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Prep Football: Cards pack a punch

Willmar's Blake Thomas heads out onto Hodapp Field prior to Friday's season opener against Fergus Falls. Jake Schultz / Tribune1 / 9
Willmar's Kadin Larsson (21) finishes a tackle with Drey Dirksen (10) in Friday's season opener against Fergus Falls at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune2 / 9
Willmar's Kadin Larsson celebrates after recovering a fumble in Friday's season opener against Fergus Falls at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune3 / 9
Willmar quarterback Donald Jurek throws a pass to Noah Slagter (6) in the first quarter of Friday's season opener against Fergus Falls at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune4 / 9
Willmar's Drey Dirksen runs down the line before Friday's season opener against Fergus Falls at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune5 / 9
Willmar's Drey Dirksen breaks up a pass attempt in Friday's season opener at Hodapp Field against Fergus Falls. Jake Schultz / Tribune6 / 9
Willmar quarterback Donald Jurek (5) reaches across the goal line for a two-point conversion just before halftime in Friday's game at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune7 / 9
Willmar cornerback Noah Slagter looks to make a run following an interception in the back of the endzone in Friday's season opener against Fergus Falls at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune8 / 9
Willmar wide receiver Nick Prokosch completes a touchdown reception, the Cardinals' first score of the season in Friday's opener at Hodapp Field. Jake Schultz / Tribune9 / 9

WILLMAR — After witnessing its season end at the hands of the Willmar football team each of the last two seasons, Fergus Falls was hoping to deliver some long-awaited revenge when it rolled into Hodapp Field on Friday night.

Instead, it was the Cardinals that packed the punch — and the 'juice.'

Donald Jurek threw for three touchdowns and a bend-don't-break defense held up as Willmar came away with a 28-13 season-opening win on Friday night at Hodapp Field.

"We came into tonight with a lot of confidence from our first couple weeks of practice," Jurek said. "The guys brought the 'juice.' We were pumped up, it was good."

The Cardinals, who reached the Section 8AAAA final in 2016 despite losing their first four games, avoided such a scenario this season by defeating the Otters on Friday night by claiming an early lead and never looking back.

And while Fergus Falls committed two turnovers — including a pivotal interception in the Willmar endzone — Willmar played relatively error-free in its first game of the year to emerge with a 1-0 record.

"It was a pretty clean game for us," Willmar head coach Jon Konold said. "There weren't any turnovers for us and we punched it in whenever we got into their red zone."

If the Cardinals first two touchdowns, both passes from Jurek to wide receiver Nick Prokosch, appeared to be carbon copies of one another, it's because they were.

Willmar capitalized on an Otters fumble on the Cardinals' 21-yard line, capping a 79-yard drive down the field with Jurek's eight-yard strike. In the second quarter, the combo converted once again for a four-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal with 1:12 on the clock.

"They were both pass-run options and Donald did his job of reading the middle linebacker," Konold said. "Just a really good play from him and Nick both times."

Jurek added a three-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Noah Slagter on the first play of the fourth quarter, finishing the night with 165 yards and three touchdowns while completing 17 of 27 attempts. Jurek was also a dual threat against the Otters defense, leading the Cardinals with 85 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

"Donald ran the ball well tonight," Konold said. "He also was able to make some really strong passes in key situations."

The strongest trait shown by Willmar's defense was its resilience.

Every Fergus Falls offensive drive entered Cardinals' territory at some point, including five drives into the red zone. The Otters fumbled on their first possession of the game, and Slagter delivered one of the key plays on the night with an interception in the end zone in the second quarter.

The senior cornerback returned the ball 72 yards down to the Otters' 31-yard line, but a faintly-blown inadvertent whistle led to the play being called a touchback.

Regardless, Willmar's 8-0 lead was still in tact.

"The defensive effort really really bent a little bit, but the key is that we never broke," Konold said. "We got them into some second, third and long situations and we'll take those any day."

Fergus Falls cut into the Cardinals lead with an eight-yard pass from Nathan Rund to Harrison Christenson, drawing within 16-6 with 2:32 left in the third quarter. A fumble on the two-point conversion, however, kept it a two-score game.

The Cardinals didn't take long to respond.

Prokosch opened up Willmar's ensuing drive with a kickoff return into Otters' territory and Jurek found Caleb Ditmarson, who led the game with 64 yards receiving, on third down for 30 yards down to the six-yard line.

Jurek connected once again on a third down to go up 22-6, this time floating the ball to find an open Slagter in the corner following a crisp route to open the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals forced a turnover on downs — their third such play of the game — on Fergus Falls' next drive, setting the cake perfectly for running back Ethan Roux to ice it. Roux rattled off a 36-yard run down to the goal line and punctuated the night with a second-effort touchdown run from two yards on the next play.

It was a different story in terms of gameflow than the last two meetings between the teams. Willmar and Fergus Falls' 2015 and '16 postseason meetings were decided by a combined four points and included an overtime period in 2015.

For the Cardinals, that was no issue.

"It was nice to be able to get out to an early lead against those guys," Konold said. "The last two years, they've had some good teams. They're well-coached, tough and physical. You know what you're getting when you go up against those guys.

"They're always fun to play."

Even more fun when your team is coming out on top — which Willmar seems to be doing plenty of between the sides.

Willmar 28, Fergus Falls 13

Fergus Falls (0-1) 0 0 6 7 — 13

Willmar (1-0) 8 8 0 12 — 28

Scoring Plays

W — Nicholas Prokosch 8 pass from Donald Jurek (Prokosch run)

W — Prokosch 4 pass from Jurek (Jurek run)

F — Nathan Rund 8 pass from Harrison Christensen (2-pt. PAT failed)

W — Noah Slagter 3 pass from Jurek (2-pt. PAT failed)

W — Ethan Roux 2 run (Kick failed)

F — Jack Jacobs 39 run (Kick good)

Fergus Falls

First downs: 15 ... Penalties: 11-92 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Jack Jacobs 8-98, Nathan Rund 6-30, Aaron Billings 9-23, Harrison Christensen 4-8, Eli Sorum 1-7, Ethan Olson 1-0, Chase Jensen 1-0. 35-171 ... Passing (Individual and team): Christensen 9-22-86-1, Olson 1-4-(-13)-0. 10-26-73-1 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Marshall King 6-28, Austin Stanislawski 1-19, Sorum 1-15, Rund 2-11. 10-73 ... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: none ... Tackles (solo-assist): Jakob Brimhall 7-0, Aaron Billings 5-0, Robert Sewell 5-0, Rund 2-0, Max Wolfe 2-0 ... QB sacks: none


First downs: 16 ... Penalties: 3-19 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Donald Jurek 16-85, Ethan Roux 7-44, Caleb Owens 2-5. 26-127 ... Passing (Individual and team): Jurek 17-27-165-0. 17-27-165-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Caleb Ditmarson 4-64, Nick Prokosch 5-58, Noah Slagter 5-24, Owens 2-12, Ryan Slette 1-7, Jake Evans 1-0. 17-165 ... Interceptions: Slagter 1... Fumble recoveries: Prokosch 1 ... Tackles (solo-assist): Andrew Reigstad 7-0, Kadin Larsson 5-0, Keith Moyers 5-0, Ty Roelofs 5-1, Prokosch 3-1, Ben Hisken 3-0, Tayler Tjaden 3-0 ... QB sacks: none

Curt Hogg

Curt Hogg is a sports reporter at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, MN. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016.