Football: Willmar Cardinals ready for Skyway Green gantlet


— The next three weeks are a top-tier challenge for the


football team.

For homecoming week, the Cardinals play host to perennial powerhouse Becker, the No. 2-ranked team in Class AAAA. They'll follow that up with a rivalry game at Rocori. Then in Week 6, Willmar is back at home to face another perennial power in the Skyway Green district in No. 1-ranked Hutchinson.

Against the Bulldogs at 7 p.m. Friday at Hodapp Field, Willmar is looking for a strong game from all three facets: offense, defense and special teams. The three have been there throughout the Cardinals' 1-2 start, but all three haven't clicked in the same game.

"We got to be able to put that all together," said Willmar head coach Jon Konold."

The Bulldogs are coached by Dwight Lundeen, who's in his 54th season leading on the sidelines. And Konold knows going into the game that Lundeen's squad is not going to beat itself.

"They're always a good program," Konold said. "They don't seem to be too big, but they're always really fast and really aggressive. They execute really well and they make you make mistakes. That's what good teams do. So we gotta make sure that we take care of the football."

At quarterback, the Bulldogs swapped Bengtsons. In place of Ryan Bengtson, last season's starter, is his younger brother, Zach.

Zach Bengtson is slinging the ball just like his older brother. The 5-foot-8, 165-pound senior has completed 39 of 59 passes (66.1%) for 456 yards, nine touchdowns and zero interceptions. That has helped Becker outscore its opponents 141-35. The Bulldogs beat Holy Angels 48-0 in Week 3.

"He throws a nice ball and he's savvy," Konold said of Zach Bengtson. "He knows situational football. He knows when it's third down or how to get the extra yard on the scramble. He's going to be tough to deal with. We got to contain him, make him pull the ball down and make him make a secondary read and contain him in the pocket."

On defense, the Bulldogs are holding teams to 143.7 yards per game and have forced eight turnovers in the last two games. Junior middle linebacker Landen Kujawa has led the team in tackles in two of Becker's three games.

Last week's 39-38 loss to Princeton was the Cardinals' best offensive output with 407 total yards, including 297 on the ground. Quarterback Cullen Gregory ran for 199 yards and four touchdowns and threw for 110 yards on 15 of 24 passing. Running back Ramero Trevino had 90 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries. Jackson Schnichels caught six balls for 44 yards.

"Cullen should be really confident in what he's doing right now," Konold said. "We've got to continue to complete passes. We got to threaten teams down the field and get (defenses) to loosen up a little bit so we can run the ball a little bit more effectively.

"Our hope is to get (Becker) to change a little bit defensively instead of us having to constantly battle a seven-man box when we try to run the football."

Willmar's two losses have been one-possession games. With the stretch of district games, Konold was hopeful after seeing the players in practice Monday after the loss to Princeton last Friday.

"They bounce back better than us coaches, especially us coaches that have been doing it a while," Konold said. "They're resilient.

"We just got to bounce back and be ready for another tough game and that's how it's going to be all year long."

New London-Spicer at Litchfield

7 p.m. Friday

Litchfield is finally making its home debut. And it comes against the defending Class AAA state champions and one of its biggest rivals.

The Dragons and Wildcats are coming into the matchup with 2-1 records.

Litchfield is on a high after a 37-6 victory against Foley. Lukas Kuehl led the Dragons' rushing attack with 152 yards on 23 carries and three touchdowns. As a team, Litchfield ran for 246 yards on 46 attempts. Quarterback Garrison Jackman was 6 of 12 passing for 75 yards, with Jack McCann hauling in four balls for 51 yards. The defense also shined against the Falcons with five takeaways.

Meanwhile, NLS is looking to bounce back after a 32-16 loss to top-ranked Dassel-Cokato. The Wildcats were out-gained on the ground, 302-146. Mason Delzer rushed for 92 yards. Quarterback Blake Schultz was 10-for-22 for 139 yards, including a 10-yard TD to Blake Kath.

NLS dominated last season's matchup with a 60-29 victory in Week 5. Over the last five seasons, Litchfield holds a 3-2 advantage in the rivalry, with wins in '21 (35-9), '20 (39-12) and '19 (53-35).

The season's not quite at the halfway point, but the postseason has started to take shape after the first batch of QRF ratings were released this week by

In Section 2AAAA, Willmar has a rating of 20.7, putting them in fifth in the five-team section. If the postseason ended today, the Cardinals would face Marshall in the opening round. The winner would play top-seeded Hutchinson in the semifinals. The other semifinal matchup would be No. 2 St. Peter vs. No. 3 New Ulm.

A section-by-section look at the QRF (with value and class rank):

* Section 2AAAA: 1. Hutchinson (68.9, 1st); 2. St. Peter (40.2, 19th); 3. New Ulm (35.2, 24th); 4. Marshall (25.5, 28th); 5. Willmar (20.7, 36th).

* Section 2AAA: 1. Dassel-Cokato (67.1, 1st); 2. Watertown-Mayer (50.4, 9th); 3. Litchfield (36.7, 21st); 4. Rockford (35.5, 22nd); 5. Glencoe-Silver Lake (29.1, 26th); 6. Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (24.5, 28th).

* Section 6AAA: 1. New London-Spicer (44.7, 13th); 2. Albany (35.0, 23rd); 3. Montevideo (30.4, 25th); 4. Sauk Centre (18.8, 39th); 5. Melrose (5.0, 50th); 6. Minnewaska (4.4, 52nd).

* Section 5AA: 1. Holdingford (49.8, 4th); 2. Eden Valley-Watkins (48.7, 7th); 3. Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (39.6, 11th); 4. Kimball (35.9, 17th); 5. Royalton (16.2, 35th); 6. Paynesville (14.7, 39th).

* Section 4A: 1. Upsala/Swanville Area (36.4, 9th); 2. Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (33.1, 14th); 3. Browerville/Eagle Valley (28.9, 17th); 4. Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City (14.9, 32nd); 5. Long Prairie-Grey Eagle (11.9, 42nd); 6. Benson (5.3, 47th).

* Section 5A: 1. Minneota (38.9, 5th); 2. Canby (33.1, 14th); 3. BOLD (25.7, 18th); 4. Yellow Medicine East (15.2, 31st); 5. Lakeview (13.9, 34th); 6. Lac qui Parle Valley (12.8, 36th); 7. Dawson-Boyd (12.7, 37th); 8. MACCRAY (12.0, 41st).

* Section 2 9-Man: 1. Red Rock Central (19.5, 18th); 2. Cedar Mountain (16.0, 24th); 3. New Ulm Cathedral (15.5, 26th); 4. Nicollet (8.3, 35th); 5. Renville County West (8.3, 35th); 6. Westbrook-Walnut Grove (1.8, 53rd).

(Games at 7 p.m. unless otherwise noted)


* Becker at Willmar

* NLS at Litchfield


* Eden Valley-Watkins at Paynesville

* Long Prairie-Grey Eagle at Benson

* BOLD at Lac qui Parle Valley

* Minnewaska at HLWW

* Montevideo at Rockford

* YME at Dawson-Boyd

* West Central Area at KMS

* MACCRAY at Lakeview

* GHEC/Truman at RCW