It didn’t take Alexandria football coach Mike Empting long to think of the main reason his team was able to control its playoff opener against St. Cloud Tech from start to finish on Tuesday night.
The Cardinals were coming off a 42-7 loss to Brainerd in the regular-season finale where penalties and turnovers killed any chance they had of staying in the game. Less than a week later, it was penalties and turnovers that told the story again. Only this time, it was the absence of those two things that led to a 39-12 win for Alexandria.
“I think the biggest thing in that game is we didn’t make mistakes,” Empting said this afternoon. “We didn’t do things to hurt ourselves. We sustained drives. Defense just played outstanding from the beginning and set our offense up with short fields…but we had just one turnover, and I believe it was on our opening possession. We had limited penalties. We didn’t do those things that hurt us during critical times in the regular season.”
Empting said Alexandria’s defense played with discipline the entire night. The Cardinals allowed just 35 yards of total offense in the opening half. They held the Tigers scoreless until the game was already decided in the fourth quarter.
Tech finished the night with 185 passing yards but just 62 yards on the ground. It didn’t help the Tigers’ cause that their all-time leading rusher Jacob Peterson had to watch from the sideline after suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale against Rocori. That obviously hurt the Tigers’ chances, but Empting credited his players and his defensive coaches for his team’s ability to completely shut down Tech’s ground game.
“Peterson absolutely is a great running back, a great athlete,” Empting said. “He does things, makes people miss and all that, but on the other side of it, our guys played with tremendous leverage all night long. There was just nothing there for the Tech running game.”
The Cardinals know they have to play with that same discipline and have multiple guys around the ball in a rematch against Moorhead on Saturday night. The Spuds’ senior running back Chase Morlock is one of the best backs in the state this season after putting up 22 touchdowns through the regular season.
The Cardinals know what he brings to the table after their week seven loss to Moorhead. Alexandria was able to keep him out of the end zone, but Morlock ran for 142 yards to help his team stay unbeaten with a 25-15 win.
“He’s a very good running back, catches the ball too,” Empting said. “They find ways to get him the ball, but in the same respect, you have to defend the play that’s coming at you and be a solid tackler. That’s what we were able to do the first time we played them. We tackled very well. When the play is defended correctly and you have great leverage, then it’s up to the players to execute and make the tackles.”
Alexandria only lost that game by 10 points despite losing five fumbles to the Spuds. The Cardinals feel like if they don’t beat themselves, they will have every opportunity to stay in the game and have a chance to win it on Saturday night.
“Even going into the first game against Moorhead, it’s an offense that we match up well against,” Empting said. “We’ve done pretty well defending against every type of offense except one, (the zone-read). I think the guys feel good. I think they recognize the first time around against them, we turned it over five times. Three of those were inside our own 20, which set up your opponent with short fields. We kind of gave one away, and if we don’t do those things to beat ourselves, we feel like we will be right there.”