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State Football: Cards soar on big stage

Willmar's Jake Evans hauls in a touchdown reception over St. Paul Johnson's Kobe Anderson in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune1 / 7
Willmar's student section celebrates a score in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal against St. Paul Johnson at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune2 / 7
Willmar's Jake Evans (3) celebrates with Caleb Owens in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal against St. Paul Johnson at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune3 / 7
Willmar's Drey Dirksen looks for room to run in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal against St. Paul Johnson at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune4 / 7
Willmar's Alex Wickliff catches a touchdown pass in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal against St. Paul Johnson at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune5 / 7
Willmar's Drey Dirksen fires a pass in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal against St. Paul Johnson at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune6 / 7
Willmar's Drey Dirksen looks to run past a defender in Friday's Class AAAA state semifinal against St. Paul Johnson at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. Jake Schultz / Tribune7 / 7

MINNEAPOLIS — After a 30-year absence from state, the Willmar football team took a second to soak in the moment.

"Right when we went through the tunnel and the buses, it was hitting (everybody). Like 'Wow, we're here,'" said quarterback Drey Dirksen. "We had a talk and said right when we step on the field, take a deep breath and enjoy it.

"But when that whistle blows, be ready to go."

It didn't take Willmar long at all to get down to business.

The Cardinals scored on six of their first seven drives in the first half and cruised to the Class AAAA state championship game with a 62-20 drubbing of St. Paul Johnson in the state semifinals on Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"They keep going," said Willmar head coach Jon Konold. "Their will to win, hating to lose, their competitiveness ... We have a lot of competitive kids that want to be successful."

In just 57 seconds of game time, the shifty feet of Dirksen set the tone. On the fourth play of the game the senior signal-caller broke loose for a 30-yard touchdown. The next drive yielded a 3-yard rushing TD for Dirksen, followed by a 25-yard touchdown on the ground early in the second quarter.

"We noticed both their linemen play both ways so we knew maybe in the first couple drives it would be tougher," said Dirksen, who ran for 90 yards and threw for 215. "We wore 'em down as the game went on. Our linemen, they're so conditioned and it helps they only play offense. That gives us an advantage; we can play all four quarters."

The Governors managed to respond with a 2-yard Joey Moberg touchdown run. After coming back from a 22-point deficit last week in the state quarterfinals against St. Anthony Village, St. Paul Johnson had proven it could come back from near-insurmountable odds.

But with Dirksen's arm and some sure-handed receivers, those hopes dissipated rather quickly.

Following the Governors' score, Dirksen hit Alex Wickliff on a wheel route for a 24-yard touchdown. Then before halftime, Jake Evans hauled in a pair of nearly-identical, toe-tapping touchdowns from 34 and 35 yards out.

Evans had another touchdown, from 28 yards, in the third quarter, finishing the night with five catches for 121 yards along with an interception on defense.

"Last week against Hermantown, I dropped one in the end zone," Evans said. "So when Drey threw it up, I told myself, 'I have to catch this.' I have to take advantage of this opportunity so I went up and I knew I had to hang onto it. Just go up and get it."

With the Governors trailing so quickly, they were forced to go to the pass game, a departure for a squad that wants to beat teams with the option. The Cardinals responded with four interceptions. Ty Roelofs had two of those interceptions and set a new school mark.

The first pick made Roelofs Willmar's new record holder with seven interceptions on the year, beating the previous mark of six set by Jordan Smith (2008) and Taylor Filipek (2009).

Then in the third, Roelofs took his eighth interception 60 yards for a touchdown for his second defensive score of the year.

"I did not expect it coming into (the year)," Roelofs said with a grin on getting the team record.

Going to the state finals for the first time in 45 years (1973), Willmar will go head-to-head with the SMB Wolfpack for the Class AAAA championship at 4 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 23 back at U.S. Bank Stadium.

"We're going to enjoy this today, tomorrow and then Sunday, we have to go back to work," Konold said. "I think it'll be a heck of a championship game. You're going to see a lot of talented kids out there. Just by watching them, when their backs were against the wall, they came out fighting. I think our kids will be ready for the challenge."

Class AAAA

Semifinals

Willmar 62, St. Paul Johnson 20

Willmar (11-1) 14 27 14 7 — 62

St. Paul Johnson (7-5) 0 7 0 13 — 20

Scoring Plays

W — Drey Dirksen 30 run (LaBlue Moo kick)

W — Dirksen 3 run (Moo kick)

W — Dirksen 25 run (Moo kick)

SPJ — Joey Moberg 2 run (Jeremiah Knox kick)

W — Alex Wickliff 24 pass from Dirksen (Moo kick)

W — Jake Evans 34 pass from Dirksen (pass failed)

W — Evans 35 pass from Dirksen (Moo kick)

W — Evans 28 pass from Dirksen (Moo kick)

W — Ty Roelofs 60 interception return (Moo kick)

W — Gavin Haverly 1 run (Moo kick)

SPJ — Daimarion Nelson 1 run (kick failed)

SPJ — Nelson 73 run (Knox kick)

Willmar

First downs: 18 ... Penalties: 6-58 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Drey Dirksen 10-90, Tanner Bauman 7-36, Alex Wickliff 5-26, Ethan Roux 2-14, Anthony Duran 3-11, Dominic Amon 3-10, Gavin Haverly 4-8, Tyler Ludwig 3-(-1). 38-192 ... Passing (Individual and team): Dirksen 10-16-215-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Jake Evans 5-121, Wickliff 2-58, Caleb Owens 1-21, Ashton Gregory 1-8, Ty Roelofs 1-7 ... Interceptions: Roelofs 2, Owens 1, Evans 1 ... Fumble recoveries: None ... Tackles (solo-assist): Wickliff 5-0, Kadin Larsson 4-2, Roelofs 4-1, Andrew Reigstad 4-0 ... QB sacks: None

St. Paul Johnson

First downs: 11 ... Penalties: 4-30 ... Rushing (Individual and team): Daimarion Nelson 20-171, Nico Roberts 6-27, Rance Jones 3-15, Thomas Heesch 1-2, Joey Moberg 10-0. 40-215 ... Passing (Individual and team): J. Moberg 7-20-62-4 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Peter Lor 2-31, Luke Moberg 2-25, Jones 1-5, Spencer Chang 1-1, Heesch 1-0 ... Interceptions: None ... Fumble recoveries: None ... Tackles (solo-assist): Heesch 8-0, Nelson 6-0, L. Moberg 4-0 ... QB sacks: None