The Brainerd Warriors saw that style of offense last week when they defeated the Rocori Spartans 28-20 in the season opener.
Brainerd will see the same style Friday night when it hosts the Willmar Cardinals in a Central Lakes Conference game. The Warriors hope the fact they’ve seen the no-huddle and spread already is to their advantage.
“It’s helpful, at least from a defensive point of view, that Willmar and Rocori are very similar,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. “I think the Willmar quarterback is probably a little better runner than the one we saw last week, and a comparable thrower. (Willmar quarterback Alex) Grove is a good player. Willmar defensively will be a different look than what we saw from Rocori.
“Offensively, we just have to get better and more consistent. We need to have more consistent play everywhere — on the front, from the quarterback — but we hung in there pretty well. We made some plays when we needed to.”
One of the big plays Brainerd made was a 73-yard TD run by quarterback Mitch McLain. The play helped the Warriors rush for 284 yards while their defense limited Rocori to just 28 yards on the ground.
Until 5-plus minutes remained, the Warriors’ defense had limited Rocori to 106 yards and six points.
“It was a good opener, lots of kids got first-time game experience,” Stolski said. “I was particularly happy with our starters. We do expect more out of our leadership than we received, and I know that’s coming. The new players really stepped up. Kids that had not played a down of varsity ball played as well as they could play for an opener.”
Special teams were a factor in Brainerd’s win. Kicker Andrew Olson averaged 53 yards per kickoff. Punter Jimmy Giese averaged 42 yards.
“Our field position was excellent, theirs was not very good,” Stolski said, “and we came close to blocking three punts. To me, that was the difference in the game. Special teams played a big part in our performance.”
Willmar stopped Alexandria 14-0 in its opening performance as Grove scored two first-half touchdowns. He carried 17 times for 94 yards and completed 13 of 19 passes for 142 yards.
“Defense kind of took over in the second half,” Willmar coach Jon Konold said. “We didn’t move the ball very efficiently in the second half. We made a few first downs, but we were never able to put the ball in the end zone.
“We had a touchdown called back in the second half. Our defense played well. We gave up some yards but we were able to stop them when we needed to and force some turnovers.”
The Cardinals recovered two fumbles and intercepted two passes while not committing any turnovers.
Brainerd, ranked ninth in Class 5A, won 32-18 at Willmar last year. The Warriors have won the last eight games between the schools.
“One of the big things I see is a lot of their speed is on defense,” Konold. “They’re very aggressive. Brainerd is always one of top the teams in the conference.
“We just have to make sure we get better, and play our game. We think we’ll be able to be successful if we can do the things we need to do. But we know it will be a great challenge for us.”
MIKE BIALKA may be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.