One team was the No. 1 seed, the other was No. 2.
One was ranked fourth in Class 5A, the other 10th.
One was unbeaten, the other had won eight straight after its only loss.
Friday's Section 8, Class 5A championship game had all the elements of a contest to treasure. And it was, as the second-seeded Alexandria Cardinals scored the game's first 28 points, then withstood a ferocious Brainerd rally for a 31-28 victory before a numbed capacity crowd at Adamson Field.
Alexandria scored the first four times it had the ball and led 28-0 with 9:45 left in the first half. Brainerd scored on its next two possessions to trail 28-14 at halftime.
"We put ourselves in a hole, but I think the story was how we came out of it, frankly," Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. "Goodness gracious, to come from 28-0, that's an incredible burden to overcome. Still, it was there for us to win, really."
Late in the third quarter as its defense began to play brilliantly, Brainerd climbed within seven points as it stuffed a fake punt at the Warriors' 29. The Warriors moved 71 yards to score, with Luke Furda ripping off an 18-yard run and Justin Mueller catching a 27-yard pass, on third and 23, from quarterback Chris Klabo. Klabo then fired a 33-yard touchdown pass to a diving Kevin Mertens in the end zone.
Three possessions later, Alexandria launched a 73-yard drive that consumed nearly six minutes and led to a 26-yard Eric Delzoppo field goal with 3:05 remaining.
Delzoppo, a soccer player, split the uprights to give Alexandria momentary relief.
"He's just been a great addition," Cardinals coach Dennis Kalpin said. "He's had touchbacks on kickoffs, I don't know how many. He must be close to a couple dozen of those this year. As far as field goals, he's probably got the school record in how many he has hit."
Brainerd wasn't finished hitting. On the next possession, the Warriors marched 80 yards to score, helped by two 15-yard Alexandria penalties. Klabo's 15-yard touchdown pass to a leaping Mueller in the far corner of the end zone with 1:14 left was the final score.
The Warriors' Sam Gervais then attempted an onside kick, and Alexandria recovered. The Cardinals ran out the clock, administering Brainerd's only defeat in 11 games this season.
"Alexandria has a very good football team, but so do we," Stolski said. "Certainly, we're very proud of our team. I think a lot of teams would have just decided (to quit) at 28-0 ... but our team didn't do that.
"We said, 'All we need to do, boys, is beat them 15-0 in the second half.' All we did is beat them 14-3. That wasn't good enough."
In the first quarter, Alexandria was extremely good. On the seventh play from scrimmage, the Cardinals' Jason Erickson broke away for a 75-yard score along the far sideline. Fullback Tom Steidl and quarterback Dan Einerson contributed 1-yard touchdown runs on consecutive possessions for a 21-0 edge.
After stuffing a Brainerd fake punt in the second quarter at the Warriors' 25, Alexandria eventually scored on a 14-yard Steidl run.
Brainerd regrouped in the second quarter as Klabo rifled a 24-yard touchdown pass to Tom Zelinske and a 16-yard scoring pass to Mueller to trail 28-14.
Alexandria 21 7 0 3 -- 31
Brainerd 0 14 7 7 -- 28
A-Jason Erickson 75 run (Eric Delzoppo kick) 9:04
A-Tom Steidl 1 run (Delzoppo kick) 5:03
A-Dan Einerson 1 run (Delzoppo kick) :45
A-Steidl 14 run (Delzoppo kick) 9:45
B-Tom Zelinske 24 pass from Chris Klabo (Sam Gervais kick) 6:27
B-Justin Mueller 16 pass from Klabo (Gervais kick) :21
B-Kevin Mertens 33 pass from Klabo (Gervais kick) 2:45
A-Delzoppo 26 FG, 3:05
B-Mueller 15 pass from Klabo (Gervais kick) 1:14
First downs -- A 14, B 14
Rushes-yards -- A 48-265, B 37-115
Pass comp-att-int--yds -- A 9-15-0-82, B 8-17-1-173
Total offense -- A 347, B 288
Punts-avg -- A 3-24.0, B 5-43.4
Return yards -- A 119, B 66
Fumbles-lost -- A 1-0, B 1-0
Penalties-yds lost -- A 6-50, B 3-20
Rushing -- A, Steidl 31-154, Erickson 5-92; B, Klabo 15-12, Luke Furda 19-99, Gregg Day 2-4, Zach Toms 1-0
Passing -- A, Einerson 9-15-82; B, Klabo 8-17-173
Receiving -- A, Kyle Gearman 4-29; B, Mueller 5-94, Zelinske 1-24, Mertens 1-33, Toms 1-22
Overall -- Brainerd finishes 10-1.
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