WILLMAR — The defensive back unit for the Willmar football team had a tall task to deal with on Saturday.
With Delano’s run game being shut down by the Cardinals’ front seven, it was on the defensive backs to stop the Tigers’ passing attack and 6-foot-7 wide receiver/tight end Trey Longstreet.
“Their offense went through the run plays and once we stopped that, we knew it was going to depend on how well we could stop the pass,” said senior Brandt Sunder. “Once we stopped Trey Longstreet, we had a good chance to win the game, I thought.”
The early returns for the pass defense were promising in Willmar’s 42-0 win on Saturday. Longstreet finished with five catches for 51 yards, but those catches came mostly on shorter routes, negating his size advantage.
“The game plan was to have Aaron (Watland) follow (Longstreet) and I would go to his side and help him out with the deep ball,” Sunder said. “So every time they threw a fade, I would be there to help him out.”
Sunder had one of the Cardinals’ three interceptions along with LaBlue Moo and linebacker Kaden Streed. Watland came up with five tackles and two pass break-ups.
“When you know you’re going against someone who’s really good at what they do, it’s hard to keep your head on straight,” Watland said. “But we have good coaches that let us know how we should play and how we’re doing. And, everything worked out.”
Going into Week 2 against Sauk Rapids, Willmar is preparing for another go-around with a group of sizable targets. The game is set for a 5 p.m. kickoff Thursday in Sauk Rapids.
“Sauk Rapids is a 5A school. They’re a class above us so we know they’ll have some good athletes and some big targets on the outside,” said Cardinals head coach Jon Konold. “They’re athletic kids and they do a good job of coaching their offense.”
Coming off a 34-14 loss to Monticello in Week 1, the Storm’s top three pass-catches in the game were 6-1 Jackson Ackerman (4 catches, 96 yards, 2 TDs), 6-3 running back Alex Harren (5 catches, 40 yards; 14 carries, 123 yards) and 6-4 Andrew Harren (3 catches, 28 yards).
“They have all-around big receivers, but they do run the ball a lot,” Sunder said. “They’re going to try to do more screens than Delano did.”
Konold said Sauk Rapids’ passing game likes to focus on two-man route concepts to try to put pressure on the defensive backs. They’ll also try to confuse the defense with plenty of motion before the snap.
“They motion a ton; about 75 percent of it is eye candy,” Konold said. “They want you to move your eyes and get yourself out of position. … They don’t run a ton of things, but they try to window-dress a lot of things to make you not pay attention to what your keys are. So we really have got to focus on each level of defense … on what your assignments are and that’ll take you to the football.”
Ackerman’s two touchdowns against the Magic came from 30 and 35 yards out, so the big-play potential is there. But, Konold and the players saw on film that the chemistry is still a work in progress for Storm quarterback Dominic Mathies and his receivers.
“They were a little bit off on their timing last week, but they’re in game two like us,” Konold said. “The more you’re able to practice it and do it in a game, they’re going to execute those things a little better. So we’ve got to be sharp, know our assignments and play the ball in the air.”
After a successful Week 1 against Delano, the defensive backs are confident about a repeat on Thursday.
“Every week is different and every week has its different challenges,” Watland said. “Luckily, we have a lot of talented athletes and our coaches know how to use us, tell us where to be and how to do our jobs.”
Sunder added, “We think we have the advantage in jumping and speed. They do have the size advantage but we have the other advantages.”
Week 2 schedule
Litchfield at Watertown-Mayer, 1 p.m.
Willmar at Sauk Rapids, 5 p.m.
New London-Spicer at Dassel-Cokato, 7 p.m.
Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted at ACGC, 7 p.m.
Paynesville at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle, 7 p.m.
BOLD at Maple Lake, 7 p.m.
Benson at BBE, 7 p.m.
Rockford at Minnewaska, 7 p.m.
Dawson-Boyd at YME, 7 p.m.
Parkers Prairie at KMS, 7 p.m.
LQPV at Lakeview, 7 p.m.
MACCRAY at Russell-Tyler-Ruthton, 7 p.m.
Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s at RCW, 7 p.m.