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Prep football: Cardinal comeback falls short

Willmar Cardinals cornerback Chris Cunningham brings down Brainerd's Luke Boran at midfield but not before the Warrior quarterback gained enough for first down in the first quarter Friday in Willmar. Linebacker Jordan Geurtz (19) closes in while Patrick Courtney (13) and Tyler Stegeman (18) follow the play.

WILLMAR -- Brainerd jumped out to a 21-0 lead by halftime and withstood a Willmar Cardinals' comeback in the fourth quarter to escape with a 21-14 Central Lakes Conference victory on Friday.

A crowd approaching 1,400 watched the Warriors on a magnificent evening increase their winning streak over the Cardinals to 10 in a row this century.

On the plus side, this is the closest the Cardinals have played the Warriors since a 14-6 win at Brainerd in 2000.

After giving up three rushing touchdowns and 208 total yards in the first half, the Willmar defense turned off the Brainerd spigot the second half, at least until the final minutes.

The Cardinals went nowhere the first half (five punts and an interception ended their six possession) and generated only a couple of first downs the third quarter.

They finally made a breakthrough when tackle Cass Herzog blocked a Brainerd punt and linebacker Josh Kelly scooped up the loose ball and took it to the Warriors' 23-yard-line.

Running back Michael Heitzman carried to the Brainerd 1, losing his helmet on impact, meaning he had to leave the field for one play. In came starting linebacker Zech Streed and he burrowed into the end zone.

Willmar stopped the Warriors again. This time a screen pass from quarterback Alex Grove to Heitzman got the ball inside the five.

After a penalty, from the 8-yard line, Grove threw to his brother, Austin for the score. It was the 6-5 sophomore's first catch on varsity. Patrick Courtney's kick made it 21-14 with just under 4 minutes left.

That seemed to awake the Warriors. Senior quarterback Luke Boran (15-122), whose 47-yard scamper opened the scoring in the game's third minute, moved the Warriors down field with seeming ease to run out the clock.

Willmar is now 11-24 versus the Warriors since the two teams helped form the new league in 1977. Starting in 1990, the Warriors' edge is 18-3.

Though quick, Brainerd is not as physically imposing as many years but the Warriors execution is still impressive and with a young starting lineup. Junior running backs Conor Gessell (23-68) and Logan Daifs (12-24) each ran for 4-yard touchdowns in the second quarter.

Heitzman (17-103) had his third straight century rushing. Alex Grove threw for 76 yards on 11 of 23 but didn't connect on any long balls. Brandon Christenson had 4 catches for short yardage.

Linebackers Streed (19 tackles), Buzzy Tollefson (12 tackles) Jordan Guertz (8 tackles) and Kelly (8 tackles ) all had big games. Cornerback Tyler Stegeman continues his hard play but one of his ferocious tackles left in stunned and he had to leave the game.

Willmar (1-2), outgained 304 to 204, play at Cold Spring on Friday. Rocori (3-0) defeated St. Cloud Apollo 35-18.

Brainerd coach Ron Stolski commented afterwards: "I was pleases with our effort but we weren't as sharp the second half. A lot of that is a credit to Willmar. They're a good team and they rose up."

Brainerd 21, Willmar 14

Brainerd (2-1, 2-1) 7 14 0 0 -- 21

Willmar (0-2, 1-2) 0 0 0 14 -- 14

Brd - Luke Boran 47 run (Logan McElfresh kick)

Brd - Logan Davis 4 run (McElfresh kick)

Brd - Conor Gessell 4 run (McElfresh kick)

Wil - Zech Streed 1 run (Patrick Courtney kick)

Wil - Austin Grove 8 pass from Alex Grove (Patrick Courtney kick)


Team statistics

First downs: 12 ... Rushing: 50-214 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 7-9-90-0 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 6-45

Individual statistics

Rushing: Luke Boran 15-122, Conor Gessell 23-68, Logan Davis 12-24 ... Passing: Boran 7-9-90-0 ... Receiving: Grant Rauer 2-18, Davis 3-53, Cole Smith 1-12 ... Punting: Logan McElfresh 7-29.5... Interceptions: Grant Reuer


Team statistics

First downs: 12 ... Rushing: 25-128 ... Passing (com-att-yds-int.): 11-23-76-1 ... Fumbles lost: 0 ... Penalties: 5-40

Individual statistics

Rushing: Michael Heitzman 17-103, Alex Grove 7-24, Zech Streed 1-1 ... Passing: Grove 11-23-76-1... Receiving: Austin Rambow 1-17, Brandon Christenson 4-16, Austin Grove 1-8, Chris Cunningham 2-4, Zech Streed 1-30 ... Punting: Streed 8-30.0.... Interceptions: none ... Fumble recoveries: Josh Kelly... Tackles (solo-assist): Chris Cunningham 2-2, Hunter Mottinger 1-5, Zech Streed 10-9, Patrick Courtney 2-0, Tyler Stegeman 5-1, Jordan Geurtz 4-4, Buzzy Tollefson 2-10, Cole Hagen 3-1, Josh Kelly 3-5, Joey Lee 1-5, Leon Richards 1-4, Cass Herzog 2-2 ... QB sacks: Herzog ... Blocked punt: Herzog ... Tackles for loss: Streed 2

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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