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Alex nips Willmar on safety

ALEXANDRIA -- The Willmar Cardinals streamed to a 21-6 through three quarters, but Alexandria reversed the flow and handed Willmar a 22-21 loss in heartbreaking fashion on Friday in the season opener.

Alexandria still trailed 21-20 after scoring their second touchdown of the final quarter when Willmar defensive end Nate Johnson stuffed their two-point conversion try with three minutes left.

But in an once-in-a-lifetime play, the Alexandria kickoff stopped, miraculously, at the goal line. Returner Grant Schow picked up the ball, believing it was in the end zone, stepped back into the end zone and took a knee for a touchback. But the official called it a safety, determining the ball had not reached the end zone.

The visiting Cardinals won the first half. On their second possession sophomore Alex Grove connected with junior Dean Stier for 31 yards to midfield. Grove topped off a seven-play, 89-yard drive with an 18-yard pass Ryan Lawler for a 7-0 lead.

A five-yard run by Parker Giroux made it 7-6.

But otherwise the first half was all Willmar. The visiting Cardinals marched 72 yards in 14 snaps, while mixing the pass and run, to score again.

An Alexandria fumble led to Nathanial Swoyer's second one-yard touchdown run of the second quarter.

Willmar had outgained their hosts at Citizens Field 225 yards to 21 the first half. Grove completed 14 of 20 passes for 183 yards. Stier caught six of those for 101 yards.

But Alexandria was ready to surrender and outgained Willmar 202-84 the second half.

Running back Michael Joerger scored on 50 yards run early in the fourth quarter to fire up Alexandria. After a short Swoyer punt, quarterback Cole Ellison hit Joerger on a 70-yard TD play and Willmar's lead shrunk to 21-20.

Alexandria went for two again but Johnson clobbered Joerger well short of the end zone.

It looked like the play of the game, but the biggest was yet to come.

Willmar marks its home debut Friday playing host to Brainerd.

Alexandria 22, Willmar 21

Willmar (0-1) 7 14 0 0 -- 21

Alexandria (1-0) 6 0 0 16 -- 22

Wil- Ryan Lawler 18 pass from Alex Grove (Mitch Fader kick)

Alx - Parker Giroux 5 run (run fail)

Wil - Nathanial Swoyer 1 run (Fader kick)

Wil - Swoyer 1 run (Fader kick)

Alx - Michael Joerger 50 run (Giroux run)

Alx - Michael Joerger 70 pass from Cole Ellison (run fail)

Alx - Safety, kickoff carried into Willmar end zone

NOTE: Team and individual statistics were not reported at press time.