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Willmar Cardinals Football Preview

Friday: Sauk Rapids (4-1) at Willmar (2-3), 7 p.m.

What's at stake?

For the second straight week, Willmar gets a shot at a conference team with only one loss that is in close pursuit of Central Lakes' leader Fergus Falls (4-0, 5-0). The Cardinals are flying high and want to maintain both their altitude and attitude after stunning Sartell for their second straight win. With a win, Sauk Rapids can maintain their title hopes and join Fergus Falls as the two biggest surprises of the 2008 season.

QB shuffle

Although senior Alec Saunders has taken a lot of snaps already this season while sharing time with junior Mark Dunham, Sartell was his first start in two years when he started at Moorhead in relief of injured Michael Dunham. Saunders ran for 78 yards in 22 keepers and threw for 148 yards, completing 12-of-17 passes with a one interception and two touchdowns, both to Jordan Smith, who scored all 24 Willmar points. Saunders also went the distance at inside linebacker, declining rests except for special teams. Reflecting on the victory, Saunders said: "It's all attitude. At halftime we knew we could win. They were getting tired. Out offensive line was pushing their guys back and the defense was amazing."

Storm warnings

Head coach Bill Magnuson, a Cardinal assistant coach in the 1990s, has built on last year's 5-5 season. The Storm has wins over Alexandria, Apollo, Rocori and Moorhead. They lost in Week 4 to St. Cloud Tech 27-10, the only time the Storm defense has allowed more than 14 points. Center/linebacker John Gens and running back Eric Johnson are returning all-CLC. Johnson was just three yards shy of 100 in the 21-14 win over the Spuds. Sam Elliott will also get his share of carries; he averaged seven yards in nine carries and scored twice in last week's win. First-year starter David Kroger has shared time behind center with Jarrod Mauren.

Coach's comments

KEN HEITZMAN, WILLMAR: (The Sartell) win was a big confidence builder for us. The opening drive, which took about eight minutes, was critical. Then we stopped them three-and-out and that set the tone. It was exciting to see both the offensive and defensive lines play so well and take control of the line of scrimmage. Jordan (Smith) is a phenomenal athlete. What you don't see is that he is an exceptional blocker on offense and an aggressive, physical player at safety who loves to come up and make the hit in run support .... Sauk both runs and throws well out of Wing-T. Defensively, they're very aggressive. They're not huge, but they have good speed."