The Alexandria football team came into this season with high hopes on offense for a group of athletes that coaches and players alike felt were a good fit for the more wide-open attack that the Cardinals installed in camp after years of running the Wing-T.
Alexandria showed flashes of the kind of production that the team was hoping for. The Cardinals put up 34 points in back-to-back weeks against Grand Rapids and Bemidji, but the Cardinals were never able to find the consistency they wanted. They averaged 19.9 points per game this season, fourth in the Central Lakes Conference North behind Bemidji (36.1), Brainerd (35.1) and Moorhead (31).
“I look at the way football is going and the way defenses are adapting,” Empting said. “I look at the personnel that we have. I thought this year we had the personnel – a good quarterback, good running back, good receiving corps for our quarterback to throw to, but maybe it was just a learning curve this year.”
Empting and his players consistently mentioned that they felt it was self-inflicted wounds that were keeping them from being productive. Penalties, turnovers, the inability to execute correctly on both sides of the ball – all of those came into play and never really allowed this team to take off.
“Sometimes you got to get out of your own way to be successful and there were times this season when we struggled with that,” Empting said. “A new offensive system that we didn’t really have a chance to work on as a team until day one, maybe that played a role in it. There’s new terminology, everything was brand new…it was just a lot and maybe it was too much for all in one season.”
Empting said a lot of those problems showed up again on Tuesday night as Alexandria traveled to Moorhead for the first round of the Section 8AAAAA playoffs. The Cardinals took over at the 20-yard line after a touchback on Moorhead’s opening kick. The first run play went for close to five yards to put Alexandria in a good spot.
“Then on second and medium, we really thought we could run it between the tackles,” Empting said. “We came with a couple of running plays that should have worked great. They were blocked really well and the backfield went the wrong direction and we took losses on both those plays.”
Those types of miscues happened on the first two possessions, which led to Moorhead getting the ball with a short field to work with. The Spuds took advantage of that and were up 14-0 by the end of the first quarter.
“If we play clean on our opening drive, it’s a different story because when we executed we moved the ball,” Empting said. “We moved it right down. It was just kind of a frustrating night. Our kids played really hard, but I think everybody that was there saw we made a lot of mistakes.”
The end result was a 42-7 loss that ended the Cardinals season at 2-7. It wasn’t the record anyone was hoping for, but Empting wouldn’t go back on any of the changes they made offensively. It’s a system that works for a lot of teams in the CLC and one that the Cardinals believe will work for them in the future.
“I don’t have any regrets,” Empting said. “I think it was the right move. I still think it’s the right move. We implemented it down into our middle school. Our middle school kids are running it, and they are doing a great job with it. I thought our 9th grade did a great job with it.
“At the end of every year, we take a look at what we have to improve on. I think moving forward, we look at how do we do this better. I don’t think we’re at a point where we’re going to change. We’re just going to say, ‘How can we improve this?’ Whether it’s play calling or simplifying things.
“It was a lot,” Empting added. “No doubt about it, but I think the kids did the best they could with it, and I think we showed flashes of being really good. I am encouraged by the fact that we implemented it all the way down in our program and the kids seem to like it and have fun with it. They’re catching onto it, too.”