By Rand Middleton
WILLMAR -- The Willmar Cardinals scored a pair of first-half touchdowns and then turned the game over to the defense.
That didn't work last year at Alexandria but it did this time. Willmar came away with a 14-0 victory in the season opener against their Central Lakes Conference rival.
Quarterback Alex Grove scored both TDs on short runs. His passing and running had set up both scoring scoots.
A year ago at Alexandria in Grove's varsity debut as a sophomore, Willmar led 21-6 at halftime but ended up losing 22-21 when the home team tallied 16 points in the fourth quarter.
Willmar sat on this lead, too. The red-shirted hosts didn't have a first down post-intermission until the game's fading minutes.
But the defense was steely, though this Alexandria team doesn't have the firepower of last year's team. Aaron Steidl, a bruising sophomore running back with nice moves, proved a tough tackle, however. He logged 147 yards in 21 snaps.
Both teams were debuting rebuilt line-ups after heavy graduation losses. Willmar had the clear advantage at quarterback with a second-year starter while senior Logan Serum was making his first start. He was picked off twice, though the first by Brandon Zuidema was a rainbow heave to the end zone to close the half.
Another big difference: four turnovers by the visitors, none by the home team.
The opening touchdown drive whisked downfield on a 45-yard catch-and-run by Dean Stier after nabbing a sideline pass from Grove.
Alfred Richards carried off left tackle for five yards to the three. Grove skipped off his right guard the last yards for a 7-0 lead after Patrick Courtney's conversion kick at 2:25.
Grove did most of the legwork in the second scoring drive. Breaking off big junks of yardage out of the shotgun, the 6-foot-1, 175-pound junior showed good speed working the corners of the defense.
Grove ended up with a team-high 94 yards in 17 carries. He connected on 13 of 19 passes for 142 yards throwing to an all new receiving corps with the exception of Stier (4-92). Richards gained 55 yards in his first start, more than half his total yardage as a junior.
Middle linebacker Streed roamed for 14 tackles and outside linebacker Mitch Johannes 13, plus a fumble recovery.
Linebacker Jordan Geurtz, defensive back Chris Odens and defensive end Jason Gunvalson also had nice games defensively, each making his first start.
Willmar, which outgained Alexandria 291 to 266, faces 2010 Class 5A state semifinalist Brainerd, on the road, next Friday.
Willmar 14, Alexandria 0
Alexandria 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Willmar 7 7 0 0 -- 14
Wil - Alex Grove 3 run (Patrick Courtney kick)
Wil - Alex Grove 2 run (Courtney kick)
First downs: 14 ... Rushing: 43-199 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 6-19-67-2 ... Fumbles lost: 2 ... Penalties: 3-30
Rushing: Logan Serum 11-26, Aaron Steidl 21-147, Gideon Burnham 6-16, Ben Ferrell 3-(-4), Steffen Morical 2-14 ... Passing: Serum 6-19-67-2 ... Receiving: Steidl 2-50, Alek Anderson 3-28, Burnham 2-10 ... Punting: 27.0 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: none ...
First downs: 11 ... Rushing: 33-149... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 13-19-142-0 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 3-20
Rushing: Alex Grove 17-94, Alfred Richards 14-55, Zech Streed 2-0 ... Passing: Grove 13-19-142-0 ... Receiving: Dean Stier 4-92, Zech Streed, Brandon Zuidema 3-14, Patrick Courtney 2-7, Jordon Geurtz 2-17, Richards 1-9, Streed 1-3 ... Punting: Streed 4-38.0 ... Interceptions: Brandon Zuidema, Streed ... Fumble recoveries: Mitch Johannes 1, Geurtz 1 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Streed 10-4, Johannes 8-5, Geurtz 5-2, Chris Odens 6-1, Jason Gunvalson 5-3 (2 tackles for loss), Chris Cunningham 4-2, Seth Pollock 3-2, Byrce Enstad 1-4 (1 TFL), Brandon Zuidema 4-0, Cass Herzog 2-2 (1 TFL), Matt Cordes 2-0, Josh Kelly 1-1, Esai Flores 0-2 ... QB sacks: none