Alexandria used the energy of a packed stadium during homecoming to its advantage early on Friday night with third-ranked and Section 8-5A rival Moorhead in town.
The Cardinals created a turnover on Moorhead’s first play of the game on a fumble recovery. It turned into a Carter Steffensmeier to Teagan Pfeffer 6-yard touchdown pass.
“That was something we talked about after last week is we need to start hotter,” Alexandria head coach Mike Empting said. “The kids definitely answered that call.”
Alexandria moved the ball up and down the field on the way to building a 28-18 lead at halftime. But some miscues in the second half caught up to the Cardinals as Moorhead rallied for the 37-31 win. Moorhead senior running back/cornerback Jamal Dixon was all over the field, and he ended Alexandria’s chances on its final drive with an interception on fourth down.
“We made a lot of mistakes,” Dixon said of the first half. “We just had to clean it up. There was a fire lit under our butts, so we just had to get working.”
The Cardinals created a key turnover late in the fourth quarter when sophomore defensive end Sawyer Rumohr pressured Moorhead quarterback Gavin Quade into a fumble. The Cardinals’ Clayton Birdsall jumped on it inside the Spuds’ 20-yard line.
That turnover led to a Myles Sansted 29-yard field goal that tied the game at 31, but there was 4:49 left on the clock. That was plenty of time for a Moorhead offense that wore down the Cardinals in the run game after halftime.
Dixon had a 62-yard touchdown run called back on that final drive due to a holding penalty. It didn’t matter as the Spuds sustained the drive, and Dixon ran in a score from 8 yards out for what proved to be the game-winning touchdown with 1:14 left.
Dixon had four touchdowns on the night. The first of them came on a nearly 90-yard kickoff return down the left sideline in the first quarter. Defensively, the future University of North Dakota cornerback matched up with future University of Minnesota receiver, Kristen Hoskins of Alexandria.
“Their coach trusted him 1-on-1 with a safety over top, and I love that,” Hoskins said of the matchup with Dixon. “We had a good battle. I love playing against good competition, and it was just amazing battling with him. Great player.”
Hoskins had his own big plays as he scored on touchdown catches of 55 and 62 yards.
“We had a great week of prep,” Hoskins said. “It was amazing, so that carried over into the game. I just let my worries go, played football and had a blast.”
Empting echoed that sentiment that the Cardinals had a great week of practice. He was proud of the way his guys went toe-to-toe with a team as good as Moorhead, but there are still some things the Cardinals needed to clean up in order to come away with a win.
Alexandria drove deep into Moorhead territory on its first possession of the second half before senior quarterback Carter Steffensmeier was stripped from behind at the end of a long run. The Spuds turned that turnover into an 86-yard touchdown drive.
A couple of penalties negated long Alexandria plays on the Cardinals’ ensuing drive and forced a punt. Moorhead again went the length of the field and got a Dixon 4-yard touchdown run that gave the Spuds the momentum back.
“It felt like a shot to the gut for sure,” Empting said of the way the game changed on the first two possessions after halftime. “That opening drive could have been pretty big. We’re up 10, we go down and punch that in and you change the complexion of the game a little bit. Same thing with those two penalties, we can’t do it. But when we did turn it over there, it was deep. We got to get a stop there. We can’t let them go the length of the field.”
The Spuds’ big offensive line eventually wore down Alexandria. Couple that with talented runners like Dixon and junior Ben Hrdlicka running behind them, and Moorhead was able to get big chunks of yards on the ground after halftime to sustain drives.
“They’re big and physical up there,” Empting said. “I think we got everything out of our guys that we could, but there’s only so much you can do when the kid across from you is 50, 70 pounds bigger than you. I’m proud of the way they played. We didn't play perfectly. Still some things we have to clean up."
Steffensmeier had a couple of interceptions, including one that went for a Moorhead touchdown from Giulio Angotti, but he also had a hand in four touchdowns. Both of Hoskins’ touchdown catches came on perfectly-placed balls on a deep pass down the right sideline and then on a finger-tip catch and run up the middle.
“We were explosive,” Empting said. “Carter made some good throws. Kristen got going early, but we were also able to establish a running game in there between the tackles well enough. Carter was running the ball effectively. That’s what we have to do. For our offense to be explosive, they also have to honor the rest of the things we do.”
The Cardinals had their chances on Friday night against one of the best teams in their section. Hoskins and Empting were confident they can build on that going forward.
“The biggest thing right now is we have to understand that we had a great week of practice,” Empting said. “We made big strides forward. That’s what I tried to tell the kids after the game. We just have to keep trusting the process because what we did this week was good. That was a really good football team. They do a lot of things really well. We just need to keep moving forward, keep getting better, and I have no doubt our kids are going to do that.”
MOORHEAD 37, ALEXANDRIA 31
SCORING - FIRST QUARTER - Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 6-yard touchdown pass to Teagan Pfeffer; Myles Sansted PAT (7-0); Moorhead - Jamal Dixon 90-yard kickoff return touchdown; PAT no good (7-6); Moorhead - Giulio Angotti 25-yard interception return for touchdown; Conversion no good (12-7); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 62-yard touchdown pass to Kristen Hoskins; Sansted PAT (14-12
SECOND QUARTER - Moorhead - Ben Hrdlicka 2-yard touchdown run; Conversion no good (18-14); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 55-yard touchdown pass to Kristen Hoskins; Sansted PAT (21-18); Alexandria - Carter Steffensmeier 2-yard run; Sansted PAT (28-18)
THIRD QUARTER - Moorhead - Jamal Dixon 3-yard run; Ben Colborn PAT (28-25)
FOURTH QUARTER - Moorhead - Jamax Dixon 4-yard run; PAT blocked (31-28 Moorhead); Alexandria - Myles Sansted 29-yard field goal (31-31); Moorhead - Jamal Dixon 8-yard run; PAT blocked (37-31 Moorhead)