ROCORI game bigger than most for Willmar Cardinals

Defending state champion Rocori is always an important opponent to Cardinals. The teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday at Hodapp Field.

102120.S.WCT.Willmar FB Jacob Streed.JPG
Willmar quarterback Jacob Streed trots into the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter on Oct. 10 at Delano. Streed threw for a pair of touchdowns in the Cardinals' win over Sauk Rapids in Week 2. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

As the Willmar football team wrapped up practice Monday, coach Jon Konold summed up the importance of Friday’s showdown with Rocori.

“We could lose every other game,” Konold said to the team, “but if we beat Rocori, I’d be… kind of happy.”

It offered the team a bit of levity in preparation for a tough matchup with the defending Class AAAA state champs.

“This is always a big one,” Konold said. “Last year they took it to us. The year before, we did the same to them. Typically, it’s a pretty hard-fought battle. We put the same amount of emphasis on every game, but this one’s always bigger. … They always have good teams and we want to be able to compete with them and give our best effort.”

Friday will be the Cardinals’ home opener and will be between the last two Section 8AAAA champions. Along with the Spartans’ state championship in 2019, Willmar was in the state finals in 2018. Rocori beat Willmar in 2019, 42-0. Willmar was the winner in 2018, 46-0.


Both teams enter Friday’s game ranked in Class AAAA, with Rocori fifth and Willmar 10th.

“They’re solid, like always,” Konold said. “They’ve got very good athletes and they’re very aggressive.”

Any win against Rocori is going to be earned. Konold put it simply: the Spartans don’t beat themselves.

“That’s Rocori’s M.O.: they always force turnovers or make you make mistakes,” Konold said. “That’s the thing you have to drill into your kids. Play the right way, take care of the football, make the plays when you can and make them turn the ball over and make the mistakes.”

That will be doubly important for Willmar after a 35-34 double-overtime win against Sauk Rapids that saw the Storm come back from a 20-7 deficit. The outcome came down to a stop on a 2-point conversion on the final play..

“We got to finish,” Konold said. “We had opportunities (against Sauk Rapids) in the fourth quarter when we were up 20-7 to put the game away. We had the ball two times in really good field position. We didn’t. We didn’t execute that very well offensively. We need to limit our mistakes, we need to take care of the football better and we need to tackle better. … We’re making plays but it seems like every three or four plays, we make a mistake and that costs us.”

This year’s Rocori squad has been led early on by its defense. Three players — Drew Schneider, Brady Blattner and Luke Humbert — have 20-plus tackles. And the unit has given the Spartans a 7-1 advantage in turnovers with five forced fumbles (four by Humbert) and a pair of interceptions.

“They always have guys that are hungry and that are tough,” Konold said of the defense. “They really tackle well. Up front, they may be undersized a little bit but they’re always super tough. And their secondary always has skilled kids that’ll make plays.”


On offense, Rocori has jumped on teams early, out-scoring opponents 30-0 in the first quarter. The Spartans jumped out to a 24-0 first-half lead last week against Waseca, the top-ranked team in Class AAA. Rocori went on to win, 30-20. The game was put together in short order after Rocori’s original opponent, Chisago Lakes, canceled due to a move to distance learning.

Spartans quarterback Camdyn Bauer has completed 15 of 24 passes for 274 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. He also leads the team with 59 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Two of Bauer’s passing touchdowns have gone to Tucker Haakonson, who has eight catches for 208 yards.

“They’re kind of a mixed bag of some things,” Konold said. “They want to run the ball outside and get to the edges. And they like to get the ball to number 10 (Haakonson).”

Konold added, “I know a couple things: They always (have) got good speed and they’re always aggressive. They may not be the biggest guys but they’re going to be tough and well-coached.”

Friday’s game begins a stretch where three of Willmar’s next four opponents are ranked. After Rocori, the Cardinals host top-ranked Hutchinson. After Week 5’s home finale against Big Lake, Willmar closes the season at fourth-ranked Becker.

Section 8-4A Champions the past decade:

ROCORI 2011, 2014-17, 2019


Detroit Lakes 2012, 2013

Willmar 2018

102120.S.WCT.Willmar FB Joseph Price.JPG
Willmar defensive lineman Joe Price (53) chases down Delano quarterback Cade Bruett on Oct. 10 at Delano. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

Joe Brown is a sports reporter for the West Central Tribune.

He can be reached via email at: or his office number: 320-214-4332.
What To Read Next
Get Local