WILLMAR — On a steamy night in Georgia … oh wait, this is still the North Star State … the Brainerd Warriors flavored their traditional land attack with just a spoonful of passes to set down the Cardinals 21-7 on Friday before 1,500 fans.
The final count was similar to a year ago on the same field when Willmar lost 21-14 to the Warriors. The Cards were looking for their first victory over Ron Stolski’s contingent since the 2000 season.
The heat index was at 88 degrees at kickoff after a sun-splashed day in the nineties.
Brainerd scored 73 points last week and Willmar 42; but this was a bruising battle with only one play going for over 30 yards: both teams, defensively, were quick to the ball.
The Warriors, more precise in their execution, ran 63 plays for 341 yards to Willmar’s 57 for 215 yards.
Augustine Hahn, the junior quarterback who had over 400 total yards last week at Sauk Rapids in his first varsity start, found the quicker Brainerd defense a horse of a different shade.
He rushed for 16 net yards and threw for 115 with two picks.
Denied the corners, Michael Heitzman ran for 78 tough yards. Buzzy Tollefson, Tyler Stegeman, Colten Carlson, Leon Richards, Vaughn Johnson, Joel Engel and Travis Deegan were among the defensive leaders in the sweltering heat.
Unlike other meeting this century with the Brainerd powerhouse, the Cardinals weren’t overmatched, just underperforming offensively, reflecting that this team is still a bit green and not fully cured.
Brainerd pounds the ball down your throat and just when the opposition starts to gag and push back pulls up and goes over the top.
The Warriors put together scoring drives of 80 yards and 93 yards in the first half and the key plays each time was one of the six passes smallish Thomas Stoxen threw all half.
The first successful pass came on fourth down covered and covered 13 yards to Logan McElfresh to keep a drive alive at the Willmar 26. Logan Davis soon sprinted the last five for the game’s first score at 10:43 of the second quarter.
Willmar kept advancing put couldn’t sustain drives. A 20-yard punt return by Tyler Stegeman, plus a face mask penalty, set Willmar up at the Brainerd 28. The Cards punched it down to the 14 but from there went backwards and had to punt.
With the clock winding down, the Warriors marched from their own 7 to midfield. That’s where Stoxen, their 145-pound senior quarterback, faked a handoff and lofted a pass 30 yards on the mark to his tall wide receiver McElfresh who eluded two tacklers to reach the end zone to complete a 51-yard connection and a 13-0 halftime lead.
Brainerd went up 21-0 before Willmar got on the board on a screen pass from Hahn to Vaughn Johnson covering 41 yards.
Conor Gessell ran for 161 yards in 26 totes and one touchdown.
Brainerd 21, Willmar 7
Brainerd (2-0, 2-0) 0 13 8 0— 21
Willmar (1-1, 1-1) 0 0 7 0— 7
Brd – Logan Davis 5 run (Logan McElfresh kick)
Brd – Quinn McElfresh 51 pass from Thomas Stoxen (kick fail)
Brd – Conor Gessell 1 run (McElfresh pass from Stoxen)
Wil – Vaughn Johnson 41 yards from Augustine Hahn (Max Trochlil kick)
First downs: 18 … Rushing: 57-279 … Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 4-7-73-1 … Fumbles lost: 0 … Penalties: 4-50
Rushing: Logan Davis 13-61, Isaiah Smith 1-3, Conor Gessell 26-161, Thomas Stoxen 8-25, Logan McElfresh 5-25 … Passing: Stoxen 3-6-62-1 ... Receiving: Quinn McElfresh 2-64, Logan Davis 1-8, Isaiah Smith 1-3 … Punting: L. McElfresh 3-33.7 … Interceptions: Grant Reuer, Jaquon Cogshell
First downs: 14 … Rushing: 36-100 … Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 12-21-115-2 … Fumbles lost: 1 … Penalties: 2-20
Rushing: Hahn 16-15, Michael Heitzman 17-78 … Passing: Hahn 12-21-115-2 ... Receiving: Heitzman 1-5, Chris Cunningham 2-7, Nick Coquyt 2-7, Vaughn Johnson 2-52, Austin Grove 3-16, Adam Nibaur 4-37 … Punting: Zach Radermacher 4-43.3 … Interceptions: Cunningham 1… Fumble recoveries: none … Tackles (solo-assist): Colten Carlson 4-3, Cunningham 1-1, Eli Gunderson 2-0, Tyler Stegeman 6-2, Johnson 3-5, Buzzy Tollefson 7-3, Joel Engel 4-2, Travis Deegan 6-1, Leon Richards 3-3 … Tackle for loss: Joey Lee