoffs. Whatever that means to control the clock and the possession, that is going to be huge. We can’t turn the ball over. We have to stay on schedule as far as down and distances go. We can’t get ourselves into long yardage situations against these guys.”

Read more Alexandria Cardinals coverage from the Echo Press

The Tigers will certainly offer a good challenge for a new-look Alexandria team, but Empting is excited about this opportunity. The Cardinals should come out of Friday night with a better idea of who they are right off the bat.

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“There’s going to be a lot of new faces,” Empting said. “We had a big senior class last year, and a lot of those guys played. We’re going to be young, but opening night at home, it doesn’t get too much better. To me, it’s the kickoff of everything and gets everything rolling for the fall.”

2022 ALEXANDRIA FOOTBALL ROSTER - SENIORS - Hunter Athey, SE/CB; Jaxon Schoenrock, SE/CB; Kelly Johnson, SB/FS; Isaiah Brown, QB/DE; Landon Seward, RB/SS; Owen Kuehl, SE/FS; Chance Boyer, RB/SS; Bryr Homelvig, RB/LB; Gavryn Fernholz, T/DE; Ashton Sayre, TE/DE; Jordan Nicholson, G/DE; Ashton Schlosser, T/DE; David Rauscher, C/T; Joe Moga, SE/CB;

JUNIORS - Brayden Staples, SE/LB; Kadyn Weber, SE/FS; Drew Gundberg, SE/CB; Joaquim Ramos, K; Evan Moore, QB/FS; Walker Hennen, RB/LB; Andrew Flaten, RB/SS; Jacob Lanoux, SB/LB; Cameron Simon, SE/LB; Hayden Logan, T/DE; Thadeous Anderson, C/T; Landon Raths, G/LB; Sawyer Rumohr, T/DE; Ian Winter, T/T; Gavin Engelbrecht, C/LB;

SOPHOMORES - Mac Heydt, RB/SS; Mason Gorghuber, TE/SS; Trey Pfeffer, SE/CB; Evan Kludt, SE/CB; Daniel Jackson, K/P; Chase Thompson, QB; Samson Hagstrom, SE/CB; Boone Branson, TE/SS; Sam Anderson, QB/FS; Dean Lempka, TE/SS; Lucas Fernholz, RB/LB; Brett Thornburg, RB/SS; Caden Zelasko, SE/SS; Dane Olson, RB/CB; Cody Nelson, RB/SS; Brayden Fischer, SE/CB; Elliot Kent, SE/CB; Kyle Blankenship, SE/CB; Lawton Ketelsen, SE/CB; Carson Holte, SE/SS; Westley Schabel, SE/SS; Abe Pajari, TE/FS; Taven Ebnet, TE/CB; Cade Lybeck, TE/LB; Bryce Pilgrim, G/LB; Cole Holman, T/T; Walker Giese, G/LB; Dylan Gray, G/LB; Gavin Sayre, G/LB; Simon Jahner, G/DE; Karsten Habberstad, C/T; Jaxon Werder, T/T; Kian Kramer, G/DE; Joe Martinson, C/T; Skylar Bordak, G/T; Jacob Buck, T/T; Ashton Sladek, T/T; Riley Corle, T/T; Luke Maanum, T/T; Zach Anderson, Manager

FRESHMEN - Talan Witt, QB/CB; Thomas Hinrichs, QB/CB; Jake Arvidson, Brendan Behrens, Brody Berg, Lucas Brovold, Brody Buse, Aden Button, Luke Christenson, Adrian Dahlen, Gage Deblieck, Jackson Drum, Brady Emter, Jesse Fitzgerald, Carson Goetsch, Rhett Granning, Myles Gray, Brady Gundberg, Owen Heinen, Noah Holmstrom, Logan Huebner, Kingston Huntley, Nolan Johnson, Spencer Kleindl, Jacob Loween, Jackson Martinek, Nicholas McKay, Brett Meyer, Julian Montalvo, Jack Morrissette, Jeremiah Oleson, Julian Ramos, Gavin Roderick, Sam Rolin, Bryce Rustman, Aidan Schneiderhan, Gavin Schoenrock, Isaac Seward, Wil Spencer, Logan Timm, Will Weibye, Griffin Wimmer, Mason Witt, Evan Zabel

ALEXANDRIA FOOTBALL SCHEDULE

Sept. 2 vs Hutchinson, 7 p.m.

Sept. 9 at Bemidji, 7 p.m.

Sept. 16 vs Sauk Rapids-Rice, 7 p.m.

Sept. 23 at Moorhead, 7 p.m.

Sept. 30 vs Brainerd, 7 p.m.

Oct. 7 at Sartell, 7 p.m.

Oct. 14 vs Elk River, 7 p.m.

Oct. 19 at St. Cloud Tech, 7 p.m.

Oct. 25 Section quarterfinals, 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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