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Bulldog brothers cruise past Wrens

Wrenshall's Eli Krisak makes a tackle on Carlton's Kaleb Siiter during the Friday, Sept. 7, nine-man football game at Jim Erickson Field. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal1 / 4
Carlton's Matthew Santkuyl escapes from Wrenshall's Randy Wimmer on a first-quarter touchdown run Friday, Sept. 7. Matthew and his brother, Jacob, each scored four touchdowns for Carlton. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal2 / 4
Wrenshall's Randy Wimmer brushes off a Carlton tackler during an 83-yard kick return touchdown. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal3 / 4
Carlton tight end Ben Soderstrom completes a diving catch in front of Wrenshall's Andrew Silverio. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal4 / 4

CARLTON—While combining for nearly 300 yards of total offense and eight touchdowns in last Friday's football game against arch-rival Wrenshall, Carlton brothers Jacob and Matt Santkuyl were asked who played better.

"He took the first half and I took the second," said Jacob, a senior who had 153 yards receiving and three touchdowns, as well as two interceptions and a 74-yard kickoff return.

Matt, a junior, was not to be outdone by his older bro.

Matt rushed for 114 yards and three TDs, and added 22 yards receiving and another score in the Bulldogs' 60-14 bashing of the Wrens last Friday, Sept. 7, at a crowded Jim Erickson Field in Carlton.

Several hundred Bulldog fans dressed in blue and white joined a hundred more in the Wrens' orange and black to pack the sidelines last week on a picture-perfect evening. The Nine-Man rivalry between these pair of tiny towns just four miles apart is something many residents don't miss. It's a nostalgic small-school clash, but filled with big-time plays.

Especially for Carlton's No. 17 (Matt Santkuyl) and No. 86 (Jacob Santkuyl).

"This was the date I had on the calendar," said Matt, who scored all three of the game's touchdowns in the first two quarters, giving Carlton an 18-0 lead by halftime.

While Matt had rushing scores of 66 and 5 yards, as well as a 24-yard TD catch via quarterback Ryan Gray, Jacob Santkuyl shined in the second half.

Jacob hauled in TD tosses of 66, 50 and 30 yards in that frame, the second of which capped an incredibly entertaining span of four touchdowns between both teams — in just 49 seconds.

One Carlton fan said in the crowd: "When it's going your way, it's going your way."

The elder Santkuyl later added his last score of the night when the fleet-footed receiver raced for his lengthy kickoff return to cap a 42-point half and 48-point, running-time victory — their first over their neighboring nemesis in recent memory.

"I don't think I've ever beaten Wrenshall in football," said Jacob of the years of losses to the Wrens, including last fall, 64-0 and 57-14. "And I don't think we've ever had 60 points."

But last Friday they did, scoring nine touchdowns in all three facets of the game: offense, defense and special teams. Gray and the Santkuyl siblings did their thing, along with junior "Big Ben" Soderstrom, who intercepted Wrenshall QB Randy Wimmer and rumbled 40 yards into the end zone to roars from third quarter fans.

The sizable 6-foot-4 Soderstrom also caught a couple passes on the night from — you got it — the do-it-all, Matt Santkuyl.

Gray was 6-of-13 passing, totaling 180 yards and four scores through the air.

"They've got the whole package," said Carlton coach Jason Crane, in his first season at the helm, taking over for Erik Hanson.

Crane's son, junior Kaden, is the starting quarterback, but suffered a sprained ankle Sept. 5 at practice. Thus, his classmate Gray filled in. The 6-foot, right-hander was incredible.

"I had all the time I needed," said Gray, crediting his offensive line.

"He may not be the backup anymore," added Coach Crane of Gray.

That honesty, mixed with the willingness to be an aggressive play-caller and trusting his athletes has Carlton (1-0) looking their best in years — or even decades. Crane has coached many of these Bulldogs in youth sports growing up and now, it's their time to star together on Friday nights.

"We can be the underdogs this year," said Gray, with plenty of celebratory cell phone photos being taken by players and fans in the background. "Everyone's got the heart to take this as far as we can go.

"We were awesome tonight," continued Gray.

To prove it, the 48-year-old Crane and his assistants were tallying up statistics until they shut off the field lights. They huddled around a truck bed and added numbers well after everyone had left.

But that's fine for the rookie Crane. Carlton had been waiting for an evening like this for years.

"Both teams care about this game — they're passionate about it," said Crane. "This was a good game. But it can't end here."

Wrenshall (0-2) was led by the junior Wimmer, who had both of their scores, the first of which came on an 83-yard kickoff return in a wildly-scoring third quarter. Senior running back Jared Kelley added 139 yards on 17 carries, but was held without a touchdown against a stingy Carlton defense that also intercepted Wimmer three times.

Wrens coach Jeremy Zywicki was unavailable for comment.

Wrenshall, with just 14 players on its roster, hosts its home opener Friday, Sept. 14, against Onamia, at 7 p.m.

Carlton meanwhile, at 29 players, remains busy, traveling to Isle on Friday, Sept. 14, at 7 p.m.

They play Littlefork-Big Falls Monday, Sept. 17, in a game that was suspended from Aug. 31 due to severe weather. The Bulldogs, leading that game 10-8, will finish the second half of play beginning at 4:30 p.m. next Monday.

And they only hope to continue where they left off.

“We were ready. We were prepared,” said Matt Santkuyl of their memorable win over the Wrens. “We kept our foot on the gas.”

“This is huge,” added Gray. “I don’t know if anyone even knows when the last time we beat Wrenshall was.”

Now, they won’t ever forget.