Cardinals meet Bertha-Hewitt head-on
Cardinals are headed for the Minnesota State Championship
by John Grones | November 22, 2005
It would be easy to say that the Cromwell Cardinals have achieved above and beyond all expectations this entire high school football season. This has been obvious, but the players aren’t quite ready to talk about it yet, because they are now 13-0 and headed for the Minnnesota State 9-man championship game.
The consensus on the team is that they are not finished, and they showed just how special this team is by winning a state semi-final over the Bertha-Hewitt Bears on Friday, November 18 in the Metrodome. The Cardinals will now face the defending state champion Stephen-Argyle Storm for the state championship on Friday, November 25.
“It’s all excitement,” said senior captain Russell Johnson. “We’ve come so far undefeated. We just don’t want to be done.”
Russell was a key factor in the Cardinals’ incredible turnaround versus Bertha-Hewitt. He had 123 yards on 20 carries, had one reception for 35 yards, scored two touchdowns and recorded 10 tackles. However, early on things didn’t look good for Cromwell.
Bertha-Hewitt came out of the gates like they were going to run away with the game. The Bears opened the game with a very solid 10-play, 63-yard drive that ended with a Carl Amundson 32-yard pass to Nick Schwantz. A missed extra-point kick failed and Bertha-Hewitt took a 6-0 lead.
The Bears would tack on another score. Cromwell took a chance on fourth down and one yard to go, but failed, leaving the Bears with good field position.
Bertha-Hewitt then put together another impressive drive that took eight plays. This time, Amundson hit Martin Braaten for a 5-yard pass. The extra point was good and Bertha-Hewitt led by 13.
The turning point in the game occured during Cromwell’s next drive, and what a drive it was.
The drive started out on the Cardinals’ 15-yard line and went 85 yards. Two key third down plays ended with John Hedin pass receptions from Cody Hendrickson. Later, Cody scrambled 16 yards before being tackled by the face mask. This put the Cardinals at first and goal from the four.
Russell capped off the drive with a touchdown run. John added the extra-point kick and the Cardinals were back in the game.
“I knew we could get back in it,” said Cody Hendrickson, “but it would be tough.”
Get back in it they did. Two plays into the Bears’ next drive, Cody came up with a big play. He stripped the ball and recovered the ball himself. “He was kind of holding the ball out there like a loaf of bread,” said Cody.
Cromwell didn’t capitalize on this particular turnover, but they created another chance before halftime. Again, it was Cody with the big play. On third and nine for the Bertha-Hewitt Bears, a deflected pass bounced into the hands of Cody, who returned the ball 11 yards.
Cromwell then put together a 9-play drive that ended with fourth down and one yard to go on the 2-yard line. Cody snuck the ball over the goal line for a tie game with just seven seconds left on the clock. A fumble on the extra-point kick left the score tied at 13.
The second half
The two teams played even from this point, except for one key factor, a field goal. It was the first field goal of the season and only the second in 20 years. It occured at the 5:18 mark in the third quarter and was the first score of the second half.
“Jeff (Coach Gronner) brought it up on third down,” said assistant coach Dave Foster, who is also in charge of the kicking game. “I told him it will depend on how close. We actually picked up six yards, but I knew John (Hedin) would make it.”
Coach Foster, a former place kicker at Duluth Denfeld and Mesabi Community College, has been working with John for the past two seasons. “He picked up on it pretty quick,” noted coach Foster. “He’s still a work in progress, but he has become quite accurate. It takes some time.”
At this point, all coach Gronner needed was a little assurance that he (John) would make it. “He said that he wanted to get points on this drive,” added coach Foster and that is exactly what he got, a three-point lead.
With a three-point lead, the game would come down to a big play by Bertha-Hewitt and the ‘drive of the year’ by Cromwell.
With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Bertha-Hewitt began what Cromwell fans hoped would be their season ending drive. Unfortunately, Bertha-Hewitt receiver Michael Riewer snuck behind the Cromwell defense for a 57-yard touchdown reception. The score and an extra-point kick put the Bears ahead 20-16 with 2:53 remaining on the clock.
The final drive
The start of the drive was a disaster. The first rush went for a negative four yards and to top it off, the Cardinals were called for an illegal block. This put Cromwell on the 15-yard line with a first down and 24 yards to go. After an incomplete pass, Cody rushed for nine yards and that set up the first big play – a 20-yard pass completion to Levi Sheff in traffic. “It wasn’t an actual play in the book,” said Levi. “Coach Gronner gave us routes in the huddle. He told me to do a post to the inside. He told John to run a banana post.”
And Jordan Johnson... “He wasn’t supposed to go out for a pass. We almost collided on the play,” added Levi. Never-the-less, Levi caught the pass in traffic and held on for the 20-yard gain and a first down.
On the very next play, Russell broke several tackles and ran for 21 more yards for the second big play of the drive.
Cromwell then ran into a bit of resistance. They gained three yards and then lost three setting up a third and 10 on the Bertha-Hewitt 35-yard line. The Cardinals went to the air. Cody Hendrickson rolled out left and then threw back to a wide open Russell Johnson for the touchdown.
“I didn’t see him until the last second,” said Cody.
“It was a duck-ball,” said Russell. “The play wasn’t for me. I didn’t even know he would be looking my way.”
As it turns out, the play was meant for Russell. “Russ is actually the main target on that play,” said coach Gronner. “I told them in the huddle, look for Russ. It is the same play I ran to Levi earlier only on the opposite side.”
Well, it worked. Cody got flushed out of the pocket, pulled the defense to the left and threw back to Russell for the score.
After John Hedin kicked the extra-point, the difference was a field goal and Cromwell held on for the victory.
This article first appeared in the November 22, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.