By Brady Ambrose
To say that the Caledonia football team is in familiar surroundings might be the understatement of the year.
For the two-time defending state champions, another trip to the Metrodome is all part of the plan, and if Friday night’s game is any indication, it might be a pretty fun trip. Led by a suffocating defense and a potent running attack, Caledonia improved to 11-0 on the season with a 27-6 spanking of #4 ranked Sibley East at Burnsville High School to advance to Thursday’s Class AA state semifinals.
The Caledonia formula, shutting down the opposing offense and eating up yards and the clock with a strong and diverse running attack, worked to near perfection when the Warriors held the Wolverines and 1,000 yard rusher Erik Danielson to six points, 26 below their season average. Giving up just 4.7 points per game, Caledonia held Danielson to 92 rushing yards on 14 carries, including a 35 yard scamper in the second quarter. Other than that run Danielson, who had scored five times during the season on runs of 50 yards or more, gained just 57 yards on 13 carries the rest of the night for a 4.38 yard-per-carry average. Caledonia head coach Brent Schroeder said, “I thought they were a real good ball club, well coached and big and physical. It was a real chess match between us.”
For the second straight week junior Ryan Pitts led the Warriors rushing, gaining 168 yards on 18 carries for a 9.33 yard-per-carry average, including big runs yards on Caledonia’s first scoring drive. Starting at the Sibley 39 yard line the Warriors opened up their second possession of the game. Brad Strub gained five yards on first down to the 36, and on the next play Pitts chewed up 16 yards to the 20 and on then gained 15 more yards on the next two plays to put Caledonia in business at the five yard line. Quarterback Alex Varney then scored from four yards out to put the Warriors up 7-0 with 6:58 left in the first quarter.
Sibley was forced to punt on their next possession and the Warriors took over at their own six yard line. On third and three Pitts gained 13 yards to give Caledonia some breathing room at the 26, but the Sibley defense held and the Warriors were forced to punt. The first quarter ended with the Wolverines on a nine play drive to the Caledonia 15, and Sibley scored three plays into the quarter on a three yard run by Brandon Ashton, but the extra point was no good and Caledonia held onto the lead at 7-6.
The Warriors scored again near the end of the quarter. Starting at their own 36 with 5:05 left, Varney gained seven yards to the 48 and then hit Adam Buttell with a completion to the Sibley 46. Varney then raced 19 yards to the 27 and three plays later hit Buttell again with a completion to the 20. On fourth and three Caledonia looked like they were going to go for it but called a timeout. With 1:59 left Varney dropped back and hit Levi Schmitz in the right corner of the end zone with a 21 yard touchdown pass on fourth down that put the Warriors up 14-6. “Alex did a nice job. He had some key runs at the right time. The line did a good job and he didn’t force any turnovers,” Schroeder said. “Coach Fruechte does a good job with the offense.”
Caledonia extended their lead to two touchdowns with another score near the end of the third quarter. Starting at their own 36 Pitts rumbled for 47 yards on second and eight to the Sibley 15. After a holding penalty pushed Caledonia back to the 20 Varney scored on a quarterback keeper from 14 yards out to put the Warriors in control at 20-6 with 1:15 left in the third quarter. The Wolverines moved into Caledonia territory to start the fourth quarter when Sibley quarterback Brody Rodning hit Tyler Bates with a 28 yard completion and then hit Shayne Danielson with a completion to the Warrior 40 yard line. But three plays later Rodning was picked off by Buttell at the Caledonia 18 yard line.
Pitts then put together a great string of runs. On first down at the 18 Pitts picked up 33 yards to the Sibley 49 and on the next play gained 10 to the 39. On his next carry Pitts gained eight more yards and then added an 11 yard run on fourth and two at the 31 to the Wolverine 20. Facing a third and 13 at the 23 Pitts gained 18 yards to the five and two plays later Varney sealed the deal with a one yard run to put the Warriors up 27-6 and end the Sibley East season. “He said his lungs aren’t quite 100 percent,” Schroeder said of Pitts, “But I think he’s just about there.”
The Warriors will now play BOLD Thursday at 11:30 a.m. at the Metrodome. The Warriors are also undefeated at 11-0 after a 23-20 double-overtime win over Holdingford at St. Cloud State Thursday night.
First downs 12 13
Rushes-Yards 33-113 40-237
Comp-Att-Int 10-23-2 10-14-1
Passing yards 141 79
Total yards 254 316
Penalties-Yards 3-20 5-45
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 1-0
Rushing: SE—Danielson 14-92, Ashton 6-22, A. Bates 10-14, Rodning 3-(minus 15); C—Pitts 19-168, Varney 12-52, Strub 8-17, Swindell 1-0.
Passing: SE—Rodning 9-20-1-130, Bullert 1-3-1-11; C—Varney 10-14-1-79.
Receiving: SE—T. Bates 7-92, Haefs 1-29, S. Danielson 2-20; C—Buttell 7-39, Schmitz 2-28, Pitts 1-12.
Records: SE 9-2; C 11-0.
SIBLEY EAST 6
Sibley East 0 6 0 0 — 6
Somerset 7 7 6 7 — 27
C—Varney 4 run (Ashbacher kick) 6:58
SE—Ashton 2 run (kick failed) 11:32
C—Schmitz 21 pass from Varney (Ashbacher kick) 1:53.
C—Varney 15 run (kick failed) 1:15
C—Varney 1 run (Ashbacher kick) 1:24.