MONTICELLO, Minn. - Hermantown has the reputation of a hard-nosed, ground-and-pound team thanks to a strong ground game and a top-tier defense.
And on Friday night, Willmar proved it could hit a bit harder.
Outrushing the Hawks 370-178 and jumping out to a 22-0 first-quarter lead, the Cardinals asserted their dominance through all four quarters in a 44-0 win in a Class AAAA state quarterfinal at Monticello High School.
"We had more control," defensive tackle Andrew Reigstad said. "It felt like we pounded their heads into the ground. It felt good."
Said Willmar coach Jon Konold: "We knew we were getting better and more physical as the year went on. We knew we could run the ball on them and our kids came out and did a great job."
Frigid temperatures and a still-snowy field were not ideal for Willmar's passing game. So they ran against Hermantown's vaunted defense. And with the offensive line paving huge holes, the Cardinals (10-2) had four rushing plays of 20-plus yards in the opening 12 minutes. Alex Wickloff had a 42-yard run that set him up for a 1-yard touchdown. Later in the quarter, he broke loose for a 48-yard touchdown scamper.
Add in a 2-yard scoring pass to Ty Roelofs from Drey Dirksen and the Cardinals put up more points in one quarter (22) than the highest point total the Hawks (9-2) allowed in a game prior to Friday (14).
Wickliff was quick to praise the big guys making the holes.
"I can't thank them enough. Every time, we'd get five yards and I know it's because of them," said Wickliff, who ran for 100 yards and three touchdowns on just seven carries. "I can only do so much. Plus, one of our tackles (Eric Watland) ran for 10 yards (on a lateral), so that was cool, too."
Defensive tackles Andrew Reigstad and Charlie Farhat were tasked with slowing down Hermantown fullback David Cornelius. The duo managed to remove the inside run from the Hawks' playbook, holding Cornelius to 51 yards on 14 carries. He came into the game averaging more than 133 yards per game.
"All of the defensive line, we were supposed to tackle him before the quarterback," Reigstad said, "and it worked out that way."
And for good measure, the Cardinals' defense managed three takeaways, with fumble recoveries from Reigstad, Carter Ochsendorf and Gavin Haverly along with an interception from Ashton Gregory.
"To have a shutout in a state tournament game is a pretty big feat," Konold said. "We don't get them very often and to do it in the state tournament and score 44 points, it says a lot about your kids."
W - Alex Wickliff 1 run (kick failed)
W - Ty Roelofs 2 pass from Drey Dirksen (Dirksen run)
W - Wickliff 48 run (Dirksen run)
W - Dirksen 27 run (pass failed)
W - Caleb Owens 14 pass from Dirksen (Dirksen run)
W - Wickliff 2 run (Wickliff run)