The Caledonia Warriors will be playing for their third straight Class AA state title after a thrilling, 26-24 win over BOLD. in the semi-finals Nov. 15 at the Metrodome.
Brad Strub’s 21 yard run on third and 14 at the Warriors own 40 yard line – with less than three minutes to play – proved to be the difference after BOLD had pulled within two points with five minutes to play on Tyler Rock’s touchdown from five yards out.
Strub’s run gave Caledonia a huge first down and kept the clock running, but BOLD had a final chance after Caledonia was forced to punt. “I told him the other day that was the play of the year,” said Caledonia coach Brent Schroeder. “He got two great blocks on the run; it just comes down to the kids doing what they are supposed to do.”
Starting at their own 11 yard line with 1:39 to play, Rock hit Trent Athmann with a strike to the 24 and a first down. But two plays later Caledonia’s Shane Sheehan tackled Athmann for a 10 yard loss back to the 15, and on the next play Rock was called for intentional grounding, forcing a fourth and 25 at the BOLD four yard line.
Adam Buttell then ended BOLD’s hopes when he knocked down Rock’s pass with 26 seconds left to play and Caledonia took over on downs and ran out the clock, sending them to the state championship game Nov. 23 at 1 p.m. against Moose Lake/Willow River.
The matchup will be a repeat of last year’s state championship, which the Warriors won 27-0. Schroeder said, “It hasn’t been easy in the playoffs, that’s for sure. I think we didn’t play that great. Defensively we never did get them completely figured out. I give BOLD a lot of credit.”
Caledonia took a 7-0 lead on quarterback Alex Varney’s 46 yard touchdown strike to Levi Schmitz with 1:28 left in the first quarter. BOLD tied the game on their next possession when Rock and Athmann teamed up on an eight yard scoring pass that capped a 15 play drive by BOLD to end the first half.
Caledonia regained the lead on their opening possession of the third quarter as Schmitz blocked a BOLD punt in the end zone and recovered it for a touchdown, but on their next play from scrimmage BOLD scored on a 60 yard run by Rock to give BOLD a 14-13 lead.
“The guys have been razing Schmitz,” Schroeder chuckled, “but he’s just being a good football player. They are calling him magic man and stuff like that.”
Caledonia answered with a touchdown by Ryan Pitts that capped an eight play drive for the Warriors, giving them a 20-14 lead, but BOLD answered with a 41 yard field goal by Nick Kubesh at the end of the third quarter that cut Caledonia’s lead to 20-17 going into the final quarter. Caledonia took a 26-17 lead on a four yard run by Varney with 9:26 to play, but BOLD then drove and got within two points on Rock’s touchdown.
Strub’s 21 yard gain may have been the biggest play of the year for Caledonia. Starting at their own 34 – after Rock’s touchdown pulled BOLD within two points – Pitts picked up six yards on second and 10 to the 40 yard line and then gained four more for a first down at the 44. But Varney was tackled for a one yard loss, and a false start against Caledonia forced them into a second and 16 at their 38 yard line. Pitts picked up two yards to the 40 and Caledonia was faced with a third and 14, but Strub got around the right end on the next play and raced all the way to the BOLD 39 to keep the drive alive.
The win was Caledonia’s 25th straight but it didn’t come easy as the Warriors gave up 322 total yards, including 146 passing yards from Rock. BOLD also converted five of nine third downs in the first half, including four straight on their 15 play scoring drive that tied the game at 7-7 in the second quarter.
Moose Lake/Willow River, ranked #2 in AA (13-0) defeated Jackson County Central 27-20 to set up the rematch.
“Defensively we have to slow them down,” Schroeder said. “They have a lot more size on the offensive line than they had last year and their running back is dangerous anywhere on the field.”
The Rebels ran for 252-yards against Jackson County Central. Moose Lake/Willow River’s Jake Disterhaupt shouldered much of the load with 247 all-purpose yards – 105 rushing, 68 receiving and 74 on kickoff returns. Defensively he had three tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Additionally he punted once for 43 yards.
– Brady Ambrose