WILLMAR -- After losing two road games, Brainerd Warriors football coach Ron Stolski wondered how his team would respond following Friday's two-hour-plus bus trip to Willmar.
The Warriors eased Stolski's concern by scoring 48 straight points and limiting Willmar to 223 total yards on their way to a resounding 55-22 victory.
Halfback James Strand rushed for 145 yards and one touchdown. Quarterback John Haberman and halfback Riley Cullinane each ran for two scores.
The defense yielded just 88 yards in the first half and forced four Willmar turnovers. Jared Mueller recovered two fumbles, Jordan Westphal had one and David Beilke intercepted a pass.
Brainerd's defense had five tackles for losses, including three quarterback sacks, two by Adam Lueck.
"I thought the key to our offense was a great game plan by (offensive coordinator Jeff) Ramey, and the play of the offensive line," Stolski said. "The offensive line played well. Early on, when we needed to make some plays, we made them.
"Haberman is getting more and more poised all the time. He ran the ball well on the option."
The Cardinals appeared they were going to make a game of it early. After recovering a fumble at the Brainerd 38 on the game's opening drive, Willmar quarterback Mike Dunham completed passes of 15 and 23 yards, the latter for a touchdown to Kyle Birkland.
After the teams exchanged possessions, Brainerd started its 48-point run with a 2-yard touchdown burst by Haberman.
The Warriors then forced Willmar to punt, setting up one of the game's key plays.
On fourth and one at the Willmar 33, all 11 Cardinals bunched up near the line of scrimmage, Haberman hit tight end Carl Sneep over the middle for a 33-yard score.
"They didn't see that coming," Sneep said. "The free safety was three yards or so from the line of scrimmage. I'm sure they were expecting another run right up the middle.
"It was a good, gutsy call by coach. I was wide open, Haberman gave me the ball, and I just caught it in a wide open field."
Another key play occurred moments later. On fourth and three at its 31, Willmar faked a punt but a running play fell a yard shy of the first down.
Brainerd didn't score on the ensuing possession but it did tally on its last five series of the first half.
In all, Brainerd began six possessions in Willmar territory and scored on each. In contrast, nine Willmar possessions started on its side of midfield.
Dunham passed for 132 yards and two scores but the Cardinals rushed for only 91 yards.
"We came in thinking they were going to go to the air, a 50-50 pass-run ratio, but we shut down the run strong," Beilke said. "They must have passed 80 percent of the time. We kept the blitzes coming. I think we ran pretty much every blitz we had.
"Our tackles had to shut down the inside. I've got to give them credit. They stopped all that, and that enabled us to focus on our pass zones. We knew they were going to come strong with the tight end across the middle so we had to get on that. That actually was the one the interception came on."
Brainerd 6 28 14 7 -- 55
Willmar 7 0 0 15 -- 22
Wil-Kyle Birkland 23 pass from Mike Dunham (Luke Buer kick) 10:17
Brd-John Haberman 2 run (kick fails) 1:52
Brd-Carl Sneep 33 pass from Haberman (Sneep pass from Haberman) 11:15
Brd-Haberman 16 run (Sneep kick) 7:08
Brd-Riley Cullinane 1 run (Sneep kick) 4:31
Brd-James Strand 3 run (kick fails) :53
Brd-Cullinane 14 run (Sneep kick) 9:56
Brd-Bo Jedinak 2 run (Sneep kick) 31.8
Wil-Ross Van Hauen 49 pass from Dunham (Dunham run) 7:21
Brd-Joe Edberg 5 run (Jordan Ohotto kick) 1:17
Wil-Tyler Horning 75 kickoff return (Buer kick) :55
First downs -- B 20, W 11
Rushes-yards -- B 53-333, W 23-91
Pass comp-att-int--yds -- B 3-7-0-80, W 12-15-1-132
Total offense -- B 413, W 223
Punts-avg -- B 2-32.0, W 3-26.7
Return yards -- B 92, W 139
Fumbles-lost -- B 1-1, W 3-3
Penalties-yds lost -- B 5-35, W 7-35
Rushing -- Brd, Haberman 10-84, Strand 17-145, Cullinane 5-32, Jedinak 8-35, Edberg 7-23, Nick Anderson 5-21, Nate Schaefbauer 1-(-7), Andy MacDonald 1-0; Wil, Eric Manz 7-44
Passing -- Brd, Haberman 3-7-0-80; Wil, Dunham 12-25-1-132
Receiving -- Brd, Sneep 2-59, Mike Giese 1-21; Wil, Josh Dahlke 6-69
Mike Bialka can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 855-5861.
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