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Smith is a smart choice for Cardinals

CARLTON—Zion Smith said his favorite subject in school is math. Not surprising for a straight-A student.

It also wasn’t surprising to see that the Cromwell-Wright quarterback/linebacker had a hand in every single point the Cardinals scored in their 40-6 romp over Carlton in a District 9 White nine-man football contest during a dreary and damp evening at Jim Erickson Field last Friday in Carlton.

Smith started the game between the Highway 210 neighbors by capping his team’s first drive with a 1-yard touchdown run. He went on to throw for four touchdowns — to teammates Eli Warpula, Dillon Hoff and Samuel Kemper — while the 6-foot-1, 205-pound signal-caller also pitched the ball to Warpula, who then flung it to Nic Johnson for a score.

As if that weren’t enough duties for Smith, he also added a two-point conversion early, and was the holder on kicker Carlos Lemoine’s 38- and 25-yard third-quarter field goals.

After a game that ninth-ranked Cromwell-Wright (5-1) led 34-0 at halftime, scored the first 40 points and brought the final quarter into running time, Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner said Smith’s abilities are nice, but he’s even better elsewhere.

“He’s the smartest football player I’ve ever coached,” said Gronner, now in his 18th season. “He’s a good runner and an equally good passer, but by far, he just understands football. He knows what’s going on out there. He makes things easy.”

With much of his family tree a part of the Cromwell-Wright program, football has always been something Smith enjoyed. He began playing in the program’s youth level, watching high school games, and was named Gronner’s varsity starter under center as a freshman. He loves it all.

Putting on his red and white No. 8 jersey means a lot to the high school junior.

“It’s just an honor,” said Smith, who has accounted for a team-high 17 touchdowns this fall. “My line is great and my running backs help me out a lot. They make the holes for me.”

For Carlton (1-5), losers of five straight now, it was parents night and their seniors’ last game on their home field. Marshall Bennett’s fourth-quarter plunge was the Bulldogs’ lone score, but Coach Erik Hanson’s team never quit battling.

Depth-plagued Carlton only had 17 players suited up.

“Cromwell is a traditional football team,” Hanson said. “But like I told the kids, we never gave up and kept fighting.”

The Cardinals, meanwhile, are fighting for perhaps their 17th state tournament trip in October. Smith will be vital.

“He’s our team leader and he’s our guy,” said Gronner. “He makes me look like a better coach than I actually am.”


There are plenty of other talented teenagers in our county to be watching for on the gridiron.

One to follow is Jaxson Turner of Esko, as the running back scampered for 193 yards on 11 carries to lead the 5-1 Eskomos to 22 first-quarter points en route to a 36-0 shutout win at Pine City last Friday. This comes just two weeks after the Preseason Mr. Football candidate's sideline-to-sideline, ankle-breaking punt return against Crosby-Ironton surfaced on For real, check it out. It's worth every second.

Speaking of the Class AAA seventh-ranked Eskomos, winners of three straight, they next travel to Mora on Friday to challenge the 5-1 Mustangs, which have won four in a row and are receiving votes in the state polls. Any diehard Eskomo fans should be in attendance.

Cloquet, now 2-4 and losers of three consecutive games following their 34-14 loss at Proctor last week, should have an interesting matchup at .500 Hibbing Friday. The Lumberjacks last lost to the Bluejackets in 2004 — during my senior year — but this one is a coin flip.

Mighty Moose Lake-Willow River meanwhile, got back to its power-running ways when the Rebels racked up 567 yards of offense, including seven touchdowns on the ground — three from Bryceton Butkiewicz and two each from Thomas Hansen and Dillon Louzek — in their 50-28 home victory over Crosby-Ironton last Friday. This Friday, ML-WR, Class AA's eighth-ranked team, faces Aitkin, but the following week, Oct. 9, the Rebels host unbeaten Hermantown in Willow River. Two years ago, ML-WR won in a lightning storm, while last season, the Hawks snapped the Rebels' previous 62-game regular-season winning streak. Go watch.

Interesting facts: ML-WR coach Dave Louzek now has 162 career victories. First-year Barnum coach Mike Klyve is still seeking his first for the 0-6 Bombers. South Ridge is 4-2 and has a rare position combination for senior Cole Watkins — who at 6-foot-1, 250 pounds — plays center, linebacker and running back.