Willmar football Section Quarterfinal preview
Elk River Overview
If the Elk herd follows form, Elk River will try to pound a stake through the heart of the Willmar defense. The Elks' hammer all season has been 5-foot-11, 160-pound Denis Bardashevskiy of Russian descent. He has accumulated 1,100 yards and 10 touchdowns. After watching films, Willmar coach Jon Konold had this evaluation: "He's quick, has speed and will follow behind the guard on trap plays and find a crease." If the junior back is able to continuously chew up 6 yards or more on first down, Willmar will be in trouble. Senior QB Jordan Johnson (6-3, 200 pounds) has sat three weeks with injury but could be back. He has rushed for around 400 yards in 5 games. Austin Larson, Johnson's sub, and Maclean Berglove, are also running threats. Best defensive player is lanky 6-4 linebacker Bryan Edwards; other players to watch are 6-4, 240-pound Jordan Meyer, a TE/2-way tackle and also defensive back Terry Hadden. The Elks will use misdirection and counters to keep the defense guessing. But no matter how well the Cardinals' defense plays, they likely can't keep this team out of the end zone for very long. That means the offense must respond. "The big key for us is to get up early and stay ahead so their offense will have to open up [and perhaps have to throw the ball.] The Elks' 3-5 record is deceiving. Breaking down their five losses, one was to No. 1 5A Totino-Grace and another to No. 4 6A Maple Grove, both undefeated. Five opponents were 6A schools, though they closed with a win over 4A Park Center (1-7). Looking at the QRF, Section 6-5A ranks as one of the best. Three teams are in the top 10 (Monticello No. 4, Rogers No. 5 and STMA No. 9) while Willmar is 24, Elk River 28 and Buffalo 29 among 48 division teams.
The Cardinals finished the regular season with two straight wins on the road at Sartell and Sauk Rapids. The Sabres were 5-1 at the time and the Storm 1-6. Willmar's 4-4 record includes a pair of one-point losses on the road and a 21-14 loss to 6A Brainerd and a 14-7 setback to Monticello, the No. 2 seed in the section. At Sauk Rapids, the defense was nicked for two long TD passes in the first half but overall the defense allowed just 7 completions in 30 passes while shutting down the rushing game. The Willmar offense totaled 357 yards in the 24-14 win. Alex Grove, the senior quarterback, has accelerated his game. "He's making good decisions, his passing has been more accurate and his runs are better," observed Konold. Grove completed 64 percent of his passes (25 of 39) in the two recent wins and rushed 155 yards the last two weeks. RB/TE/LB Zech Streed had a big game at Sauk (19-116) stepping in for Michael Heitzman (knee), who is day to day after an injury in fourth quarter at Sartell. But Streed is needed every down on defense at linebacker so it's asking a lot for him to also be the main ball carrier, also. The winner today will have three days to get ready for the section semifinals on Saturday. The winner on Hodapp Field tonight travels to No. 1 seed Rogers (7-1) for a 1 p.m. game.