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WILLMAR CARDINALS (0-0) at ALEXANDRIA CARDINALS (0-0)

Friday, 7 p.m.

ALEXANDRIA OVERVIEW: The Cardinals went 9-2 last year in their second year under head coach Mike Empting. That team had 17 seniors. In 2008, Empting's first year, those juniors got pushed around and the squad ended up with just two wins. This fall, a big offensive line is being remodeled around center Andy Werk, the lone returning starter in the trench. Senior Cole Ellison moves in at quarterback after a year as an understudy to Colin Erickson, one of five all-Central Lakes Conference choices to graduate. All-CLC running back Parker Giroux returns. He's an explosive runner who will share rushing responsibilities with Michael Joerger, who saw generous time as a backup last year. Opposing secondaries will have to contend with wideout Ben Vickstrom, a medal winner in state sprints. This is the first meeting of the two former West Central Conference foes since 2007.

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WILLMAR OVERVIEW: Willmar is where Alexandria was a year ago, senior-driven. But the up-tempo, shotgun offense will be triggered by sophomore Alex Grove. And while the receiving corps is experienced and talented, there's no 6-7 target like graduated Taylor Filipek. But aside from quarterback, there's experienced players at every spot. Another plus, players are weight-room stronger and should be better equipped to win the individual battles in the trenches. Still to be answered: is the fire that burns in the belly of this bunch hot enough to compete with the league's elite?

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Rand Middleton

Covers Willmar and area high schools and Ridgewater College, plus amateur baseball, stock car racing and fitness events in summer. Writes weekly column since 1980. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 

(320) 214-4334
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