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Grove in two grooves in second fall

Alex Grove passed for 1,852 yards in 10 games as a sophomore and 1,502 this fall in nine games.

Grove's total yardage of 2,234 is up from last year, when he totaled 2,177.

The shotgun quarterback ran for 709 yards, a 6.3 average per rush.

Around mid-season, the night after playing 5A Moorhead, the 175-pound junior was asked how he was holding up?

"I'm a little sore right now," replied the personable young athlete. "I've got a new appreciation for running backs."

Grove absorbed some terrific hits but took every long snap from junior center Josh Warne, who bee-lined his snaps all season, except one that caught a puff of wind and flipped it over Grove's head.

Michael Dunham, a three-year starter at Concordia College, showed similar toughness and so did Mike's younger brother Mark, Alex's predecessor at quarterback. Neither shied away from contact.

But Mike and Mark weren't asked to take on such a big chunk of the rush.

What saved Grove this fall was the rapid rise of Alfred Richards. He carried only 22 times in 2010 backing up Grant Schow, who rushed for 1,230.

By mid-season, Richards had become the go-to back every team needs. He didn't have Schow's breakaway moves, but the 5-11, 175-pound senior used his blockers wisely, piling up 872 yards, 11 TDs and losing only one fumble in 165 lugs. Too bad he can't hang around one more year.

The last four games, Willmar's no-huddle spread produced yardage totals of 395, 318, 528 and 434.

The final total wasn't enough to overcome Waconia and QB Maxx Williams.

The Wildcats gave Mankato West a run on Saturday before falling to the No. 1 team in Class AAAA 44-28.

"Offensively, we played really well against Waconia but we left points inside the 10 twice," said head coach Jon Konold. "Defensively, we didn't tackle real well."

According to the Star Tribune's Patrick Reusse, who attended the 2AAAA semifinal, the Scarlets had the same problem with the powerfully-built son of ex-Giants center Brian Williams.

Willmar will need to replace Richards. Junior Braydon Johnson and sophomores Trey Tollefson and Esai Flores are first in line but several backs off this year's one-loss freshman team may get a look also.

Senior Dean Stier (51-776, 15.2, avg. 6 TDs) had a mammoth season but, unusual for Willmar in this category, five underclassmen return with from 5 to 14 receptions. Tackle/guard Matt Cordes, Willmar's Ironman this year, will be missed on the line after playing a regular role since his sophomore season.

There's good numbers back on the line as well as a full complement of linebackers but the secondary will have to be remodeled.

It wasn't a great year but a very good year and the up tempo offense is plenty entertaining. The crowds were again excellent, helped by a Missouri like fall.

One thing for sure, it's all about the offense. We've never seen such wacky scores from our area teams and such prolific outputs from the guy who takes the snaps. We saw at least three instances of an area quarterback amassing over 500 total yards on a single night making us think its time to start a "500 Club."

Runners sizzle

The Cardinals' cross-country teams put in a lot of miles this year and that has taken them a long ways. Coach Jerry Popp thinks this has the program's best season since he arrived from Bowman, N.D., in 2004.

From junior high through varsity (six teams in all) this season was about achievement, doing your personal bests. It led to many team victories and a state berth for the boys varsity.

Out of 90 participants, Popp lists only four seniors and for juniors.

At the section meet, the girls took fourth of 16 teams; remarkable considering the top 7 included three seventh graders and no seniors. The boys don't have a top-10 runner but ran so close to their full potential while following the pre-meet strategy that they outdid Sartell, the team they had to beat, for the coveted runner-up spot.

"It's nice to get back to state again," Popp commented this week. "That has been our goal since we were so disappointed last fall at the section meet."

As far as the deep Class AA state line-up, the Cardinals would like to duplicate their section performance and finish somewhere in the top 12."

"We told our guys a good race would have us somewhere from 12th and 14th place," said Popp. "A great one would put us a little higher, but it would have to be super special to make top 10 against such good teams.

"We just hope we can stay healthy so we can go down there and try to have a good race to end a great season."

Eight of 16 boys teams from 2010 are back, including runner-up Moorhead which won Willmar's section. Nine schools that made the meet on the St. Olaf campus in Northfield were ranked in the final Coaches Poll Top 12.

Coach Lehn salute

There will be a 90th birthday open house for Lloyd Lehn, whose coaching lines go back to the late 1940s, on Nov. 12 (a Saturday) at St. Mary's Church Parish Center. Lehn, whose main sport was track, was a contemporary of Willmar coaching legends like Bill Hansen, Howard Iverson, Ace Hoberg and Russ Adamson, now all passed away.

Lehn still lives independently at his house in Southwest Willmar. The time of the celebrations is 1-3 p.m. (Family requests no gifts).

On the fly

- Gusties linebacker Alec Saunders is still sidelined by a sore neck from an injury while making a tackle in the third quarter of a game at St. Peter against Concordia College on Oct. 8. The junior from Willmar was leading the team in tackles when he was taken from the field on a backboard, though tests showed no spinal injury.

- Willmar High School will host the section swimming meet for individual state qualifying. Swim prelims are Nov. 10 at 5 p.m. and swimming and diving finals two days later at 3 p.m. Saturday.

n Can't wait for winter sports at the high school? The girls hockey team season opener at the Civic Center on Nov. 17, a Thursday, against the New Ulm Eagles.

- Two Willmar athletes are among the most recently honored by the Central Lakes Conference as Performers of the Week -- senior running back Alfred Richards (Football-Offense) gained 140 yards in 26 carries and scored three touchdowns in the Cardinals playoff loss at Waconia ... Seventh-grader Jessa Hanson (Girls Cross-Country) ran a personal-best (15:39 4k) to lead the team to fourth place at the Section 8AA meet in Cold Spring.

- In MIAC Men's Cross Country Meet at Como Park on Saturday, Macalester College sophomore Dan Voss (WHS) placed 63rd of 225 runners in the men's 8K with a time of 27:32. The team was ninth of 11. Voss's former Cardinal teammate,C.J. Seifert, is on the St. Thomas team but didn't run for the third-place Tommies in this meet.

- The Lady Warriors volleyball team (28-3) has another week to maintain its sharpness for the national tournament at Rochester, Minn., on Nov. 11-12.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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