Willmar shines in soggy semifinal
WILLMAR — The reds and whites on the uniforms were smudged with dirt. Cleats were caked with mud. By the end, Hodapp Field had the footing of pudding. It's bound to be a long day of laundry for whomever cleans the jerseys and pants for the Willmar football team.
But there were plenty of bright whites on the Cardinals' sideline, radiating from the smiles from the squad after reaching the Section 8AAAA finals with a convincing 47-8 win over St. Cloud Apollo Saturday.
"It's a whole different game when it's wet," said quarterback Drey Dirksen. "You just have to keep your feet under you. It's hard to throw and catch the ball. Just got to do your best; it's a mental game."
On-and-off rain made for a soggy field and a slippery ball on Saturday. But, it wasn't different than the Week 6 matchup between the Cardinals and Eagles. So, the game plan was similar: short passes, utilize the trio of rushers in the backfield and get on Apollo early.
Willmar's first scoring drive took just 1 minute, 21 seconds as Drey Dirksen hit Ryan Slette with a 13-yard jump ball in the end zone for a score.
Normally the bruising runner of the Cardinals' backfield, Ethan Roux got to show off his hands, capping off a 90-yard drive with a 25-yard touchdown catch with 3:30 to go in the first quarter.
"The single receiver running a post route opened up the wheel route for me," Roux said.
Said Dirksen, who was 16 of 24 passing for 248 yards, "We practiced that a couple times. Ethan isn't the best catcher, I would say, but he can catch the ball. I had to get that out because I got hit right away and he made a great play coming back to it."
The Cardinals' third drive also resulted in a score after Alex Wickliff crossed the plane with a 5-yard run to make it 21-0.
"All of us had found a vibe together," Roux said. "We were just moving hard and kept moving right off the bat."
The offense struggled for the rest of the first half with two fumbles. But after each mistake, the Willmar defense found a way to hold off Apollo.
In an Apollo drive that started at the Cardinals' 15-yard-line, Ty Roelofs had his sixth interception in the past four games. Then after another fumble put the ball at the 32-yard-line, Willmar forced a turnover on downs as the Cardinals led 21-0 at halftime.
The defense ended the night with five sacks and three takeaways.
"We had multiple fourth-down stops ... They just pick each other up," head coach Jon Konold said of the defense. "One group feeds off the other group and that's what good teams do."
Penalties hampered Willmar in the third quarter and third-seeded Apollo was able to get on the board with a 9-yard strike from Logan Johnson to John Blommel. But with the game well in hand, Willmar got some points in style with three touchdown runs of 50-plus yards via Roux (52, 62) and Dirksen (86).
With Apollo out of the way, there's a little revenge on Willmar's mind. Playing in a section final for the third time in four years, the No. 2 seed Cardinals will face top-seeded Detroit Lakes in the championship game at 7 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 2 in Alexandria.
Hoping to end a 30-yard state drought, Willmar first needs to beat the team that unexpectedly ended their season a year ago in the section quarterfinals.
"It's revenge," Roux said. "We just want come back, take them out and get to state."
St. Cloud Apollo 8
Apollo (5-5) 0 0 8 0 — 8
Willmar (8-1) 14 13 0 20 — 47
W — Ryan Slette 13 pass from Drey Dirksen (LaBlue Moo kick)
W — Ethan Roux 25 pass from Dirksen (Moo kick)
W — Alex Wickliff 5 run (Moo kick)
W — Jake Evans 40 pass from Dirksen (pass failed)
SCA — John Blommel 9 pass from Logan Johnson (Lukas Theisen pass from Johnson)
W — Roux 52 run (kick blocked)
W — Roux 62 run (Moo kick)
W — Dirksen 86 run (Moo kick)
First downs: 13 ... Penalties: 6-45 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Logan Johnson 22-84, Cameron Vorachit 4-14, Clifton Patterson 11-36, Abraham Heinen 2-3. 39-137 ... Passing (Individual and team): Johnson 15-34-147-2 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Jalyn Williams 1-8, Sam Luepke 2-9, John Blommel 9-100, Lukas Theisen 2-12, Heinen 1-8 ... Interceptions: None ... Fumble recoveries: N/A ... Tackles (solo-assist): Chris Hance 4-4, Vorachit 3-3, Isaac Erickson-Thoemke 2-3, Tanner Roob 2-2 ... QB sacks: Hance 1, Vorachit 1
First downs: 13 ... Penalties: 10-45 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Alex Wickliff 9-68, Drey Dirksen 15-150, Ethan Roux 10-154, Caleb Owens 1-7. 35-379 ... Passing (Individual and team): Dirksen 16-24-248-0, Owens 0-1-0-0. 16-25-248-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Jake Evans 7-117, Ty Roelofs 1-15, Ryan Slette 4-43, Owens 3-47, Roux 1-25 ... Interceptions: Roelofs 1, Ben Hisken 1 ... Fumble recoveries: Hamza Mohammed 1 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Hisken 0-11, Andrew Reigstad 1-6, Kaden Streed 4-5, Carter Ochsendorf 1-5, Owens 3-6 ... QB sacks: Reigstad 1, Charlie Farhat 1, Ochsendorf 1, Ashton Gregory 1, Grant Deegan 1