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STATE FOOTBALL SEMIFINALS: In a day of firsts, Cleveland clips Cardinals

MINNEAPOLIS — Carter Kopet threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns, while dashing for 130 yards and two more scores on the ground to lead Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran to a 38-29 victory over Cromwell-Wright in a historic Nine-Man state semifinal football contest Thursday morning in Minneapolis.

The 2-hour, 28-minute affair was worth every second of watching, as the Clippers and Cardinals collided in the state's first-ever high school football game at the Minnesota Vikings' state-of-the-art U.S. Bank Stadium.

The listed 66,655-seat football palace was far from filled between a pair of small schools who combine for a whopping enrollment of 209, but the $1.1 billion venue hosted nothing short of a must-see matchup made for the record books.

Speaking of record books, Kopet, Cleveland's do-it-all junior quarterback, entered Thursday's contest as Minnesota's all-time leader in touchdown passes with 125. His three strikes through the air against Cromwell-Wright only added to that mountainous mark, but more importantly, sent the unbeaten Clippers (13-0) sailing into next Friday's Prep Bowl XXXV in just their cooperative program's third-ever state tournament appearance. 

Conversely, Cromwell-Wright was making their tiny town's 17th state showing, seeking their program's ninth championship game offing. The Cardinals (12-1) scored first and exchanged TDs with the Clippers once in the opening quarter and twice more each in the second. That said, Cromwell-Wright corralled a slim 22-20 advantage by the break, never trailing.

The third quarter however, belonged to Cleveland. The Clippers counted all 11 points, kick-started by Kopet's athletic plunge into the purple-painted end zone, which gave his team their first lead of the day at 26-22 midway through the frame. Moments after the elusive signal-caller's second score with his shifty legs, Kopet was at it again, adding a two point conversion to make things 28-22 in favor of a blaze-orange sea of Cleveland Brown-looking fans for the Clippers.

Cleveland never trailed after that, as kicker Aaron Salmon knocked in a 25-yard field goal also during the third, while the strong-armed Kopet connected with Jaiden Zishka in the fourth. Kopet's favorite target, sure-handed classmate Austin Polsky, finished with 112 yards on nine receptions, two of which scored and one in the second quarter where his large leap and one-handed snare while tight roping the end zone sideline made for many photographers' picture of the day.

"These guys love big plays," Clippers co-coach Erik Hermanson said.

The Cardinals were centered by Zion Smith, as the senior finished with 93 yards on 6-of-17 passing and a score, as well 89 yards rushing and a TD of which was a 1-yarder to bring Cromwell-Wright within 31-29 just 43 seconds into the fourth.

But after causing Cleveland to turn the ball over on downs late in the last quarter — giving the Cardinals a chance to win — Smith fumbled on the very next snap. Cleveland cashed in with Kopet's final TD pass just three plays later.

Cromwell-Wright finished the day with five turnovers, including four interceptions, three of which were by Smith who entered the day with gaudy 31-0 TD-to-interception ratio. The final pick coming from the Cardinal arm of running back Eli Warpula, was grasped between the hands of you know who — Kopet.

"Carter Kopet is really good," said Cardinals coach Jeff Gronner of the 6-foot-1, 175-pounder who now has 128 career TD tosses, including 51 this season — just five shy of another state best.

"He makes me look smart," Hermanson cracked.