Cards focus on fundamentals after lopsided loss to Rocori

Alexandria football coach Mike Empting had never been a part of a loss like the 43-0 beating his team took at Rocori last Friday night, which made knowing how to handle it with his players a learning situation.

In the end, he determined the best way to move forward was to make sure they didn’t look back. The Alexandria coaching staff hasn’t watched any film from that loss to the Spartans. They haven’t shown any footage to their players. And after addressing a few things in the locker room, the coaching staff decided it wouldn’t do anybody any good to dwell on what had just happened.

Alexandria head coach Mike Empting talked things over in between plays with junior quarterback John Vogeler during the Cardinals’ season opener against St. Cloud Tech. (Echo Press photo by Eric Morken)

“I don’t know if there is going to be much good taken from that,” Empting said. “The kids know. They know we can’t fumble the ball that many times. They know you can’t give up big plays on defense. If a kid gets beat deep, he knows that. You’re not doing him any good by beating him up more three or four days after that.”

Instead, Empting said the focus in practice leading up to another road game against a 2-0 Fergus Falls team has been teaching. Empting feels the most important thing for his team right now is to concentrate on themselves rather than focusing on anything their opponents do.

That is one of the biggest lessons learned from a disheartening loss to Rocori. Empting said the Spartans were as athletic and explosive on offense as he expected. He knew leading up to the game that being out of position on defense would mean a lot of big-play possibilities. That’s exactly what happened as the Spartans connected on six scoring plays of 17 yards or more.

“Some of the things that they did, just running play action right at our linebackers and hitting little seam routes right behind them, that’s just inexperience on the part of our kids not seeing that play very often,” Empting said. “They threw a lot at our young linebackers. Things like double screens, slip screens, their zone read option. That’s a lot for those young guys to try and take in.”

A lot of these guys didn’t see those kind of plays playing at the freshman level last year. Now as sophomores, they are being asked to recognize them early as the play unfolds on the field.

“We’re asking a lot of kids to move from the freshmen level to varsity and know how to react to that,” Empting said.

Practice for the Cardinals this week has focused a lot more on what they can do to get better than anything Fergus Falls might do on Friday night. The Otters are fresh off two straight one-point wins over Sauk Rapids-Rice (28-27) and Willmar (21-20). The Otters have some early-season momentum and if the Cardinals are going to stop that, they know they need to clean up a lot of things on both sides of the ball.

“Offensively, we haven’t spent a lot of time on what Fergus Falls is going to do,” Empting said. “Defensively, they run the same things we do. But we just got back to doing what we do. We have so many fundamental problems out ¬†there on the offensive side that we just had to get back to the very basics. Defensively, I think we’re in that same spot.”

Empting said his players have responded well to that approach in practice this week. He credited his seniors and his captains for keeping some of the younger players’ spirits up after the loss to Rocori. Ultimately, he hopes that leads to plenty of improvements on Friday night.

“I think a win would mean a lot to the team’s¬†psyche,” Empting said. “But I always tell the kids that you can’t evaluate a season as it goes along. You have to play it out and then look back, see how all the other teams did that you played against. We had a relatively close game against [St. Cloud] Tech. Then we come out against Rocori and you think what kind of team are we, really? I think it would just be good to play well [against Fergus Falls]. Not turn it over and not give up big plays defensively.”