Cardinals come up short in final, Panthers head to StateThe Panthers, winners of 10 straight, now face fifth-ranked Nevis in a Nine-Man state quarterfinal at 5 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State University’s Husky Stadium.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
DULUTH – Kody Karppinen made a bevy of plays against Cromwell-Wright last week, but the South Ridge quarterback only felt secure in the win when he took a knee in the final seconds.
It was then that the Cardinals’ storied comeback was done.
“Everyone says that Cromwell goes off in the playoffs. I was scared, pretty nervous,” said Karppinen, who helped the Panthers survive in a 20-12 Section 5 Nine-Man championship game victory over Cromwell-Wright last Friday evening at Public Schools Stadium in Duluth. “I just wanted to get my knee on the ground.”
Moments after Karppinen’s knee hit the turf, Cardinals players took a knee around Coach Jeff Gronner, ending a game they never led and committed a season-high five turnovers. Overall, Cromwell-Wright finished
“That was our most turnovers of the year, by a bunch,” Gronner said of his team’s four interceptions and one fumble into the end zone during their opening drive of the game. “That’s what we’ve done all season long, is take care of the ball. I was
Karppinen frustrated the Cardinals, as the 6-foot-1, 175-pound South Ridge junior ran for 59 yards on nine carries. He was 9-of-16 passing for 112 yards, including the game-winning 3-yard touchdown heave to cousin Drew Janke with four minutes left. Karppinen also spoiled a late Cromwell-Wright drive, intercepting quarterback Jared Hutar’s deflected pass at the 3-yard line with 1:28 remaining.
Karppinen, who muffed a punt earlier in that half, said he had to redeem himself. First-year Panthers Coach Tony DeLeon was confident in his full-time quarterback and part-time defensive back.
“He makes plays – that’s what he does for us,” DeLeon said. “He’s done it all year on offense and we’ve saved him on defense. But when you’re playing for the championship to go to State, you have to let your playmakers play. That’s what he did.”
South Ridge (10-1) led 12-0 at halftime on a 4-yard keeper by Karppinen, while on the next drive Brody Wilton darted 45 yards on a broken play. South Ridge’s special teams’ woes led Hutar to an eventual 1-yard plunge for the Cardinals, while he found receiver Josh Oliver on a 15-yard pass, making things 12-12 entering the fourth quarter.
Yet, after Karppinen hit Janke – who both returned this season after missing last year – Karppinen and Robby McQuade intercepted the pass from Hutar, before Karppinen knelt for the final
South Ridge finished with three turnovers.
“They gave us opportunities, we just couldn’t capitalize on them,” said Gronner, who won a state championship in 2010 to continue the Cardinals’ storied program’s 15 state appearances and four titles. “Our goal all season was to be here; we got here. It was a tight game between two good teams. We battled back. We were just a couple of plays away.”
The Panthers, winners of 10 straight, now face fifth-ranked Nevis in a Nine-Man state quarterfinal at 5 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State University’s Husky Stadium. During the team’s former AlBrook days, the football program made seven state trips between 1977 and 2004. The Falcons went winless in their final season, having since returned to State.
But DeLeon knows it’s nothing like the storied
“I’ve been around long enough to know the tradition of Cromwell,” he said. “That’s where we want to be. They’re a perfect role model. If we can build things even close to Cromwell, then we’ll be in good shape.”