Prep football: Carlton-Wrenshall spurred by playoff spurn

Carlton-Wrenshall's Sawyer Thorman tackles Ogilvie's Brian Nelson during the Raptors' home win Oct. 11. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal

The list of undefeated No. 5 seeds in the Minnesota high school football playoffs isn’t very long.


That’s it.

The Raptors (8-0), who merged Carlton and Wrenshall forces for the first time before this season, are seeded fifth in Section 7A after coaches ranked the eight teams in a postseason vote following the close of the regular season Wednesday.

The top four teams have a combined 11 defeats, including fourth-seeded North Woods (3-5), which hosts Carlton-Wrenshall in a quarterfinal at 6 p.m. today.


“When other teams don’t get a chance to see your football team play, this is what happens in a coaches’ vote,” Raptors co-head coach Jason Crane said. “Let’s say, I’m not surprised.”

This is Carlton-Wrenshall’s first season playing in the 11-man playoffs, having moved past the enrollment threshold when the schools formed a co-op.

That stigma of playing a nine-man schedule may have factored into the coaches’ decision — though this also marks North Woods’ first foray into the 11-man playoffs — giving the Raptors built-in incentive.

“It’s an excellent motivator for the team,” Crane said of the perceived slight. “We think we are a pretty good football team so we’ll use this as a motivating factor.”

The Raptors outscored eight opponents by an average of 36.4-7.5. The only close games were a 7-6 win over South Ridge in the season opener and 34-32 over fellow unbeaten Ogilvie. They held every other opponent to single digits in scoring, posting three shutouts along the way.

The Quality Results Formula on, which six of the eight Class A sections used to seed their teams, has Carlton-Wrenshall ranked third behind Deer River and Braham.

“It upset me at first; we did destroy basically every team that we played,” said Sawyer Thorman, a Carlton senior captain. “I know a lot of my teammates are flared up by that, and we can use that during games for energy.”

Crane said his team has been primarily using an 11-man lineup during the last two weeks of practice and has been prepping for it all season.


“We’ve been playing a lot of people this year,” the coach said. “We’ve been preparing people to step into key roles for our team, and we’re ready to hit the playoffs with an 11-man squad.

“We’re looking forward to it, it’s a great opportunity for our program.”

Carlton, which has 26 players on its roster (virtually the same as last season when it went 6-4), is adding two offensive tackles and two cornerbacks to its scheme.

That doesn’t affect Thorman, who despite weighing just 165 pounds plays center and middle linebacker. He’s excited to see how the expanded team does.

“Our team is doing really well with the change, and I think we’re going to be good competition,” Thorman said. “It’s nice to have more numbers because that’s basically what football is, it’s a numbers game.”


MLWR earns top seed

Moose Lake-Willow River is seeded first in Section 7AA, though the Rebels (6-2) lost 26-22 to second-seeded Crosby-Ironton two weeks ago.

The Rebels’ only other loss was 20-18 to Esko.

Defense has been a mainstay for MLWR, which posted three shutouts in the first half of the season.


The best longshot hope is likely International Falls (5-3), which snapped a 24-game losing streak midway through last season and is 8-4 since.


MIB seeks repeat

Mountain Iron-Buhl is the top seed and received the lone bye in Section 7 Nine-Man, which the Rangers won a year ago.

The Rangers (7-1), who reached the state semifinals in 2018, have a ramped-up offense that has scored at least 48 points in every victory this season. They scored 76 in the regular-season finale against Isle.

Second-seeded Silver Bay (6-2) has posted three shutouts this season, including 15-0 over Cherry. The third-seeded Tigers are the feel-good longshot of this section after not fielding a varsity team since 2015 and not winning a game since October 2013.

  • South Ridge (6-2) is the top seed and the only team with a winning record in Section 5.

The Panthers’ losses bookended their season -- 7-6 to Carlton-Wrenshall in the opener and 44-18 to North Central in the finale. In between, they posted three shutouts and won five games by at least 19 points.
Winless Floodwood, which forfeited three of its final four games due to a lack of healthy players, plans to be ready for tonight’s game at Isle.

For longshots, look no further than fifth-seeded Cromwell-Wright (3-5), which reached the Nine-Man state semifinals last season but have battled depth issues this fall.

Carlton-Wrenshall's Justin Swanson carries the ball with help from a block by teammate Randy Wimmer (11) during the Raptors' 34-32 home win over Ogilvie on Oct. 11. Dave Harwig / Pine Journal

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