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Prep Football: Willmar wins with every facet

Defense, special teams lift Cardinals to homecoming win over Sartell

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Willmar junior linebacker Mattix Swanson celebrates after coming up with a fumble recovery late in the second quarter of a Week 4 game against Sartell on Friday at Hodapp Field in Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

WILLMAR — With the Sartell defense locking down the Willmar offense, special teams and defense made the difference at homecoming.

With key special teams contributions from Brandt Sunder and LaBlue Moo and three takeaways on the defensive end, Willmar chopped down the Sabres with a 17-14 North Central district cross-over game Friday at Hodapp Field.

Sartell scored first when Donovan Lund punched in a 1-yard touchdown run to cap off a drive that took seven-and-a-half minutes in the first quarter. But on the ensuing kickoff, Sunder broke off a 76-yard kickoff return for a score, giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead with 1:49 left in the opening quarter.

“It was good to see him finally break one,” Willmar head coach Jon Konold said of Sunder’s scamper to the end zone.

While the Sabres were focusing on the ground, running 48 times for 138 yards, they retook the lead with 14 seconds left in the first when Gavan Schulte found Dylan Simones open for a 72-yard TD reception.

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With Sartell trying to kill the clock before halftime, the Cardinals’ defense popped some life back into the team. Lund was stripped of the ball and Willmar’s Mattix Swanson fell on it at the Sabres’ 15-yard line. That set up a 32-yard LaBlue Moo field goal to cut the deficit to 12-10 going into the locker room.

“That was a huge momentum change for us to now go into halftime down two with positive things happening,” Konold siad. “They did a lot to make sure we didn’t play well. Credit to Sartell’s defense; they played well all night.”

The second half saw Willmar’s defense shut out the Sabres in the second half and forced their first three drives to end in punts. Swanson was the Cardinals’ leading tackler with 13 (3 solo), followed by 10 from Zack Gadient and nine from Connor Owens.

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Willmar senior running back Michael Price tip-toes the sideline during a Week 4 game against Sartell on Friday at Hodapp Field in Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

“We just had another guy in the box and played man-to-man on their receivers,” Konold said on the second-half defensive adjustments. “That freed up a linebacker to focus on the run game. That seemed to be very effective, especially in the third quarter.”

The Willmar offense finally found the end zone in the third. Running just 36 plays on the night, the biggest one came on an option pitch to running back Michael Price. The senior raced 24 yards to the end zone for the 17-12 lead.

The final minute of the game saw Sartell with two chances to take the lead.

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With 45 seconds left, a Schulte pass was picked off by Cardinals senior Cade Roelofs. But the Sabres forced a fumble, which Willmar’s Connor Owens recovered in the end zone, resulting in a safety.

On Sartell’s final drive, Swanson ended any hopes of a comeback with an interception, allowing Willmar to run out the clock.

Konold gave credit to his senior group for stepping up when things weren’t going exactly their way.

“When I think back at the game tonight, we had a lot of seniors step up, especially in the second half,” Konold said. “To see our growth from Week 1 to now … we had Ethan Schwab making sure he was in the game for the final drive. Michael Price played the whole second half in the secondary along with playing running back. Schramm played defense for us. Cade Roelofs, he played JV last year and he’s worked his butt off and makes plays for us every Friday night.

“They’re starting to understand what it means to be a senior and that it’s their last go-around. They’re refusing to lose and they’re making the most out of their opportunities. And they’re starting to understand that they have to be on the field for us to be successful.”

Willmar is on the road next week to face Delano at 7 p.m. Friday. The Tigers shut out Big Lake on Friday, 24-0.

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Willmar junior Mason Swanson (65) and senior Ethan Schwab (top) combine to take down Sartell's Donovan Lund during a Week 4 game on Friday at Hodapp Field in Willmar. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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Willmar 17, Sartell 14

Sartell (1-4) 12 0 0 2 — 14
Willmar (3-1) 7 3 7 0 — 17
Scoring Plays
S – Donovan Lund 1 run (run failed)
W – Brandt Sunder 74 kickoff return (LaBlue Moo kick)
S – Dylan Simones 72 pass from Gavan Schulte (pass failed)
W – Moo 32 field goal
W – Michael Price 24 run (Moo kick)
S – Safety

Sartell

First downs: 13 … Penalties: 4-25 … Rushing (Individual and team): Parker Knutson 9-26, Donovan Lund 26-98, Gavan Schulte 4-8, Steven Brinkerhoff 2-6. 42-138 … Passing (Individual and team): Schulte 8-15-2 119 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Dylan Simones 4-87, Knutson 3-20, Jackson Vos 1-12 … Interceptions: None … Fumble recoveries: None … Tackles (solo-assist): N/A … QB sacks: N/A

Willmar

First downs: 5 … Penalties: 6-44 … Rushing (Individual and team): Michael Price 8-50, Alex Schramm 15-72, Ramero Trevino 2-8. 25-130 … Passing (Individual and team): Schramm 5-11-0 71 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Price 1-18, Brandt Sunder 2-33, Sam Raitz 1-5, Tanner Fleming 1-15 … Interceptions: Cade Roelofs 1, Mattix Swanson 1 … Fumble recoveries: Mat. Swanson 1 … Tackles (solo-assist): Mat. Swanson 3-10, Zack Gadient 1-9, Connor Owens 3-6, Price 1-5, Mason Swanson 0-6 … QB sacks: None

Willmar football vs. Sartell Sept. 24, 2021

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