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Road warrior Cardinals

ST. CLOUD -- Willmar cemented its status as road warriors. Cruising to a 40-14 North Central White district victory at St. Cloud Apollo on Friday night, the Cardinals end the regular season with a perfect 4-0 record on the road. More importantly,...

Willmar's Caleb Owens races to the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown reception during Fridayi's North Central White district game against St. Cloud Apollo in St. Cloud. Joe Brown / Tribune
Willmar's Caleb Owens races to the end zone for a 21-yard touchdown reception during Fridayi's North Central White district game against St. Cloud Apollo in St. Cloud. Joe Brown / Tribune

ST. CLOUD - Willmar cemented its status as road warriors.

Cruising to a 40-14 North Central White district victory at St. Cloud Apollo on Friday night, the Cardinals end the regular season with a perfect 4-0 record on the road.

More importantly, it put the Cardinals in the driver's seat for a first-round bye in the Section 8AAAA playoffs, where the Eagles were trying to dethrone the Cardinals as the current number two seed.

"We were talking about that on the ride here. ... I don't think we've done that since I've been here," Willmar head coach Jon Konold said of the team's road success. "That is a really big deal for us and for our kids. In the playoffs, you're going to have to win games on the road. You're going to be tested and you have to be able to execute."

With the lights hit the field, Willmar is sporting its road whites and every positive play is followed by mutters from a surly crowd, the Cardinals find a way to thrive.

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"The away crowd, they're rooting against us and we like that," said wide receiver Jake Evans. "We like the challenge and we take it in. We like to come out and prove ourselves every night."

After a tough night in the air last week against Moorhead along with a misty forecast, the Cardinals relied on short slants and quick passes and relied on the receivers to get yards after the catch. That paid off right away when Caleb Owens broke off a 21-yard touchdown from a pass from Drey Dirksen in the opening drive.

"We knew it may be tough with the weather to get the passing game going. The receivers just had to be ready and not be scared to catch the ball and slipping out of our hands," said Evans, who had a team-high seven catches. "We just had to work through it."

Ethan Roux punched in his first of two rushing touchdowns, and Evans leaped over a defender for a 21-0 first-half lead.

Right before intermission, Apollo (3-3, 2-2 White) grabbed some much-needed momentum when Jalyn Williams recovered a fumble and ran in for a score, cutting the halftime gap to 21-8.

The Eagles' opening drive of the second half got to midfield before Ty Roelofs dealt the decisive blow with a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown.

"Coach (Dusty) Carlson's a great play caller and if you stick with his calls, you're going to get a look," Roelofs said. "And that's what happened there."

"We just practiced against ourselves basically in practice and get some good looks," Roelofs said. "In past weeks, against someone like Hutch, we didn't get that."

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Now, Willmar (5-1, 3-1 White) will try to emulate its road success at Hodapp Field for the final two weeks of the regular season, starting with Becker next Friday and Rocori on Oct. 17.

Willmar 40, St. Cloud Apollo 14

Willmar (5-1)       7 14 12 7 - 40

SC Apollo (3-3)   0 8 0 6 - 14

Scoring Plays

W โ€“ Caleb Owens 21 pass from Drey Dirksen (LaBlue Moo kick)

W โ€“ Ethan Roux 4 run (kick failed)

W โ€“ Jake Evans 35 pass from Dirksen (Roux run)

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STA โ€“ Jalyn Williams 6 fumble return (John Blommel run)

W โ€“ Ty Roelofs 57 interception return (kick failed)

W โ€“ Roux 1 run (kick blocked)

W โ€“ Dirksen 1 run (Moo kick)

STA โ€“ Sam Luepke 40 pass from Logan Johnson (run failed)

Willmar

First downs: 24 โ€ฆ Penalties: 11-72 โ€ฆ Rushing (Individual and team): Alex Wickliff 17-127, Dominic Amon 2-0, Drey Dirksen 15-69, Ashton Gregory 1-11, Ethan Roux 14-63, Bauman 3-30. 52-299 โ€ฆ Passing (Individual and team): Dirksen 16-25-189-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Jake Evans 7-93, Ty Roelofs 3-36, Ryan Slette 3-26, Caleb Owens 3-36 โ€ฆ Interceptions: Roelofs 2 โ€ฆ Fumble recoveries: Kaden Streed โ€ฆ Tackles (solo-assist): Streed 1-5, Gregory 2-4, Dirksen 2-3, Andrew Reigstad 1-4, Ben Hisken 1-5 โ€ฆ QB sacks: Streed

SC Apollo

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First downs: 11 โ€ฆ Penalties: 8-43 โ€ฆ Rushing (Individual and team): Neal Benson 7-40, Clifton Patterson 10-34, Abraham Heinen 6-28, Logan Johnson 2-21, Jalyn Williams 1-5. 27-109 โ€ฆ Passing (Individual and team): Benson 6-18-24-2, Johnson 3-6-80-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Sam Luepke 3-80, John Blommel 5-14, Patterson 1-10  โ€ฆ Interceptions: None โ€ฆ Fumble recoveries: Patterson 1, Williams 1 โ€ฆ Tackles (solo-assist): N/A โ€ฆ QB sacks: N/A

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