Story: Cromwell-Wright wins semi-state, headed to Prep BowlNine man football at its most exciting. Fourth quarter rally allows Cromwell-Wright to stun Underwood 18-12
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
MINNEAPOLIS — In early October, Jeff Gronner wasn’t feeling too confident in his Cromwell-Wright football team.
In a sense, he was basically bad-mouthing his boys.
“There was no way we were going to win another game,” said Gronner about his Cardinals, who lost four of their first six contests. “No way, no way.”
What a difference a month-and-a-half makes. They’ve made complete 360.
Over the past six weeks, the Cardinals haven’t lost. They’ve barely trailed. Saturday morning they kept their unthinkable spurt alive, using an 18-point fourth quarter comeback rally to stun Underwood 18-12 in a Minnesota state Nine-Man semifinal at the Metrodome.
“It’s like day and night,” said Gronner afterward.
Following a slow first half of missed opportunities and a lackluster opening to the second frame, the Cardinals (8-4) were guided back by their senior standout, Jordan Suhonen. The elusive quarterback threw for a touchdown and ran for two more in the final 11 minutes, including the game-winner on a 9-yard scamper.
“What a game,” continued Gronner, 1992 Underwood graduate who led the Rockets to their first state tournament his season year. “I’ll never forget it.”
“It was unbelievable,” said Suhonen, who was last at the Metrodome in 2006 as the team’s waterboy. “I’ve never been a part of something like this.”
Suhonen athlete was also the savoir on defense, when he knocked away Underwood’s last-second heave to the end zone as time expired. The 5-foot-11, 171-pound defensive back knocked the ball out of Dalton Jampsa’s hands in the back of the end zone, as Underwood (10-3) tried using wide receiver Ben Woodman to throw to Jampsa, the quarterback, from the 3-yard line.
“Coach knew the play and told me it was coming,” recalled Suhonen. “It was slow motion to me. He had it, but then I just punched it out.”
“I knew the play, but I was a little nervous,” said Cromwell-Wright defensive coordinator Dave Foster following the emotional come-from-behind victory. “A switch has gone off with our defense. It is different guys every week. Our nine have been solid.”
Heading the Cardinals’ run-first offense, Suhonen finished the morning with 172 yards rushing on 32 carries. He first hit senior Tyler Sulkowski for a 40-yard TD, and then added a 26-yard score following a muffed punt recovery by senior defensive back Nick Berg.
Berg’s recovery was the clincher.
“I just wanted to get the ball,” said Berg. “I probably should have scooped it up and scored, but I just pounced on it. Our defense was awesome; just outstanding.”
Following the game-changing play, the Cardinals knotted up the score and eventually took over the lead on Suhonen’s keeper with 55 seconds left, again set up by a 40-yard run by Berg the play before.
“We have a great team,” said Suhonen. “We knew we could get here.”
Cromwell-Wright has been to 15 state tournaments and won three Prep Bowls, including crowns in 1995, ’96 and ’98. Friday, they’ll look to add to their trophy case when they clash with fourth-time state entrant Lanesboro (11-2) in Prep Bowl XXIX at 10 a.m. at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
The Cardinals expect to come in loose just like they have been. They’re not worried.
“I don’t even know where that is,” laughed Berg about Lanesboro. “It’s going to be a long week for sure, but we’re going to go play hard. It’s been a Cinderella season. I never would’ve imagined it.”
“It’s gravy,” said Gronner of the title game opportunity; the first for his Cardinals since 2005. “There’s one game left; and these kids deserve it. I’m so happy for them.”