In the last two weeks the Brainerd Warriors football team has persevered against two quality opponents.
Brainerd defeated Detroit Lakes 45-28 Sept. 14 and defeated previously unbeaten Bemidji 28-6 last week. The unbeaten Warriors have been rewarded with the No. 5 ranking in The Associated Press Class 5A poll.
On Friday, the Warriors will have to guard against a letdown when they play the winless Willmar Cardinals at 7 p.m. in the homecoming game at Adamson Field.
After sharing the conference title with Brainerd last fall, Willmar has fallen on difficult times this season. The Cardinals graduated starters at 18 positions and have scored only three touchdowns, two from scrimmage, this fall.
Warriors head coach Ron Stolski prefers to focus on Brainerd's history against Willmar (the Cardinals have won 17 of the 32 meetings) than its current record.
"From the get-go, we have always taught our teams to respect the upcoming opponent," Stolski said. "Our goal is always to be better the next week than we were the week before. And, it's the truth that on any given Friday, on our schedule, or most schedules in Minnesota, things can happen.
"Willmar beat us last year here. And, we have added incentive to play well at homecoming. I don't fear a letdown.
"We've had good games with Willmar over the years, and we expect another one."
Willmar opened with a 30-7 loss to St. Cloud Tech. Its other losses have been to Alexandria (35-7), Fergus Falls (15-0) and Moorhead (62-7).
Last week, the Cardinals trailed 21-0 after 11 minutes and 39-0 at halftime. A kickoff return late in the fourth quarter provided the only Willmar points.
It was the most points Willmar has allowed in 26 years and its greatest losing differential in 62 years.
Brainerd, meanwhile, was scoring 28 unanswered points against Bemidji. The Warriors are averaging 393 yards and 40 points.
"We played very well against Bemidji but still had a lot of shortcomings," Stolski said. "We're getting good leadership from Mike Zauhar, Mike Weiss, Chris Foy and the rest of the seniors."
Mike Weiss leads the Warriors in rushing with 442 yards and has scored seven touchdowns. Zauhar has added 424 yards and leads the team in scoring with 60 points.
The Warriors' defense has been opportunistic, intercepting 11 passes, six by cornerback Kevin Mertens, and recovering five fumbles.
Last week, Fred Weiss led Brainerd with 16 tackles, Chad Weiss added 13 and Mike Weiss 10. Chad is the season leader with 54, followed by Fred with 42 and Mike with 37.
The Warriors will play without fullback Jeff Goodman Friday. He suffered a knee injury against Bemidji. He will join injured starters like offensive lineman Scott Johnson and halfback-defensive back Jason Goerges on the sideline.
"This team has been through quite a bit of adversity in terms of injuries," Stolski said. "We have had an unusual number of setbacks, so we're showing good mettle."
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