ALEXANDRIA -- For a game that offered little drama for three-plus quarters it sure had a dramatic finish.
Shut out until the fourth quarter, the Alexandria Cardinals finally scored with less than three minutes to play. Following an interception, they attempted a 30-yard field goal that sailed wide left with 12.4 seconds remaining, enabling the Brainerd Warriors to escape with a 9-7 Central Lakes Conference football victory Friday.
Another stellar defensive effort enabled Brainerd, ranked eighth in Class 5A, to beat the ninth-ranked team in 4A.
The Warriors allowed one first down and 23 total yards in the first half, 143 yards the entire game. They had nine tackles for losses, including four quarterback sacks. Of Alexandria's nine possessions, one started in Warrior territory.
"Our defense played extremely well," Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. "We just sputtered on offense."
Brainerd did sputter, turning the ball over twice and gaining 269 total yards. Halfback Riley Cullinane surpassed the century mark for the second straight week with 108 yards. Halfback James Strand added 95 yards.
Trailing 9-0 in the fourth, the Cardinals embarked on a 12-play drive that covered 82 yards. The big play was a 38-yard gain on a reverse by Derek Ludwig. The march culminated with a 1-yard score by fullback Woody Wagner with 2:57 left and David Vinje's extra-point kick.
Brainerd regained possession and made one first down. But, on third and nine, Stolski gambled, calling for a pass. Quarterback John Haberman rolled to his left and was intercepted by Alexandria's Brock Berglund with 51.4 seconds remaining.
"I knew if they stopped us they had the wind at their backs and two timeouts left," Stolski said. "I thought the play was there."
The Cardinals promptly made two first downs and proceeded to the Brainerd 14. On second and 10, Vinje lined up for what would have been the game-winner but he missed.
"It doesn't come down to a five-minute ballgame," Alexandria coach Dennis Kalpin said. "It comes down to not being able to move the ball for three-and-a-half quarters. It's not one guy that lost the ballgame at all.
"Even on the bad snap (in punt formation), it's not just one guy. We've got an offensive unit that's got some work to do. We knew that coming into the season. Not many guys have played there before."
The bad snap in punt formation, with 2:19 left in the first quarter, bounced out of the end zone for a Warrior safety and a 2-0 Brainerd edge.
Brainerd threatened to blow the game open as it scored on its next possession. Cullinane ripped off runs of 15 and 12 yards in a series that culminated with a 5-yard touchdown run by Haberman in the second quarter.
From then on, Brainerd's four possessions started in Cardinal territory. Alexandria limited the Warriors to 110 total yards in the second half.
"Our defense played terrific," Kalpin said. "They played as well as we could expect."
Brainerd 2 7 0 0 -- 9
Alexandria 0 0 0 7 -- 7
Brd-Safety, ball snapped out of end zone in punt formation, 2:19
Brd-John Haberman 5 run (Carl Sneep kick) 9:24
Alx-Woody Wagner 1 run (David Vinje kick) 2:57
First downs -- Brd 13, Alx 7
Rushes-yards -- Brd 46-248, Alx 37-107
Pass comp-att-int--yds -- Brd 3-7-1-21, Alx 4-8-0-36
Total offense -- Brd 269, Alx 143
Punts-avg -- Brd 3-35.3, Alx 5-43.0
Return yards -- Brd 56, Alx 49
Fumbles-lost -- Brd 2-1, Alx 0-0
Penalties-yds lost -- Brd 6-35, Alx 1-10
Rushing -- Brd, John Haberman 16-25, James Strand 13-95, Riley Cullinane 13-108, Mike Baker 4-20; Alx, Woody Wagner 18-58
Passing -- Brd, Haberman 3-7-1-21; Alx, Eric Hartmann 4-8-0-36
Receiving -- Brd, Carl Sneep 1-1, Cullinane 2-20; Alx, Derek Ludwig 2-23
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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