Sep. 14—WILLMAR — With the next two weeks on the road, the Willmar football team is hoping to come back to Hodapp Field on Sept. 30 a new, refocused squad.
The season started off splendidly with a 27-0 victory over St. Cloud Apollo. Then last week, defending Class AAAA state champion Hutchinson pounded the Cardinals by a score of 44-0.
"It's really a tale of two games," said Willmar head coach Jon Konold. "We felt pretty good after week one and our kids were making progress. And it just felt like we took a little step backwards on our assignments (against Hutchinson).
"Defensively, we didn't tackle very well, our alignments were poor defensively and our key reads need to be better. ... Offensively, we ran over 60 plays but we only averaged two yards a play."
Over the next two weeks — starting at 7 p.m. Friday at Big Lake, then Sept. 23 at Sartell — finding consistency is key for the Cardinals.
"We've got to get better at executing," Konold said. "Offensively, we got to throw the ball better and catch the ball. Defensively, we have to tackle better and we have to get off blocks on the perimeter and we have to be able to read our keys."
Over the past five seasons, playing Big Lake has been a remedy to Willmar's woes. Since 2017, the Cardinals are 5-0 against the Hornets, winning by an average score of 41.0-5.2. In '21, Willmar won the Week 3 matchup, 65-0.
This season, the Hornets are 0-2, with losses to Chisago Lakes (28-20) and St. Cloud Apollo (27-14).
"They've always got some solid kids," Konold said of Big Lake. "They got a really good running back."
That ball-carrier is junior Trent Josewski, who ran for 145 yards and two scores on 24 carries against Chisago Lakes. When Josewski got hurt against Apollo, senior Nolan Miller took the bulk of the carries with 113 yards and a touchdown on 17 attempts.
"I don't know if he's out or if he will come back this week, but (Josewski's) a good runner," Konold said.
On defense, Konold says the Hornets run a similar scheme to Hutchinson with a four-man front and cover-3 in the secondary. A key difference is Big Lake runs that scheme with just one safety instead of two like Hutchinson.
"Big Lake will play another guy down in the box to try to help with the run a little bit more," Konold said. "So we're hoping we can use the passing game to move the ball."
Through two games, junior quarterback Cullen Gregory has completed 15 of 35 (42.9%) of his passes for 155 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions. Sam Raitz has five catches for 67 yards, and Jacob Streed has four catches for 69 yards.
"We just got to really put an emphasis on practicing some of the routes that we want to install and expanding the passing game a little bit," Konold said.
Konold's goal for the next two weeks before the Cardinals come back home on Sept. 30 for homecoming against Delano was blunt: "Just getting better."
He added, "Just all around, our kids have got to learn how to play football. We just have to go out and play a football game, read our keys and execute. We hope to kind of get back to some of the basics."