On the surface, Friday night’s Section 5 Nine-Man football final between Cromwell-Wright (10-0) and South Ridge (7-3) figures to be a one-sided affair. But don’t tell that to either of the coaches.
The teams met in Week Four of the season, on Sept. 23, with the Cardinals winning 48-8. And while Panthers coach Brent Johnson admits his team won’t be favored, his players don’t plan to simply roll over for Cromwell-Wright.
“For us, it’s about playing the game we know we can play,” Johnson said. “Yes, we realize that Cromwell will be favored, but our kids are fired up to get the opportunity to play them again.”
“They (South Ridge) have a solid defense; they do a good job of playing man-to-man and offensively they are good at creating matchups that work in their favor,” said Cromwell-Wright coach Jeff Gronner. “They played us as closely as anyone has this season in the first half when we played them the first time.”
The Cardinals are a powerhouse and everyone knows that, but Gronner refuses to take the Panthers lightly.
“South Ridge can beat us if we do things that are uncharacteristic of us,” Gronner said. “If we play like we can play, we will make it hard for them.”
The Panthers defeated Wrenshall 18-14 and Silver Bay 22-18 to reach the section final. Both coaches said South Ridge junior quarterback Nick Carlson will have a key role to play in the outcome.
“Nick does a nice job for us,” Johnson said. “We obviously need a big game from all our players but we need to figure out how to move the ball against them.”
“[Carlson] is mobile and we need to figure out how to keep him in the pocket,” Gronner said. “He extends plays with his feet and we have to watch that.”
Cromwell-Wright led 20-0 at halftime the first time the teams met but scored four touchdowns in the third quarter on the way to their win.
“We did a good job of being physical at the line of scrimmage and at the point of attack,” Gronner said. “South Ridge handled it pretty well but the third quarter was what did it for us.”
One of the reasons for Cromwell-Wright’s success is that the entire offensive line — Alex Striowski, Wyatt Susa, Matt Holm, Cedrek Sworski and Sam Kemper — has played together as a complete unit for two years, and several players have more varsity experience than that.
“They’ve seen every defense, they’ve seen every front, they communicate and they don’t miss many assignments,” Gronner said. “They work very well together as a unit and that is one reason for our success.”
Johnson knows full well that controlling the line of scrimmage and getting off to a fast start will be key for his team.
“We need to figure out a way to score quickly and stop their early momentum,” he said. “I read someplace that their first team defense hasn’t been scored on so we have to figure out how to make that happen.”
Gronner said the game will be decided in the trenches.
“It’s a physical game, blocking and tackling,” he said. “If you are better at that, you’ll probably win the game. But we aren’t showing up just expecting to win. They actually play the games for a reason.”
Johnson was more succinct.
“We will need to play a complete game,” he said.