WILLMAR — On an unseasonably warm Friday evening, the Willmar football team was the one on fire.
Dominating Big Lake in all facets, the Cardinals put together a complete game to earn a 38-6 win at Hodapp Field.
Donald Jurek threw for three first-half touchdowns as Willmar jumped out to a 24-0 lead entering halftime. Coming out of the break, the Cardinals kept their foot on the gas pedal to put the Hornets away.
Big Lake entered the game ranked just ahead of Willmar in terms of QRF at No. 11 compared to No. 15 for the Cardinals.
"I knew that our guys were ready to go," Willmar head coach Jon Konold said. "They prepared well this week. I really had a strong feeling that we were going to come out with our best game. We didn't get them too hyped up for the game, and everything worked out."
The game didn't go completely without a hitch for the Cardinals, who improved to 3-1, however.
Jurek suffered a shoulder injury in the second quarter and was removed from the game for what Konold called "precautionary reasons." Jurek, who has thrown 13 touchdowns and just one interception this season, will be evaluated for the severity of the injury.
Without one of their senior captains for over half of the game, the message at halftime was clear.
"We huddled together at halftime and said, 'Win it for Donald. Do it for him."
With Jurek out, Drey Dirksen took over quarterback duties and didn't miss a beat. He threw for 69 yards and a touchdown to Caleb Ditmarson in a nice second-half performance.
"Drey stepped up and did a great job for us," Konold said. "The guys all play for each other. If one guy goes down, the next steps up."
Willmar opened the scoring with a Nick Prokosch one yard reception on fourth and goal. Noah Slagter set the play up with a 79-yard punt return.
Slagter would later make one of the most electrifying plays of the season, lunging to make a one-handed grab in the back of the end zone that put Willmar up 24-0 in the second quarter.
"Donald threw it up to me and right away, I thought it might be a little far," Slagter said. "I've always wanted to try to do a one-handed catch. It was the perfect time and I brought it in somehow. I was praying that the referee would call it in and thankfully he did."
The game turned with the Cardinals up 16-0 in the second quarter after a mental lapse nearly gave Big Lake a big play. Instead, it Willmar was the team celebrating after catching a big break.
The Hornets attempted a fake punt near midfield and had a receiver wide open on the sideline. With no defenders in the vicinity, it would have been a big gainer for Big Lake, but the receiver dropped the pass. A few plays later, Slagter made his highlight-reel grab and the Cardinals led by three scores.
"That was a huge play for us," Konold said. "If they would have gotten that, it's a huge yardage play and keeps the drive alive. Luckily, we caught a break."
Willmar's defense held Big Lake on its first drive of the second half, and Dirksen later found Ditmarson down the sideline for a 20-yard touchdown for the dagger, extending the lead to 32-0.
While the Cardinals' offense has functioned smoothly all season long, scoring 28 or more points each week, its defense seems to be coming together. On Friday, it held Big Lake to 290 total yards.
"The defense is doing fabulous," Slagter said. "We have 11 guys out there, but we sub every play and the guys coming in know what they're doing. Our depth has been huge."
Next up for Willmar is a road trip to Moorhead next Friday at 7 p.m.
Willmar 38, Big Lake 6
Big Lake (2-2) 0 0 0 6 — 6
Willmar (3-1) 8 16 8 6 — 38
W —Nick Prokosch 1 pass from Donald Jurek (Noah Slagter pass from Jurek)
W— Ryan Slette 29 pass from Jurek (Jurek run)
W — Slagter 16 pass from Jurek (Jurek run)
W— Caleb Ditmarson 20 pass from Drey Dirksen (Dirksen run)
W — Caleb Owens 5 run (Kick fail)
B — Luke Hettler 4 run (Kick fail)
First downs: 15 ... Penalties: 7-48 ... Rushing (Individual and team): T Teige 10-66, J Zastrow 19-49, T Mielke 4-49. 41-187... Passing (Individual and team): S Hinrichs 4-15-78-1. 4-16-78-1 ... Receiving (Individual and team): M Nelson 2-48, D Harris 2-30. 4-78 ... Interceptions: None ... Fumble recoveries: None ... Tackles (solo-assist): Mielke 8, Luke Hettler 5 ... QB sacks: None
First downs: 11 ... Penalties: 4-25 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Donald Jurek 5-23, Caleb Owens 8-64, Drey Dirksen 5-25, Ethan Roux 9-34. 28-135 ... Passing (Individual and team): Jurek 6-10-108-0, Dirksen 5-11-69-0. 11-21-145-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Caleb Ditmarson 3-61, Jake Evans 4-47, Ryan Slette 1-29, Noah Slagter 2-17, Nick Prokosch 1-1 ... Interceptions: J Sik 1 ... Fumble recoveries: None ... Tackles (solo-assist): Dirksen 5-3, Bryce Erickson 3-10, Prokosch 2-3, Matt Bengston 1-9, Andrew Reigstad 1-6, Hamza Mohamed 0-7, Gibran Moreno 0-6 ... QB sacks: None