Three games into the high school football season, the Cromwell-Wright Cards have begun to separate themselves from the rest of the nine-man football teams in the area. Entering Friday night's game against undefeated McGregor, the Cards were ranked No. 1 in the state. They lived up to that billing by throttling the Mercs 55-8.
"I knew coming into the season that we had big play ability because of the speed of our skill position players," explained head coach Jeff Gronner. "The execution with which we are performing at on offense was a little unexpected, but it has been very satisfying, especially with our line play."
Against McGregor, the Cards scored 42 points prior to halftime and were never threatened by a team that had received honorable mention status in the state polls.
"The key to our success so far is preparing every day to get better," Gronner said. "We have a group of guys that put so much time in to prepare for this football season that they are locked into most every practice, and they have been very focused to start all four of our games so far."
Jaden Gronner scored to open the game on a four-yard touchdown pass from Drew Libbon early in the first quarter. That was followed by a Libbon six-yard touchdown run and a Kannon Korpela 20-yard touchdown pass from Libbon to make it 21-0 after the first quarter. Enrico Francato kicked the extra point on all three touchdowns.
The second quarter saw Nic Johnson bust loose on a 57-yard touchdown gallop which was followed by a two-point conversion run by Libbon. Before halftime, the Cards added a Korpela 30-yard fumble recovery for a score and Johnson went on another 54-yard touchdown romp making the score 42-0 following one more extra-point kick by Francato.
"I was a little surprised by the halftime score," said Gronner. "We were playing at another speed level that I hadn't seen on defense yet and that was nice to see. Having the wind in the first quarter and then forcing them to punt into the wind three times early in the game helped give us very short fields to work with."
The Cardinals have had an impressive number of players make a step-up in play over a year ago. Included in that group are Tanner Varo — an offensive and defensive lineman who is described by Gronner as "undersized, but strong and with a high motor that is fun to watch." Jaden Gronner is also undersized as a lineman, but is having a great start to the season and is the team's leading receiver, fourth-leading tackler and the team's leading sack artist. Isaac Shelton — who Gronner says has not gotten a lot of touches — is having a very good season at the receiver position and at defensive back.
"Obviously our main guys that touch the ball are Libbon, Johnson, Korpela and Cameron Cahoon and they have been the four best athletes on field, which is what makes our offense and defense go so well," Gronner said. "Korpela has a nose for the football on defense and Libbon is doing a marvelous job at quarterback for a first-year starter. Cahoon is such a powerful runner and Johnson has added some power this year to go along with his lightning fast speed."
A search on Max Sports shows that Korpela is the state's top-ranked tackler in Nine-Man and 11-Man football. Korpela is also ranked in the top 10 in the country, and a number of other Cards are also ranked highly in the state of Minnesota in the tackle department.
The lone score by McGregor came late in the game with the Cardinal starters nestled on the side lines. Another interesting stat is the fact that through four games, the Cardinals' first-team defense has yet to give up a score.
Cromwell-Wright will be at home again Friday night to take on the Carlton Bulldogs. Carlton won its first game of the season, but has fallen on hard times since, losing three straight games to Wrenshall, Isle and Ogilvie.