Cardinals are back in the Minnesota State Football Playoffs
by John Grones | November 8, 2005
At the start of the season, very few looked at the Cromwell Cardinals football team as the favorite in Section 5. After reeling off eight straight wins for an undefeated regular season, most would admit they still weren’t sure.
Well, it happened. The Cromwell Cardinals extended their dream season with a 23-22 victory over the AlBrook Falcons and advanced to the Minnesota State Football Playoffs for the 12th time in school history.
“We came out and killed them in the first quarter,” said Russell Johnson who is the heart and soul of the Cardinal team. “Then I don’t know what happened.”
That first quarter Russell was talking about was one to remember. The Cardinals began the game by stuffing AlBrook, then recovering a fumble on the first possession.
Cromwell went right to the air and Cody Hendrickson hit Logan Shiflett for a 56-yard touchdown reception. Logan fought off a couple of tacklers and made a great after-the-catch run to the endzone.
The two-point run attempt failed but Cromwell had a 6-0 lead.
On AlBrook’s next possession, Cromwell stuffed them again. This time it was three plays and a punt.
Cromwell took over and struck again. Russell Johnson went to work behind a line that was winning the battle up front. Five plays later, Russell went in from 12 yards out. Cody then hooked up with Jordan Johnson for the 2-point conversion and a 14-0 lead.
At this point the wheels fell off for the offense, but the defense continued to play well and make big plays.
Coach Gronner was beside himself. “We started making too many mistakes... too many turnovers,” he said about the first half. “The big key was not converting on our opportunities and then the big punt block occured.”
One of those opportunities came after the Cardinal defense came up with a big safety. Logan Shiflett made the tackle, and in addition to the two points, they would get the ball back.
Unfortunately, they fumbled it right back. Later, in the second quarter the Cardinals found themselves pinned deep in their own territory. The goal was to punt the ball back and run down the 1:20 remaining on the clock. AlBrook had other plans. They blasted through the line and blocked John Hedin’s punt attempt. The ball rolled into the endzone and Falcon lineman Travis Kullhem recovered the ball for a touchdown.
Gus Anderson plunged in for the 2-point conversion and AlBrook was back in the game at 16-8.
“That gave them confidence,” said coach Gronner, “and then the worst thing that could possibly happen occured to start the second half.”
Cromwell fumbled the opening kickoff, and AlBrook capitalized on the opportunity with a fourth down, 28-yard touchtouchdown pass reception by Alex Lamb from Chad Wood. Fortunately for Cromwell, they stuffed the 2-point conversion.
If the game wasn’t exciting enough, then Bucky Richards bobbled the kick off, but picked it up and ran 83 yards down to the five-yard line. Russell Johnson took over from there and plunged over for the score. The extra-point kick was good, leaving the score 23-14 in favor of Cromwell.
AlBrook bounced back with a great drive. They dominated the line of scrimmage and went 55 yards in five plays. A 9-yard pass from Chad Wood to Alex Lamb resulted in a third quarter touchdown. John Tondryk added the 2-point run and the game was now within one point, 23-22.
That score remained, but there was plenty of drama throughout the rest of the third and all of the fourth quarter. Cromwell turned the ball over again late in the third; they stuffed AlBrook on defense and then killed another drive because of a penalty.
From that point on, it was basically ‘hold on’ and there were two significant plays that allowed Cromwell to come away with the victory. The first came early in the fourth quarter. The Cardinals were again forced to punt deep in their own territory, and again the punt was blocked. This time, AlBrook was called for a personal foul. According to coach Gronner, the defense can not hit the center snapper directly while he is hiking the ball. “The referee said that two players took him(Cody Hendrickson) out,” said coach Gronner.
The result was a first down and it allowed Cromwell some breathing room. After the Cardinals traveled down the field again, a holding call ended up stalling their drive.
AlBrook took over again. This time with 5:33 remaining and 60 yards to go. They managed to get one first down, but Cromwell stuffed them on a fourth and two. Tom Garske made the big play.
In the end, Cromwell had to punt one more time, but John Hedin intercepted a last ditch effort by the Falcons to preserve the win.
“We played really well defensively,” said Cromwell defensive coach Dave Foster. “Our pass defense was a little suspect, but we took them out of what they wanted to do. Prior to this game, 21 points was the most we had given up in a game. Tonight, we gave up 22.”
The best part is the fact that Cromwell had 23 points, enough for another Section Championship. “Give our kids credit,” said coach Gronner. “They made big stops when we needed them.”
This article first appeared in the November 8, 2005 issue of the Voyageur Press.