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Football: Sauk Rapids-Rice makes big plays when needed in 31-17 win over Alexandria

The connection of senior quarterback Keegan Patterson to 6-foot, 5-inch receiver Andrew Harren was a big difference-maker on Friday as the Storm improved to 3-0, and the Cardinals dropped to 1-2.

1.DSC_3434.Shaun Walrath (8).Hunter Athey (2) and Bryr Homelvig.JPG
Sauk Rapids-Rice's Shaun Walrath fights for extra yards as Alexandria's Hunter Athey, 2, and Bryr Homelvig, 35, team up on the tackle on Sept. 16, 2022. Walrath had a touchdown catch of 23 yards to help his team to a 31-17 win over the Cardinals.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press
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ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria football team has shown a knack for fighting back through the first few weeks of the season, but early deficits have been too much to overcome in two of those games now.

Alexandria (1-2) rallied from 24 points down in the fourth quarter to win 41-38 in Bemidji last week. On Friday, Sauk Rapids-Rice built a 23-7 lead only to watch the Cardinals cut it to 23-17.

But the Storm made too many plays offensively, especially in the passing game behind senior quarterback Keegan Patterson, as Sauk Rapids-Rice improved to 3-0 with a 31-17 win. Patterson had two throwing touchdowns and two more rushing to lead the way.

“We had our opportunities,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “I feel like we played with them, stood toe to toe with them, but when we needed to make a play to either get ourselves off the field or make a play to convert and keep a drive alive, we were just not able to do that. We’re just not quite at that point yet…Those are the things that are going to come with experience. Just a lot of young guys out there right now trying to make plays against some pretty good upperclassmen athletes.”

Patterson threw for 306 yards in the game.

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The game came down to which team made a play in big moments, and consistently the Storm was the team to do it.

1.DSC_3369.Jordan Nicholson (60) and Ashton Sayre.JPG
Alexandria defensive linemen Jordan Nicholson, 60, and Ashton Sayre, 57, pressure Sauk Rapids-Rice's Shaun Walrath on a throw during the first half on Sept. 16, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Sauk Rapids-Rice converted a 4th-and-10 midway through the third quarter in a one-possession game from the Cardinals’ 33 yard line. That came on a 29-yard connection from Patterson to Andrew Harren where Harren made a big catch along the right sideline.

Sauk Rapids needed four plays to punch it in from there, but Patterson broke a run to the outside on 4th-and-1 after getting bottled up at the line of scrimmage. That short touchdown run gave the Storm a 31-17 lead after the conversion.

Alexandria’s defense created a turnover later in the third quarter on a fumble recovery deep in Sauk Rapids territory. The Cardinals' drive stalled when sophomore quarterback Chase Thompson’s pass on 4th-and-goal from the 5 went through senior Jaxon Schoenrock’s hands.

“When they needed (a big play), somebody stepped up and did it,” Empting said. “When we needed one, someone on their side stepped up and did it. That was kind of the way it went. We’ve got a lot of inexperience out there. Guys are still learning. They’re giving all they got. They’re just a little bit inexperienced yet. They have to get the reps, and they’re going to be better next week from this. We were better this week than we were last week.”

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After that turnover-on-downs inside the Sauk Rapids’ 5-yard line, the Storm were faced with a 3rd-and-13 from their own 1. Patterson hit Harren again, this time on a 42-yard connection.

“(Harren) is a great athlete,” Alexandria junior Brayden Staples (SE/LB) said. “We prepared for him all day on film. We were warned about him. We tried our best. He was just a really good athlete. That QB and him had a really good connection throughout the game. You could see it with the back-shoulder fade in the corner on the fourth down, you could tell they have a connection.”

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Sauk Rapids-Rice's Broden Flakne fights for extra yards near the goal line against Alexandria on Sept. 16, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

The Storm have a well-rounded team this season. Senior running back Broden Flakne is 5-feet, 9-inches and 205 pounds. He gives Sauk Rapids-Rice a strong runner.

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Flakne kept Alexandria’s defense honest, and at 6-feet, 5-inches and 192 pounds, Harren found himself in favorable matchups much of the night. Patterson went to him over and over again when they needed a big play.

“It’s hard when they spread you out to create a double-cover situation because then we’re going to get single someplace else, or we’re going to have to have a linebacker on a fast skill player,” Empting said. “It creates hard matchups for us, and we’re not to the point where we can defend that inside run with five. We got to have six in there. It puts us in a really tough spot right now.”

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Alexandria senior receiver Kelly Johnson looks for more yardage after making a catch against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Sept. 16, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Alexandria showed flashes offensively like it has done all season. The Cardinals got a 1-yard touchdown run from Walker Hennen that was set up by a 17-yard connection from Thompson to senior Kelly Johnson. That made it a 7-0 Alexandria lead in the first quarter.

“This game, we came out hot and then we slowed down,” Staples said. “We just need to keep going on that. We came out with a fourth-down stop, scored a touchdown and then we just started deflating after that.”

Sauk Rapids-Rice scored the next 23 points before sophomore kicker Daniel Jackson nailed a 28-yard field goal in the second quarter.

