Sep. 20—WILLMAR — Back on the upswing after a 50-16 win over Big Lake last Friday, the Willmar football team hopes to keep that upward trajectory with a trip to Sartell this week.
"The number one thing I saw from watching the film and being at the game Friday was the excitement that the kids had when they made a big play for each other and for their teammates," said Cardinals head coach Jon Konold. "They're excited to be playing and rooting for each other. If a guy made a play, they were hustling and celebrating in the end zone together. That's always fun, to see the kids excited for one another, having some success and making some plays."
While Willmar (2-1) is looking to notch a second straight victory, Sartell (1-3) is looking to stop a slide. After a Zero Week win over St. Cloud Tech, the Sabres have lost three straight. They fell 34-14 last week at Brainerd.
Last season, the two teams met for the first time in seven years, with Willmar eking out a 17-14 victory.
And there'll be an added energy for the Sabres as they're hosting the Cardinals for homecoming.
"We always have good games with them no matter the records; their record's 1-3 but they're a good football team," Konold said. Since taking over as head coach in 2009, Konold's Cardinals are 3-4 against Sartell.
"We always have good games with them dating back to before I got here."
Boasting a spread offense, the Sabres are led by quarterback Cole Hentges. According to the MN Football Hub, Hentges has connected on a state-best 82 passes with a 62.1 completion percentage. His 866 yards are second best in the state.
Against Brainerd, Hentges was 19 of 30 for 221 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.
Four receivers — Dylan Simones (19 catches, 270 yards, 1 TD), Andrew Tavale (19-219-1), Aiden Lang (12-97-0) and Parker Knutson (11-118-1) — have double-digit catches for the Sabres.
"They're four wide receivers all the time now," Konold said. "Lots of trips, some empty stuff. They really like their quarterback to be able to find the open guy and deliver the football. (Hentges) is a great scrambler. He doesn't scramble to run, he scrambles to buy time to throw the ball down the field."
Sartell's offense will challenge Willmar's defense unlike any team so far with containing Hentges and staying in coverage assignments.
"Our linebackers have to stay in coverage," Konold said. "Typically when the quarterback breaks the pocket, we always send one linebacker to trigger on him. But this week, we got to kind of stay in coverage because he'll be able to throw the ball back behind him and in any direction. When he breaks the pocket and they break off their routes, we go to stay with our guys. Our D-line, we got to sub a lot of guys because they're going to have to pass rush a lot against these guys so they're going to have to be able to stay fresh."
Last week against Big Lake, the Cardinals' run game had a breakthrough with 215 yards. Junior running back Ramero Trevino had his biggest game of the year with 114 yards and four TDs on 16 carries.
Konold noted that the Sabres have plenty of speed in the linebacker group. Starting with a lineman group that's starting to jell.
"In the Hutchinson game, we saw lots of improvement from week one to week two with those guys, and again, they took another step forward (last week) with their double-teams and combos and communication in pass protection," Konold said. "Our focus this week is to make sure we can not let those guys run through and come off of our double teams."