Alexandria stuns Spuds in section football semifinals
Alexandria scored late in an eventful fourth quarter to advance to the Section 8-5A title game.
MOORHEAD — It's a safe bet that if Moorhead and Alexandria players experienced anything close to the offensive craziness they were involved in in Saturday's Section 8-5A semifinals game, it probably was in front of a video game screen or on a Saturday morning in fourth grade with plastic flags dangling from their belts.
A thrilling fourth quarter featured the teams trading numerous big plays, throwing a fourth-down touchdown pass, recovering an onside kick and scoring six total touchdowns in the final 5 minutes, 16 seconds of the game, the last on a trick play that was the game-winner in Alexandria's 42-39 victory.
"We've been practicing that all year, just for this moment," said Cardinals running back Will Heydt, who took the pitch on the hook-and-lateral play that produced the winning touchdown, Heydt's fourth of the game. "We do two-minute drills in practice every day and after they scored (to take the lead), we knew it wasn't over."
Alexandria head coach Michael Empting said the play was necessary given the situation.
"You get into games where teams are going to play off, not a lot of time left on the clock, you have to find a way to get behind the defense," Empting said. "They're not going to let us throw the ball down the field so we went with the hook-and-lateral."
The top-seed Spuds seemed to have command of the game through the first half. Moorhead opened the scoring on quarterback Gavin Quade's 25-yard touchdown pass to Mekhi Elmore in the first quarter. In the second half, Quade threw 7 yards to Alonn Salman for a score and a 14-0 lead.
After Alexandria quarterback Carter Steffensmeier's 12-yard TD run made it 14-7 with 4:24 left in the half, the Spuds answered with a 95-yard drive that included chunk plays from Jamal Dixon, Michael Haugo and Ben Hrdlicka that helped the Spuds move the ball to the Cardinals' 26. Dixon took the ball on what appeared to be a sweep right, but pitched to Haugo on a reverse to the 3-yard line. One play later, Hrdlicka plowed in from the 1 for the score with 24 seconds left in the half to make it 21-7 at halftime.
The Spuds opened the second half and looked to be heading for another score, but Alexandria turned them over on downs at the Alexandria 19, an effort that seemed to buoy the Cardinals.
The Cards' Will Heydt ran for a third-quarter touchdown and another early in the fourth that tied the game 21-21 with 11:14 to play.
Then things started getting fun. Dixon scored from 3 yards out, but the Spuds missed the kick and led 27-21. After Steffensmeier's 69-yard TD pass to Kristen Hoskins gave the Cards the lead, they stripped the ball from Moorhead's return on the ensuing kick and recovered at the Moorhead 23. Moments later, Heydt ran for his third touchdown and gave Alexandria a 35-27 advantage.
Moorhead didn't fold. Quade threw a 63-yard scoring pass to Haugo and the Spuds were within two at 35-33 with 1:52 to play. They recovered an onside kick and, minutes later facing a fourth-and-6 at the Alexandria 29, Quade found Salman open in the middle for the touchdown and a 39-35 lead with 55 seconds left.
Alexandria took over at its 28-yard line with 45 seconds to play. Steffensmeier threw behind the line to Hoskins, who waited for the pursuit before throwing back the Steffensmeier. He passed to Zach Gundberg for 24 yards to the Moorhead 48.
On the next play, Steffensmeier threw about 10 yards to Jaxon Schoenrock, who then lateralled to Heydt speeding up the left sideline and he cruised for the TD. After the kickoff, Wyatt Odland intercepted a Quade pass to lock up the win.
"It was such a great game, the best I've ever played in," said Heydt, whose team moves on to play Bemidji at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 5 in Bemidji for the section championship.
Moorhead players won't look at it the same way, at least not until some time has passed. That's what head coach Kevin Feeney hopes for them.
"There's nothing you can say to make these kids feel better in these situations," Feeney said of the team that won section championships in 2019 and 2020. "I'm really proud of how we competed and I'm really going to miss these seniors. It's a special group of seniors."
Alexandria 42, Moorhead 39
Alex 0 7 7 28 — 42
Moor 7 14 0 18 — 39
M: Mekhi Elmore 25 pass from Gavin Quade (Ben Colborn kick)
M: Alonn Salman 7 pass from Quade (Colborn kick)
A: Carter Steffensmeier 12 run (Myles Sansted kick)
M: Ben Hrdlicka 1 run (Colborn kick)
A: Will Heydt 15 run (Sansted kick)
A: Heydt 2 run (Sansted kick)
M: Jamal Dixon 3 run (kick failed)
A: Kristen Hoskins 69 pass from Steffensmeier (Sansted kick)
A: Heydt 7 run (Sansted kick)
M: Michael Haugo 63 pass from Quade (pass failed)
M: Salman 29 pass from Quade (run failed)
A: Heydt 48 pass from Steffensmeier (Sansted kick)