WILLMAR — The Willmar Cardinals are advancing to the Section 6AA boys soccer championship after an 8-1 win over Rockford/Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted on Tuesday.

The Cardinals have not been to the section championship, or the state tournament, since 2016.

Willmar plays Princeton for the section championship at 5 p.m. Thursday at St. Michael-Albertville High School. At stake is a berth in the Class AA state tournament.

The Cardinals defeated Princeton 3-1 on Sept. 11.

Willmar senior Diego Gonzalez scored the first goal of the game in the 8th minute. Rockford went on to tie with a penalty kick by Bryan Ortega.

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Willmar senior Gabriel Rodriguez prepares to take a penalty kick which resulted in a goal, giving Willmar a 2-1 lead in the Section 6AA semifinals against Rockford on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Hodapp Field. Matthew Curry/West Central Tribune
Willmar senior Gabriel Rodriguez prepares to take a penalty kick which resulted in a goal, giving Willmar a 2-1 lead in the Section 6AA semifinals against Rockford on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Hodapp Field. Matthew Curry/West Central Tribune

Cardinals’ senior Gabriel Rodriguez gave Willmar the lead again on a penalty kick in the 28th minute followed by a goal by Jemil Osman in the 29th minute and Abdullahi Mohamud in the 33rd.

Willmar scored four goals in the second half to take the 8-1 win.

Gonzalez and Mohamud both scored two goals in the match.

“I feel happy and excited,” Mohamud said. “My first championship match is coming as a senior and I’m just hoping that we win it.”

To Willmar coach Jeff Winter, the Cardinals seemed to be highly focused on making it to the section championship.

“I thought our recovery and bounce back after they tied it to score seven straight was very impressive,” Winter said. “Our guys kept our composure in a game like this where kids show their true colors. They either stay together or become unglued. And we watched as Rockford sort of became unglued.”

According to Winter, some banter was expressed from the Rockford fans to the Willmar players during play.

“I just told them at halftime to play through that and don’t talk to them and stick together and play as a group and they did,” Winter said. “Last week they described themselves as being a band of brothers … it sure seems that way.”

Willmar senior Jordy Contreras battles for possession of the ball against a Rockford athlete in the Section 6AA semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Hodapp Field. Matthew Curry/West Central Tribune
Willmar senior Jordy Contreras battles for possession of the ball against a Rockford athlete in the Section 6AA semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Hodapp Field. Matthew Curry/West Central Tribune

Winter is confident in his team’s chances of going to state.

“This team is every bit as good as the 2016 team that we had that went to state. But I honestly feel that this team could go further,” he said.

Winter shed some light on the Cardinals’ upcoming rematch against Princeton on Thursday.

“I think they’re playing better soccer than when we played them last. But so are we,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the rematch. I think it’ll be a fun game with both teams giving everything they got.”

Willmar senior Jairon Martinez Coto pushes past Rockford senior Matt Larson to take possession of the soccer ball in the Section 6AA semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Hodapp Field. Matthew Curry/West Central Tribune
Willmar senior Jairon Martinez Coto pushes past Rockford senior Matt Larson to take possession of the soccer ball in the Section 6AA semifinals on Tuesday, Oct. 19, at Hodapp Field. Matthew Curry/West Central Tribune

Section 6AA

Willmar 8,

Rockford/HLWW 1

Rockford/HLWW (10-4-2).......... 1 0 — 1
Willmar (16-0-2)......................... 4 4 — 8
FIRST HALF – (1) W: Diego Gonzalez (Anthony Reyes Jimenez) 8th minute … (2) R: Bryan Ortega PK 21st … (3) Gabriel Rodriguez PK 28th … (4) W: Jemil Osman (Abdullahi Mohamud) 29th … (5) Mohamud (Jordy Contreras) 33rd
SECOND HALF – (1) W: Gonzalez (Isaac Zelaya Velasquez) 43rd … (2) Mohamud (unassisted) 50th … (3) Contreras (unassisted) 69th minute .. (4) Miguel Ulloa (Jairon Martinez Coto) 71st
SHOTS ON GOAL – R/HLWW: 4. W: 13

GOALIE SAVES – Rockford/HLWW: Elliot Colton, 5 … Willmar: Andrew Ziebarth, 3