WILLMAR — Willmar football is hoping to not let Becker, or the football, for that matter, slip through its fingers on Wednesday night.
The undefeated and top-ranked (Class AAAA) Bulldogs come to Hodapp Field for the regular-season finale. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Hoping to play spoiler to Becker’s perfect season is tough enough. But, the seventh-ranked Cardinals also have to do so with a short week of practice.
“The kids like it because they don’t have to practice all week,” joked Willmar head coach Jon Konold. “It’s a challenge for the coaches to make sure the kids are prepared and ready to go.
“This time of year, you have your stuff in that you’ve been running all season long and you have to make adjustments to what (the opponent) does. You do a lot of talkin these two days and you hope (the players) pick up as much as they can. When they get out there, they have to remember their assignments and play football.”
When the Cardinals (6-1) and Bulldogs (7-0) met in the regular-season finale in 2020, Willmar couldn’t get a handle on the ball. Becker caused six turnovers (five fumbles, one interception) en route to a 35-0 victory at Becker.
“The first play, we throw a screen pass, we fumble and they recover and get the momentum,” Cardinals senior quarterback Alex Schramm recalled about last season’s matchup.
“They just had the momentum the whole game and we kept turning the ball over. They kept scoring and we couldn’t do anything.”
The Bulldogs’ 3-4 defense is proving to be just as stingy this year, holding teams to 8.3 points per game. In the first half of games this fall, Becker has given up just six points this season, which came against St. Cloud Apollo last Friday. The Bulldogs won that game, 23-18.
“They’re looking as good as last year,” said Schramm, who has run for 611 yards and seven touchdowns while also throwing for 714 yards and nine scores.
Konold added, “They’re a 3-4 defense and it comes down to their outside linebackers making a lot of plays for them. We have to have a plan to nullify those guys and either block those guys or read them to make sure they don’t make a lot of plays. Their inside linebackers are very active as well and they like to blitz those guys. Any time they feel threatened, that’s what they’re going to do; they’re going to bring those inside guys.”
When the Bulldogs have the ball, they’re equally efficient with the running and passing game.
Carter Callahan is back at running back for the Bulldogs. This season, he’s got 453 yards and 10 touchdowns on 86 carries. Then at quarterback, Ryan Bengtson has completed 64% of his throws for 871 yards, 15 touchdowns and one interception. His top targets are Alexander Weiss (19 catches, 228 yards, 2 TDs), Landen Goebel (16-308-6) and Nicholas Berglund (12-189-5).
“(Callahan’s) a big thumper; he’s not super fast but he’ll punish you,” Konold said. “Then they have two quick wing backs they like to get to the edge with. And their quarterback throws the deep ball real well.”
Becker’s offense is something Konold knows extremely well. A Minneota High School graduate, Konold said the offense the Bulldogs run has shades of what the Vikings ran in the 1980s under Gerhard Meidt. Gerhard’s son, Chris, was previously the offensive coordinator for the Bulldogs in a coaching career that saw him as the head coach at St. Olaf and an offensive assistant with the Washington Football Team.
On the sidelines for Becker is Dwight Lundeen, the only head football coach in school history. In his 52nd season as head coach, Lundeen entered the year third in state history with 371 career wins.
“I remember when I was in high school, I think it was my brother’s senior year — either ‘84 or ‘85 — and (Becker) came to Minneota and we beat them,” Konold said. “They were Class C at the time. It was in a big snowstorm.”
Konold added, “Chris Meidt’s kids went to Becker, so they’ve latched onto that offense for the last 20 years or so.”
After letting a win against the Bulldogs slip away from the onset in 2020, the Cardinals are hoping to pull the upset in the buildup to the postseason.
“It would be huge going into the playoffs with this momentum,” Schramm said. “We lost to Hutchinson earlier in the year, but Hutchinson lost to Becker. If we can beat Becker, it can show Hutchinson that we’re improved and we’re looking good going into the playoffs.”