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Prep Football: Willmar readies for opener against Apollo

Cardinals hit the road for Week 1 matchup on Friday

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The Willmar football team runs conditioning drills to end practice Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 in Willmar. The Cardinals open the 2021 season Friday at St. Cloud Apollo. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

It’ll be the first game of the 2021 season, but the Willmar football team will have to play a little catch-up.

Traveling to St. Cloud Apollo for a 7 p.m. kickoff on Friday, the Cardinals will be hitting the field for the first time while the Eagles already have a game under their belt.

Apollo opened with a 44-6 loss to Class AAAA state power Hutchinson, Willmar’s opponent for Week 2.

“The disadvantage we have is the first game of the year is a big learning curve of new guys playing their first varsity experience,” said Cardinals head coach Jon Konold. “They (Apollo) have already had that and this is our first run in the 2021 season. That’ll be a challenge.

“We’re going to try to play as many guys as we can. Hopefully, that works to our advantage.”

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Willmar junior tight end Jacob Flannigan hits the hand pad during blocking drills on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 at Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

The final score was not indicative of how the Eagles played in their Zero Week game. The defense kept them in the game in the first half as the Tigers led 14-0.

Watching tape of the game, Konold said Hutchinson’s power-run attack wore down Apollo in the second half. While Willmar’s no-huddle spread offense is a vastly different scheme, the goal is the same: wear down the Eagles.

“That’s the goal we always pride ourselves in: pushing the tempo a little bit and being in good shape,” Konold said.

“We have a lot of experience coming back as far as production goes offensively. Our top two runners (quarterback Alex Schramm and running back Michael Price) are back and we have a top receiver (Brandt Sunder) back. We (also) have three offensive linemen back.”

The Cardinals’ biggest question mark for Friday is an inexperienced front seven on defense. And that’s where Apollo quarterback/safety Andrew Karls can cause some problems. In the air, Karls completed 9 of 14 passes for 100 yards and one interception. He was also the Eagles’ top rusher with 17 carries for 44 yards and the team’s only touchdown, an 8-yard scamper in the third quarter. In the spring, Karls finished second in the Central Lakes Conference in the 800-meter run at 2 minutes, 0.32 seconds.

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Willmar senior wide receiver Brandt Sunder makes a catch during practice on Monday, Aug. 30, 2021 at Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Karls’ favorite target against Hutch was Mach Ruot, who had four catches for 57 yards.

“They got a dynamic quarterback. He’s one of the best kids we’ve seen in a while,” Konold said of Karls. “He can really throw the ball and run the ball and that’s what they center the ball around.”

Konold added, “The good thing is they’ve played a guy kind of like that the last three weeks in practice. Alex (Schramm) is very similar in ability to that guy (Karls). … But it hasn’t been game speed. Alignment and assignment are going to be huge for us so they’re in the right position so they can go ahead and make the plays they need to make.”

The last time the Cardinals and Eagles met was in the 2019 season. In that Week 6 matchup, Willmar got the road victory, 16-3.

The Cardinals have won the last three matchups by a combined score of 103-25. Apollo’s last victory against Willmar came in 2017 with a 26-24 victory on Oct. 6, 2017

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