All season long, Willmar's football team found success when starting games with the ball.
"We like to receive every single time because we like to the have the offense push the team and get the adrenaline going," senior quarterback Drey Dirksen said.
The formula led to a 62-20 blowout of St. Paul Johnson on Friday in a Class 4A semifinal at U.S. Bank Stadium. Willmar won the coin toss, elected to receive, scored first and scored often.
Willmar, ranked No. 8 in the final Associated Press poll, led 7-0 just four plays and 57 seconds into the game. Dirksen ran 25 yards for the first of seven Cardinals' touchdowns in which he had a hand (or leg).
"We had some fantastic plays on the first drive and it was fun," said Dirksen, who ran for the first three Willmar scores and threw for the next four. He finished with 90 yards rushing and 215 yards passing.
"That quarterback is fantastic," Johnson coach Eric Moberg said. "He moves well and he throws the ball well. There's a reason he's thrown for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards this season."
The Cardinals led 41-7 at halftime en route to a season-high in scoring. The victory sends Willmar (11-1) to the Prep Bowl to face the SMB Wolfpack at 4 p.m. Friday. The Cardinals finished second in 1973.
Three of Willmar's first four drives produced touchdowns. St. Paul Johnson (7-5), the first St. Paul public school to reach the state tournament since 1981, couldn't keep pace.
"The guys were still in shock of the huge stage that we were on and I think that's why we came out so flat in the first quarter," senior Luke Moberg said. "We weren't able to catch up from the mistakes we made."