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Same song, second verse

Carlton senior Nate Nilsen tries to slip past Cromwell-Wright defenders on a run during Tuesday night’s playoff game in Cromwell Tuesday evening. Dan Saletel/ 1 / 4
Cromwell-Wright’s Elijah Warpula is forced out of bounds by Carlton’s Glenn Schubitzke during Tuesday night’s playoff match between the Carlton Bulldogs and the Cromwell-Wright Cardinals. Dan Saletel/ 2 / 4
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Just over three weeks ago, Carlton’s football team traveled to Cromwell to meet the undefeated Cardinals, and lost 59-0.

Tuesday night, the same two teams met on the same field in the first round of the Section 5 Nine-Man tournament, and the Cardinals again won by shutout, this time by 55-0.

“They (Carlton) were missing their best players but we were missing a couple of kids too,” Cromwell-Wright coach Jeff Gronner said. “We got them early and took care of our business.”

It’s not Carlton so much as the fact that the Cardinals are just that good.

The first time the teams met, Cromwell-Wright scored 26 points in the first quarter. They scored 20 points on Tuesday night in the opening 12 minutes. Quarterback Zion Smith threw the first two of his four scoring passes on the night in the first quarter, hitting Kannon Korpela from 14 yards out and Alek Strikowski from 10 yards before Dillon Hoff’s 3-yard run made it 20-0.

In the second quarter, Smith hit Strikowski with a 6-yard touchdown pass, Cameron Cahoon scored on a 24-yard run and Nic Johnson made it 41-0 at halftime with an 80-yard touchdown blast.

In the third quarter, Smith hit Cahoon with a 26-yard scoring pass and A.J. House capped the scoring with a 24-yard touchdown run. Cromwell-Wright’s reserves played after that and kept Carlton out of the end zone.

“We had a few lapses on defense tonight but we have to be happy overall,” Gronner said. “We aren’t used to playing on Tuesday and no disrespect for Carlton but it’s hard to get up for an eighth seed that hasn’t won a game. Overall, I’m happy with how we executed and put up points early.”

The Cardinals (9-0) have outscored opponents 487-58, including an amazing 340-16 in their last six games. Cromwell-Wright faces fourth-seeded Floodwood (6-3), in Saturday's 1 p.m. section semifinal in Cromwell.

Gronner’s starters still have yet to play a down in the fourth quarter this season — which might lead to concerns about stamina in the event they’ll need to put four quarters out there sometime soon.

“It’s hard to bring them out for a full game because we really haven’t played anyone close to us,” Gronner said. “Conditioning might be an issue, but we work on that in practice so I’m not concerned about it. They (the players) will be ready when it happens. They’ll just have to suck it up. All you can do is condition them the best you can but they can’t play in the fourth quarter because it’s running up the score.”

And, as if the Cardinals need any more incentive, they are facing the team which knocked them out of the playoffs — at the same stage — last season.

“They beat us last year,” Gronner said. “If we don’t come ready, any team can beat us. We pounded them in the regular season (42-0 in a Sept. 30 game in Floodwood), but they are a different team and so are we from last year. It’s still that type of scenario.”

That said, the Cardinals believe — and it’s hard to argue with them — that the only team in Section 5 which can knock them out of the playoffs are the Cardinals themselves.

“In our section, if we play like we can, we’ll be OK, if we take care of our business,” Gronner said. “We are our own worst enemy in our section.”

Yet the possibility of revenge against the Polar Bears does motivate the players.  “I think there’s some unfinished business there,” Gronner said. “Some of the players have a bitter taste in their mouths over how last season ended so we will use that.”

Gronner is also careful when answering questions about where this Cromwell-Wright team might rank among the school’s better units.

“They have the potential to be one of the best,” he said. “The season is still going. How they end up will determine where they rank. If they have a successful (playoff) run, they will be one of the best.