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Spuds clearly no pushover coming in for homecoming

Unbeaten Moorhead offers another good test for the Alexandria football team as the Cardinals welcome in one of their biggest section rivals for homecoming on Friday night at 7.

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Alexandria junior receiver Kelly Johnson makes a catch and run against Bemidji on Sept. 10, 2021. Johnson and the Cardinals sit at 1-2 heading into week four on the schedule as they welcome in Section 8-5A rival Moorhead (2-0) for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday during homecoming week. (Eric Morken / Alexandria Echo Press)

Moorhead is a football program out of Alexandria’s Section 8-5A that has the numbers to reload pretty quickly instead of going through entire rebuilds for a couple years at a time. That’s been on full display for the Spuds so far this season.

Moorhead graduated their three-year starting quarterback, top four receivers and leading rusher from a perfect 7-0 season last year that included a 63-7 win over Alexandria on Nov. 20 in the lone section playoff game. That Spuds team, named the “mythical” state champs after finishing atop Class 5A’s final Associated Press poll, would have had as good a chance as any team to win a state title had the playoffs not been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Even after sustaining the losses they did to graduation, Moorhead, ranked third in the latest Associated Press Class 5A poll, might still be the team to beat in the section after a 2-0 start with wins over 0-4 St. Cloud Tech (49-13 final) and at 2-2 Brainerd (28-18 final). There is a long way to go before all that plays out, but Alexandria (1-2) is the next team to get a shot at the Spuds. It comes during the excitement of homecoming week when the two teams meet at 7 p.m. at AAHS on Friday.

“We’ve been pretty business as usual this week,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “We know it’s Moorhead. We’re very aware of that, but from a preparation standpoint, we’ve been forging ahead. It’s been a good week of practice. To be honest, maybe last week was a bit of a wakeup call. If nothing else, it was an attention getter.”

Last week was a 27-13 loss at Sauk Rapids-Rice (3-0). Alexandria turned the Storm over four times in that game, but the Cardinals could not do enough to make that hurt as Sauk Rapids-Rice put up 434 yards of total offense compared to 248 for Alexandria.

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“It was an opportunity for us as coaches to make some connections with the kids as far as things we haven’t been doing well and how they are coming back to get us a little bit,” Empting said on Wednesday. “We’ve got a great group of guys. We got great players, great leadership. They’ve listened. It’s translated into two great days of practice here so far. Hopefully that’s going to translate onto the field. We know Moorhead is obviously a really good football team.”

Moorhead has had almost two weeks to prepare for this game after its scheduled Sept. 17 matchup with Bemidji was canceled due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Bemidji team.

The Spuds will be well rested with a new-look offense and another tough defense as they come in averaging 38.5 points per game, while allowing 15.5.

Against St. Cloud Tech in week one, Moorhead scored on all six of its first-half drives. Junior quarterback Gavin Quade accounted for six total touchdowns in that game. Quade is being asked to replace three-year starter Trey Feeney, who is now a quarterback at the University of North Dakota and Minnesota’s Gatorade Player of the Year from 2020.

“Moorhead is going to have a quarterback who can throw the ball pretty decently. He does that,” Empting said of Quade. “You’re never going to replace a Trey Feeney. He was exceptional. The receivers they had for that run were very exceptional as well, but he’s a pretty good quarterback. He throws the ball really well, and he’s good enough as a runner and as a scrambling quarterback...They run the ball more than they have the last couple of years. They’re a pretty balanced attack with the run and the pass this year.”

University of North Dakota commit Jamal Dixon had a 55-yard rushing score in that win over Tech, and he’s also a standout cornerback for a Moorhead defense that returns much talent from a year ago. That includes fellow UND 2022 commit, Jack Teiken, who helps anchor things up front on the defensive line for the Spuds.

“They’re going to be every bit as stingy defensively as they were last year,” Empting said. “They have some of their big figures back on the defensive side again. We’re just going to have to have a balanced attack against them. We’re going to have to be able to run the ball well enough to keep them honest and again throw the ball well enough.”

Alexandria has yet to have a 100-yard rushing game this season.

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“That’s something we’ve been intentionally working on,” Empting said. “It’s something we have to get better at. If we go into this game thinking we have to throw it 45 times in order to move the football, I think we’re going to be in for a long night.”

There have been some self-inflicted wounds by Alexandria that has hurt its chances through the Cardinals’ two losses so far this season. They know they need to clean that up Friday with a chance to get a big win over the Spuds in front of a homecoming crowd.

“We talk about executing our assignments, executing our techniques. When we do that, we’re pretty good. We’re pretty effective,” Empting said. “Sometimes we get a little lax in those things and that’s where we have struggled. We have to get consistent in those things.

“We have some areas on our team where we have some guys who are really taking their first varsity snaps this season. Being consistent, that’s a challenge. Our veteran players are consistent, but teams that are young kind of go in flashes. You look at what we did against Bemidji (in a win), we were very consistent in that game. We had some errors that set them up with good field position, but overall we were consistent and able to overcome some of those things. We just have to get consistent in our technique. Consistent in our assignments.”

Sept. 24 Alexandria area football schedule

Alexandria (1-2) vs. Moorhead (2-0), 7 p.m.

Brandon-Evansville (1-2) vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl in Laporte, 7 p.m.

Parkers Prairie (1-2) at Pelican Rapids (2-1), 7 p.m.

Osakis (3-0) vs. Barnesville (2-1), 7 p.m.

WCA-Ashby (3-0) at Hawley (2-1), 7 p.m.

Minnewaska (0-3) vs. Montevideo (0-3), 7 p.m.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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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