Only two teams had pushed No. 1 Detroit Lakes (9-0) to a competitive game in the fourth quarter through eight weeks, one being the No. 4 defending section champion Willmar Cardinals in a one-point Lakers' season-opening victory.
Past history against the Cardinals demanded Saturday’s Section 8AAAA semifinal would be a shootout.
DL had the most recent victory in late August 44-43; the Cardinals took last year’s section final 50-28 and DL went to Willmar in 2017 and left with a first round 41-40 victory.
Saturday night was a shootout, but Detroit Lakes brought out the big guns early.
Max Gunderson had a career game on both sides of the ball and Gabe Hanninen entered DL football history scoring five times in the first half of a 48-27 manhandling at Mollberg Field.
The Cardinals won the toss and chose to defer. Giving the ball to Detroit Lakes with the opening kickoff ended up meaning Willmar would do nothing but trail for a full 48 minutes.
“That was definitely the best start we’ve had as a team the two years we’ve been here and we came out and made huge plays on both sides of the ball, got into the end zone right away, and just did a good job controlling the ball with our defense the rest of the way,” Gunderson said.
The Lakers drove 80 yards in six plays, a Hanninen 62-yard sprint being the big play, allowing Jackson Fields to score from the one and take a 7-0 lead after Braeden Wimmer’s kick minutes into the first quarter.
Willmar faced third and 13 after three plays and an Ashton Gregory pass was sniped by Gunderson at midfield and he returned it to the Willmar six.
Hanninen scored on the first play from scrimmage for an early 14-0 lead that had the Laker bench jacked. Hanninen was fired up in the end zone and would go off minutes later.
“Coach Labine tells me every week on Friday about 12, he turns me into a 2-liter of pop and he just starts shaking,” Hanninen said. “At 7 o’clock he pops the top and I just explode.”
The Cardinals were valiant in trying to get back in the game.
After a Zachary Morrell kick return to midfield, Cardinals running back Ethan Roux sprinted 63 yards to the house to temper Laker enthusiasm and cut the lead in half after LaBlue Moo’s extra point kick was good.
DL answered in six plays. Gunderson found Fields out of the backfield for 28 yards to get into Willmar territory and Gunderson polished off the drive untouched from 47-yards out for a 21-7 lead midway through the first quarter.
“We challenged our line and they handled it pretty good tonight and did a great job,” said Gunderson.
Gunderson picked off Gregory on the Cards’ second play of the ensuing drive and returned the ball right back to the Willmar 5.
Fields and Hanninen ran a battering ram into the Willmar defense for a couple yards each before Gabe tallied his second touchdown from a yard out and a 28-7 lead at 4:18.
“We wanted to start fast and play well,” DL head coach Josh Omang said. “We wanted to make sure everybody here knew there was no doubt and we did that. We played well.”
Willmar needed to score to stay in the game and did so engineering a 9-play, 62-yard drive ending in a Gregory 2-yard scoring run with less than two minutes in the opening frame cutting the Lakers lead to 28-14.
DL responded with a 6-play, 55-yard drive culminating in a 42-yard Gunderson to Hanninen connection on the first play of the second quarter and a 35-14 lead.
The Laker defense forced the first punt of the game and Gunderson capped an 8-play drive with a 30-yard touchdown pass down the home sideline for Hanninen’s fourth score and a 42-14 lead with seven minutes remaining in the first half.
Desperate for points, the Cards executed a 61-yard scoring drive in nine plays and Roux scored from four yards out to keep the deficit at 42-20.
Hanninen and the DL offense were having no thoughts of allowing the game to get close.
On the first play of the next drive, Hanninen sprinted 67 yards to the house down the home sideline to ice the game with four minutes left in the half.
“The whole line blocked great,” Hanninen said. “We ran that jet and they were pinching hard on Fields. He just crushed his guy on the outside and I had one guy to beat. Max threw two balls to me; they were perfect. We played really well tonight and that’s exactly what we need to do.”
Willmar punted and Omang sent out his second string offensive line to run out the clock heading to halftime with all the points needed 48-20.
The Cardinals took the opening kick of the second half and scored the only touchdown of the second half on a 20 yard pass from Gregory to Will Hisken.
The teams traded punts and turnovers the remainder of the third quarter leading to a quiet final 12 minutes.
“We struggled in the second half but made plays when we needed them,” Hanninen said. “Caleb Tangen had a hell of a game on defense. He was an animal tonight.”
The Lakers gained more than 400 yards in the first half and surpassed 500 total by game's end.
Hanninen rushed 14 times for 183 yards and three TDs; he caught two for 72 and two scores. Gunderson gained 93 yards on 13 attempts and was 5-8 passing for 127 yards and 2 TDs.
Willmar’s season ends at 3-7. The Lakers improved to 9-0 and have a rematch in the section final with ROCORI at Alexandria high school Friday, Nov. 1 at 7 p.m.
“We are back in the game we wanted to be in,” said Omang.
Gabe Hanninen is having a good time tonight. A 30 yard touchdown reception from Gunderson is Hanninen's 4th Score of the first half. 42-14 Detroit Lakes over Willmar. 7:11 2Q pic.twitter.com/g3Q2D3HCOA— Robert Williams (@DLakesSports) October 27, 2019
“ROCORI is a very good team and very physical,” said Hanninen. “It’s going to be a fun matchup; I’m really excited to play them.”
No. 2 ROCORI blanked No. 3 Grand Rapids 30-0 at home to advance.
DL and the Spartans have split the last four games with the Lakers holding a two-game winning streak. ROCORI had the last playoff win 17-0 at Mollberg Field in the first round in 2017.
The teams last met in a section final in Alex in 2014, a 21-6 Spartan victory.
WIL 14 6 7 0 — 27
DET 28 20 0 0 — 48
DL – Jackson Fields 1 run (Braeden Wimmer kick)
DL – Gabe Hanninen 6 run (Wimmer kick)
W – Ethan Roux 53 run (LaBlue Moo kick)
DL – Max Gunderson 47 run (Wimmer kick)
DL – Hanninen 2 run (Wimmer kick)
W – Ashton Gregory 2 run (Moo kick)
DL – Hanninen 42 pass from Gunderson (Wimmer kick)
DL – Hanninen 30 pass from Gunderson (Wimmer kick)
W – Roux 4 run (kick failed)
DL – Hanninen 67 run (run failed)
W – Will Hisken 20 pass from Gregory (Moo kick)
First downs: 18 … Penalties: 5-45 … Rushing (Individual and team): Ashton Gregory 20-63, Ethan Roux 21-140, Eli Jorgenson 1-2. 42-205 … Passing (Individual and team): Gregory 11-31-167-2 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Will Hisken 2-22, Adam DeJong 2-20, Jacob Rosendahl 3-68, Roux 1-19, Zach Morrell 3-38 … Interceptions: None
First downs: 14 … Penalties: 9-80 … Rushing (Individual and team): Gabe Hanninen 14-183, Max Gunderson 13-93, Jake Green 4-8, Caden Yliniemi 8-69, Jackson Fields 7-27. 46-380 … Passing (Individual and team): Gunderson 5-8-127-0 ... Receiving (Individual and team): Fields 3-55, Hanninen 2-72 … Interceptions: Gunderson 2 …