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SECTION 5 9-MAN FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS: Polar Bears crush Cardinals hopes for state run

Cromwell Junior Eli Warpula jumps over Floodwood player during the 7AA semifinals Saturday evening in Cromwell. Photo by Spencer Nynas for the Pine Journal1 / 3
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Junior Wyatt Susa gets held back by Floodwood player during the 7AA semifinals Saturday evening in Cromwell. Photo by Spencer Nynas for the Pine Journal3 / 3

CROMWELL—Noah Thompson was a sophomore on Floodwood’s 2013 football team, one that finally broke through for the small school’s first-ever state tournament trip.

Now a senior, the Thompson-led Polar Bears are still breaking through things, and hoping for the same fate.

Thompson and fifth-seeded Floodwood are seeking a state encore if they can win the Section 5 Nine-man final Friday at Esko Stadium, just six days after a 22-14 upset of top-seeded Cromwell-Wright in last Saturday’s semifinals at Cromwell.

As if being their school’s biggest rival wasn’t enough motivation, the Polar Bears (7-3) were blitzed 46-8 in a Sept. 18 loss to the Cardinals (8-2) on the same Cromwell field.

Poised, inspired and much healthier a month later, Floodwood fueled behind their one-two punch of smash mouth runners Thompson and junior Dylan Graff and shocked many in attendance on the chilly night.

The Polar Bears did the same in 2007, upending No. 1 Cromwell-Wright 12-8 and stunningly ending their season.

“They were the better team tonight,” said Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner, noting he felt “numb” at season’s end. “Credit Floodwood. They executed their game plan to perfection.”

That was to pound their pair of bruising backfield mates from start to finish, and limit the Cardinals’ ball possession.

And much to coach Larry Heggedahl’s liking, it’s exactly what the Polar Bears did, leading 8-7 at halftime and eventually hanging on among some late-game fireworks.

As Cromwell-Wright’s Eli Warpula ran in a 40-yard touchdown in the first quarter, Graff capped a pair of yard-munching, clock-wasting drives with second- and third-quarter scores of his own, as Floodwood looked in control.

But with the Polar Bears’ lead cut to 16-14 following a Zion Smith TD run in the fourth, Cromwell-Wright couldn’t capitalize on a Dillon Hoff interception, as they snapped the ball over Smith’s head just five seconds later for a turnover.

Thompson ensued to capitalize with his lone score — a 16-yard run in which he ran over Cardinal Nic Johnson, who left the game — to make it 22-14 with only 2:10 remaining.

The Polar Bears, next facing Silver Bay, went on to win, shake hands, and go sliding on their bellies in the end zone.

“They brought it together,” Heggedahl said, “as a team.”

“It feels amazing,” added Thompson, at 6-foot-2, 230 pounds. “I just want to go back and win the section title now.”

The Cardinals wanted a 17th title, but now have to wait.

“It stings,” said Gronner. “They were just a little more physical than we were and made more plays than we did.”

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