If only for a time, grief gave way to elation for St. Cloud Apollo's Derek Alexander Friday night.
The senior running back carried the ball 21 times for 94 yards, playing a key role in helping his Eagles snap a 22-game losing streak with a 9-6 win over Sauk Rapids in Central Lakes Conference play.
It was a victory an improved Apollo team has been building toward all season and one that came just hours after the death of Alexander's grandmother, who passed away at 6:30 a.m. Friday in New Orleans.
"I can't explain how I feel right now," said Alexander, who also caught three passes for 54 yards. "I'm too happy for words. We've put in so much work the past three years. It had to pay off sometime and that time came tonight."
Alexander's father -- Eagles assistant coach Harold Alexander -- has been in New Orleans with his mother all week. The rest of the family -- Derek included -- will leave this morning.
"His mother is the president of our booster club and I asked her if they wanted to leave today," said Apollo coach Justin Skaalerud, whose team is now 1-4 in conference play and 1-5 overall. "But she said there was no way Derek was going to miss this game."
The Eagles took a 3-0 lead when senior Cory Waldron hit a 33-yard field goal attempt with 2:57 to play in the first half.
It marked the first time all season Apollo has held the lead in a game.
"That was the reason I tried the field goal there," Skaalerud said. "I just wanted to get some points on the board and get some momentum going."
The lead held until the Storm marched 88 yards in 15 plays on the opening drive of the second half to score on a 7-yard touchdown run by senior quarterback Joel Haller.
The drive -- which put Sauk Rapids in front 6-3 and ran 7:27 off the clock -- could have demoralized the Eagles. Instead, Apollo answered right back, scoring on a 12-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Ben Alvord to junior Jeremy Koffi at the 11:03 mark of the fourth quarter to retake the lead 9-6.
"It was kind of shocking when they scored," said Alvord, who finished 8 of 14 passing for 109 yards. "You always get more nervous when that happens and you wonder if things are going to go bad again. But we knew there was plenty of time left if we went out and did our jobs."
The Storm then took over and marched the ball all the way to the Eagles' 1-yard line. But on 1st-and-goal, Haller was stopped short of the goal line for no gain. Then a false start penalty cost the Storm 5 yards and they were eventually forced to try an unsuccessful 22-yard field goal attempt.
Apollo got the ball back at its own 20 and was able to run out the clock.
"Our defense has been hot in every game this season and they came up huge again tonight," Alvord said. "They made some big plays."
Costly penalties haunted Sauk Rapids all night.
"That's what's plagued us all year," said Storm coach Bill Magnuson, whose team (1-4, 1-5) was coming off an upset win over Rocori last week.
"Last week, we played a good game and we were almost mistake-free. But tonight we just had too many penalties and too many mistakes."
The Eagles last victory before Friday was a 13-6 win over Fergus Falls in the season opener in 2010 when Alexander was just a sophomore. Twenty two losses in a row followed. But now the streak is finally over.
"We've been close in so many games," Alexander said.
"We've played some of the top teams around tough. We just haven't been able to finish. We finally did tonight."
|St. Cloud Apollo||0||3||0||6||--||9|
SCA -- Cory Waldron 33 FG
SR -- Joel Haller 7 run (kick blocked)
SCA -- Jeremy Koffi 12 pass from Ben Alvord (kick blocked)
Rushing: SCA -- Derek Alexander 21-94, Alvord 8-13, Kyle Rosenthal 3-10, Noel Teigen 1-1; Totals: 33-118; SR -- Chris Keske 16-131, Jake Lynch 11-42, Haller 5-17, Logan Smoley 2-8, Brady Lain 2-5, Eli McCulloch 1-(-5); Totals: 37-181.
Passing: SCA -- Alvord 8-14-0 109, Cooper Lynch 1-2-0 9; Totals: 9-16-0 118; SR -- Haller 8-17-0 88.
Receiving: SCA -- Alexander 3-54, Koffi 4-34, Rosenthal 1-24, Teigen 1-6; Totals: 9-118; SR -- Jeff Sundquist 2-38, Zach Silbernick 4-32, Keske 1-13, Lynch 1-5; Totals: 8-88.