Prep Football: It'll be a clash of styles when Willmar, Hermantown meet
On one sideline, the top offense in Class AAAA. Across the field, one of the most stout defenses in the state.
Something's got to give when Willmar and Hermantown meet up in the Class AAAA state quarterfinals Friday at Monticello High School.
"We haven't seen a team like them and they haven't seen someone like us, too," said Cardinals head coach Jon Konold. "When you get to the state tournament, the familiarity is very limited. It's the team that can have a good game plan and the kids execute the game plan is the one that'll come out on top."
While Willmar sports the top-scoring offense in AAAA at 45.5 points per game, they will face a defense that allows just 9.8 points per game, with the highest point total allowed at 14.
In order to continue the Cardinals' offensive success, that starts with stopping the Hawks' aggressive front seven. Hermantown lines up with three down lineman and two outside linebackers at the line of scrimmage.
Defensive lineman Dalton Plaisted leads Hermantown with 92 total tackles, and linebacker Macade Isensee has tallied 79 tackles.
"They put a lot of guys in the box and they got some big kids," Konold said. "Their defensive ends and linebackers are big kids and their inside guys are really physical. They blitz quite a bit and they time up things really well. That makes it more challenging for us making sure we pick up those guys."
Thanks in large part to its stingy defense, Hermantown is 5-1 in games decided by 10 points in fewer. Conversely, while the Hawks' highest point total allowed this year is 14 points, the Cardinals have scored 14 points in the first quarter in five of their games this year, including last week's Section 8AAAA championship win against Detroit Lakes.
And like last week's state-clinching win, Willmar will have to stop a team dead set on pounding the ball up the gut.
Utilizing a Wing-T offense, Hermantown leans on fullback David Cornelius, who has rushed for 1,382 yards and 15 touchdowns on 183 attempts this fall. Caden Potter (52 carries, 267 yards, 1 touchdown) and Elliott Peterson (39-254-2) also get work on the ground.
"For us to be successful, we got to stop their fullback first and go from there," Konold said. "If they run their fullback and get three or four yards, that's what they'll do all night."
While passing just under 11 times a game, quarterback Tate Hansen has thrown for 579 yards with seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. Peterson has been the top pass-catcher with 356 yards and six touchdowns on 27 catches.
In the section championship, Konold said the Willmar defensive line played its best game of the season. To beat Hermantown on Friday, it's going to take a repeat performance.
"This time of year in this weather, you have to run the ball and stop the run. You have to have that mindset and (last week) was a good test for us," Konold said. "(The line) is going to have to be consistent, they're going to have to be physical and they have to be tougher than them."
Points allowed/game: 16.7
State appearances: 4
Last state appearance: 1988
State championships: None
Drey Dirksen (116-192-1,955-25-6)
Drey Dirksen (127-954-14)
Ethan Roux (104-843-10)
Alex Wickliff (81-617-9)
Ryan Slette (31-420-6)
Jake Evans (33-416-8)
Andrew Reigstad (76)
Ben Hisken (67)
Hamza Mohammed (67)
Points allowed/game: 9.8
State appearances: 7
Last state appearance: 2015
State championships: None
Tate Hansen (52-109-579-7-7)
David Cornelius (183-1,382-15)
Caden Potter (52-267-1)
Elliott Peterson (39-254-2)
Elliott Peterson (27-356-6)
David Cornelius (8-54-0)
Dalton Plaisted (92)
Macade Isensee (79)
David Cornelius (69)