The Cardinals scored on their first drive after halftime. Senior Isaiah Brown came in at quarterback on fourth down and ran in a touchdown from near the 1-yard line.

Brown came from Roseville and missed the first two varsity games as he worked to become eligible through transfer rules from the Minnesota State High School League. At 6-feet, 3-inches and 210 pounds, Brown came in at quarterback in short yardage situations on Friday and also took some snaps at defensive end where he showed a lot of speed off the edge as a rusher.

“He’s going to give us a third back in the backfield out of our (shotgun),” Empting said. “He’s a very capable throwing quarterback too, but when we get back there with him and one back or him and two backs, they’ve got three they’re going to have to defend. He’s a strong runner. Then on the defensive side, it’s just a matter of he’s got to pick up our schemes a little bit. We got him in there on pass rush situations, and he’s very explosive off the edge. He’s just got to catch on to everything we’re doing right now.”

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1.DSC_3393.Brayden Staples.JPG
Alexandria junior Brayden Staples celebrates his sack against Sauk Rapids-Rice on Sept. 16, 2022.
Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press

Many players for Alexandria need more reps at the varsity level as this team continues to focus on growing each game.

Staples is like a lot of the new faces finding themselves in big roles for this team in that they are showing flashes. He had a first-quarter sack that gave the Cardinals some early momentum.

“With the Hutchinson game (in the season opener), I was really nervous,” Staples said. “In Bemidji, the nerves were still there, but they weren’t bad. Then this game, I wasn’t nervous at all, so it’s slowly coming around. I feel like that’s the same for all my other teammates too. You’re really nervous in your first varsity start, but the nerves are starting to go away and we just need to start how we did today and finish like that. We can’t let off the (gas).”

The Cardinals are now 1-1 against Section 8-5A opponents this season, and they will go on the road to face another tough test next week. Alexandria is at Moorhead to take on a 2-1 Spuds team with wins over St. Cloud Tech (0-4) and Bemidji (0-3) and a loss to Brainerd (2-2).

“We made some mistakes tonight,” Empting said. “We’re going to learn the lessons those mistakes were intended to teach us, forget about the mistake and move forward. We’re going to build on what we did tonight.”

ALEXANDRIA    7 3 7 0 - 17

SAUK RAPIDS-RICE    16 7 8 0 - 31

SCORING - FIRST QUARTER - ALEXANDRIA - Walker Hennen 1-yard run; Daniel Jackson PAT (7-0 Alexandria); SAUK RAPIDS-RICE - Keegan Patterson 22-yard pass to Andrew Harren; Shaun Walrath 2-point conversion run (8-7 Sauk Rapids-Rice); SAUK RAPIDS-RICE - Patterson 23-yard pass to Shaun Walrath; Patterson 2-point conversion pass to Andrew Harren (16-7)

SECOND QUARTER - SAUK RAPIDS-RICE - Keegan Patterson 1-yard run; Leif Rudnick PAT (23-7); ALEXANDRIA - Daniel Jackson 28-yard field goal (23-10)

THIRD QUARTER - ALEXANDRIA - Isaiah Brown 1-yard run; Daniel Jackson PAT (23-17); SAUK RAPIDS-RICE - Keegan Patterson 1-yard run; Broden Flakne 2-point conversion (31-17)

FOURTH QUARTER - No scoring

ALEXANDRIA STATS -

PASSING - Chase Thompson, 19/32, 229 yards

RUSHING - Walker Hennen, 8 rushes, 17 yards, TD; Jaxon Schoenrock, 1 rush, 15 yards; Andrew Flaten, 4 rushes, 8 yards; Isaiah Brown, 3 rushes, 2 yards, TD; Chase Thompson, 5 rushes, -7 yards

RECEIVING - Kelly Johnson, 7 receptions, 75 yards; Jaxon Schoenrock, 5 receptions, 48 yards, FUM; Mason Gorghuber, 3 receptions, 45 yards; Walker Hennen, 3 receptions, 33 yards; Kadyn Weber, 1 reception, 28 yards;

DEFENSE - Bryr Homelvig, 5 tackles, 6 assists; Jacob Lanoux, 4 tackles, 12 assists, FUM; Ashton Sayre, 4 tackles, 5 assists, sack, TFL; Gavryn Fernholz, 2 tackles, 5 assists; Mac Heydt, 2 tackles, 3 assists, INT; Evan Kludt, 2 tackles, 2 assists; Brayden Staples, 2 tackles, assist, sack, TFL; Andrew Flaten, 1 tackle, 1 assist; Kelly Johnson, 1 tackle, 3 assists; Jaxon Schoenrock, 1 tackle, 1 assist; Hunter Athey, 1 tackle, 4 assists; Jordan Nicholson, 1 tackle, 3 assists; Trey Pfeffer, 1 tackle

KICK RETURNS - Walker Hennen, 2 returns, 27 yards; Kelly Johnson, 3 returns, 15 yards;

PUNT RETURNS - Kelly Johnson, 1 return, 9 yards

KICKING - Daniel Jackson, 1 FG, 2 PAT

KICKOFFS - Daniel Jackson, 4 kickoffs, 240 yards, 4 touchbacks

PUNTS - Boone Branson, 3 punts, 29 yards, 1 inside the 20

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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