WILLMAR — One of the objectives for a defense playing a no-huddle offense is not to let a hurry up offense dictate the pace of the game.
The Brainerd Warriors controlled the tempo in Friday’s 21-7 victory over the Willmar Cardinals at steamy Hodapp Field. They limited the Cardinals to 238 total yards, an even 100 at the half, and ran 67 plays to Willmar’s 60.
Playing opportunistic defense, Brainerd forced three turnovers and recorded two sacks. Grant Reuer intercepted his third pass of the season. Jaquon Cogshell added a pick in the last four minutes. Winsten Fenske fell on a Willmar fumble and linemen Chris Laber and Alex Mimmack recorded sacks.
“We knew going in it would be a tough game all around,” Mimmack said. “The defense needed to know they couldn’t give up, no matter what. A couple times they bent but they never gave up. They went all the way until the end. Hats off to the defense for holding us in there, only giving up seven all game.”
Other than on its late touchdown, Willmar got inside the Brainerd 15 only one other time late in the first half.
The defense then handed the ball off to a Warrior offense that generated 349 total yards. Conor Gessell rushed for 153 yards and a score. Logan Davis contributed 68 yards and a TD. Quarterback Thomas Stoxen completed 4 of 7 throws for 73 yards, including an electrifying pass and catch TD play with Quinn McElfresh.
“I was really happy with the play of the offensive line and the running backs,” Warriors coach Ron Stolski said. “All four backs ran hard and played hard. It was a challenge in front because they had a lot of people up there.
“We wanted to open the game up a little bit, but at the same time it was so close we wanted to control it, and usually the run game is what does it. You make a few mistakes in the pass game and all of a sudden you’ve got a problem.”
The Warriors had few problems. Davis gave Brainerd a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter when he ran 5 yards for a score. He ran 12 yards on the first play of the possession. Stoxen and a leaping McElfresh connected for a 13-yard gain in a fourth-down situation.
Late in the first half, Brainerd went up 13-0 as Stoxen and McElfresh hooked up for a 51-yard score. McElfresh made a great cutback to put distance between him and a defender as he approached the end zone.
Fenske’s fumble recovery midway through the third gave Brainerd the ball at the Willmar 33. Gessell ran 32 yards to the 1 and later barrelled into the end zone for the score. Stoxen passed to McElfresh for the 2-point conversion.
“You try to get as many turnovers as you can,” Mimmack said. “We keep track of that stuff in practice, people get points for that stuff. The defense works on making sure there’s one guy wrapping up and somebody going for the ball every time. Turnovers are a big part of the game.”
Willmar’s only score came at 4:40 of the third. Running back Vaughn Johnson gathered in a screen pass and took it 46 yards for the score.
“I thought our defense was really good,” Stolski said. “This is a good offense right here. It’s always good to come down here and get a win. “I thought our defensive coaches — Jason Freed, Tom Smith, Aron Anderson, Deryl Ramey and Scott Parsons — just had a great plan. We gave up one long play off a screen.”
Brainerd 0 13 8 0 — 21
Willmar 0 0 7 0 — 7
Brd-Logan Davis 5 run (Logan McElfresh kick) 10:43
Brd-Quinn McElfresh 51 pass from Thomas Stoxen (kick fails) 51.5
Brd-Conor Gessell 1 run (Quinn McElfresh pass from Stoxen) 7:20
Wil-Vaughn Johnson 46 pass from Augustine Hahn (Max Trochlil kick) 4:40
Rushes-yards: Brd 60-276, W 36-101
Pass comp-att-int-yds: Brd 4-7-1-73, W 15-24-2-137
Total offense: Brd 349, W 238
Rushing: Brd-Thomas Stoxen 9-31, Logan McElfresh 4-23, Conor Gessell 26-153,
Logan Davis 16-68, Isaiah Smith 1-4, Cole Smith 1-3; Wil-Michael Heitzman
Passing: Brd-Stoxen 4-7-73; Wil-Hahn 15-24-137
Receiving: Brd-Isaiah Smith 1-3, Quinn McElfresh 2-64, Davis 1-6; W-Chris
Cunningham 2-18, Austin Grove 3-15, Nick Coquyt 2-13, Adam Nibaur 4-40,
Heitzman 2-8, Johnson 2-49
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.