High School Football: Cards hope tough schedule has them prepared

Willmar is the fourth seed heading into Tuesday’s home playoff game with the Little Falls Flyers

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Willmar's Eli Jorgenson (5) and Alex Schramm (13) celebrate after Jorgenson scored on the opening kickoff during a game against Hutchinson on Oct. 30 at Hodapp Field. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — After running through the gauntlet in the White Division of the North Central District, Willmar feels ready for the challenges of Section 8AAAA.

“Our schedule prepares us really well for our section, and the last two teams to win the section (Rocori in 2019, Willmar in 2018) have been in the Prep Bowl the last two years,” said Cardinals head coach Jon Konold. “There’s a lot of good football in the section.”

Even while going 4-2 in the regular season and sitting 11th in the final QRF rankings, Willmar is the four seed in the five-team section. The Cardinals open with a quarterfinal matchup against fifth-seeded Little Falls at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Hodapp Field.

“It’s harder to play that extra game and not have the bye, but we’ve done it before and made it all the way to the section championship,” Konold said. The Cardinals came from the quarterfinals to the section finals most recently in 2016 in a six-team section.

“We’re focused on Little Falls,” Konold said. “We need to make sure we execute, take care of the football and make some key defensive plays.”


In 2019, the two teams met in the 8AAAA quarterfinals, where the Cardinals emerged a 42-12 victor at Hodapp Field.

The Flyers were 1-4 in the regular season, losing four straight after picking up a win over Milaca in the opener.

Coming off a 35-0 loss Thursday at Becker, the top priority for Willmar is keeping the ball. In Week 6, the Bulldogs were able to get prime field position after six Cardinal turnovers (five fumbles, one interception).

“When we had the ball, we were moving it down field, getting first downs,” Konold said. “But we only had 29 offensive plays because we turned the ball over. … Turnovers are going to kill you.”

The Flyers have given up 28.2 points per game, and Konold believes Willmar’s spread offense can stretch Little Falls to its limits.

“They play a lot of man-to-man in the two games I’ve watched,” Konold said. “They haven’t seen a lot of teams that spread it out.”

Defensively, the goal will be to slow down the Flyers’ passing attack, which is led by junior quarterback Austin Neu (50-for-119, 711 yards, 6 touchdowns, 6 interceptions). Little Falls is averaging 152.6 passing yards per game, compared to 31.8 yards per game rushing.

In the Flyers’ 26-14 loss to Princeton last week, Neu completed 11 of 28 passes for 229 yards and touchdowns throws of 78 and 41 yards.


The Cardinals’ secondary will look for a bounce-back game after Becker’s Ryan Bengtson threw for 146 yards and three touchdowns.

“We’ve got a good secondary and we have a lot of confidence in those guys,” Konold said. “They’ve made a lot of plays for us. They need to see the ball and make some breaks on the football and get their confidence going.”

The winner of Tuesday’s Willmar/Little Falls game will face top-seeded Rocori at 5 p.m. Saturday in Cold Spring.

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Willmar running back Michael Price tries to break through a tackle during a North Central White district game on Nov. 6 at Hodapp Field in Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Joe Brown is a sports reporter for the West Central Tribune.

He can be reached via email at: or his office number: 320-214-4332.
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