By Brady Ambrose
If there was ever any doubt about the Caledonia football team’s fortitude entering Friday night’s season opener, those doubts were quickly put to rest as the three-time defending state champion Warriors came from 12 points down to beat Chatfield 19-18 in their first game of the season at CHS.
Penciled in by many as the biggest game of the early season, the match up with the Gophers was a tall order for Caledonia from the start as Chatfield returns a good majority of last year’s squad that fell to the Warriors 6-0 in the regular season and 29-0 in the second round of the section 1AA playoffs.
No doubt, the Gophers were focused on this game ever since. And it looked that way in the early going when the Gophers jumped out to a 12-0 lead with touchdowns on their first two possessions.
Chatfield marched 72 yards on the opening drive of the game in eight plays and took a 6-0 lead on Nate Skare’s two yard pass to Alex Brandt.
The Warriors went three-and-out on their first possession of the season, and Chatfield took over on the Warrior 42 yard line and scored eight plays later to take a 12-0 lead with two minutes left in the first quarter. “The kids didn’t panic at all,” head coach Brent Schroeder said, “We kept working and changed a lot of things all night long. Chatfield did an excellent job of scouting us out and you could tell they were ready for us.”
The turnover bug then struck the Gophers, who had four fumbles and an interception in the game. On Caledonia’s next possession the Warriors were stopped short of a first down and were forced to punt. But Chatfield’s Jacob Neis fumbled the punt and Blaine Knutson recovered for the Warriors at the Chatfield 33 yard line. The first quarter ended with Chatfield up 12-0.
Caledonia started the second quarter with a solid drive. Moving to the Gopher’s 25 yard line, Mason DeMorett, making his first start at quarterback, hit Alex Goetzinger with a 16 yard completion to the nine yard line.
Ryan Pitts bolted seven yards to the two, but the Warriors were called for an illegal shift and pushed back to the 14 where the drive stalled on three straight incomplete passes.
Chatfield took over at their own 14 and quickly moved into Warrior territory. But on first and 10 from the Caledonia 35, the Gophers fumbled again and the Warriors recovered to stop the drive. But the Warriors stalled and were facing a fourth and 10 and lined up for another punt with Mason Ashbacher back to kick.
Ashbacher then brought the crowd and sidelines to life when he scooped up a bad snap and rumbled down the left sideline for a first down all the way to the Chatfield 38 yard line. Schroeder said, “He really did a good job scooping up that ball and getting us a big play and keeping the drive alive.”
With new life the Warriors pulled the old halfback option out of the bag on first down. DeMorett took the snap and pitched to Pitts, who rolled out to his right and lofted a pass to a wide open Sam Schulte, who made a great play as he ran down the throw and hauled it in for a 38 yard touchdown pass with 4:49 left in the first half.
Trailing 12-7 the Warriors regained possession after a Gopher punt at their own 19 yard line. Pitts raced for 18 yards to the 37 and Chatfield was called for pass interference to give Caledonia first down at the Gopher 48 yard line. Pitts gained eight yards and, on second and two, DeMorett hit Schulte with a strike to the Chatfield 11 yard line on the next play.
Three plays later DeMorett hit Alex Goetzinger with a one yard toss in the end zone that gave the Warriors a 13-12 lead with 1:02 left in the half. Chatfield then wasted a scoring opportunity on the final possession of the half.
Starting at their own 35 Skare hit Jamie LaPlante with a 53 yard completion all the way to the Warriors 12 yard line. But two straight incomplete passes and a fumble on third down brought up a 30 yard field goal attempt with 2.6 seconds left, and the kick sailed wide to the right and Caledonia took a 13-12 lead into the locker room at halftime.
A pair of big calls by the officials then highlighted the start of the second half. On the kickoff to start the third quarter, Pitts took the kick at the goal line for Caledonia and raced the length of the field to give Caledonia an apparent touchdown, but the Warriors were called for holding on the play and instead took over at midfield, where they punted on fourth and seven.
Chatfield took over at their nine yard line and, on third and six from the 12, got a huge break when the Warriors were called for pass interference. On first down Alex Haffner rumbled 15 yards to the 41, and on the next play Neis bolted 59 yards to the end zone to give the Gophers the lead back at 18-13. But Chatfield again missed the extra point on the PAT and held a five point lead with 8:07 left in the third quarter.
After nearly half of the fourth quarter, the Warriors finally got the chance they were looking for – and they took advantage of it.
With the Gophers threatening at the Caledonia 45, Haffner put Chatfield in prime position with a 14 yard run to the 31. But on the next play Caledonia came up big as Case McCormick and Mitchell Schmitz sacked Skare at the 36, and on the next play Neis fumbled and Blaine Knutson jumped on the loose ball on the Caledonia 28 with 5:26 left to play.
DeMorett then led a 71 yard game-winning drive by completing four straight passes – one to Goetzinger and three straight to Adam Buttell to give the Warriors a first down at the Chatfield 29.
“Mason has done a great job. We had all the faith that he could do it,” Schroeder said.
The drive nearly stalled when DeMorett’s next three passes, including one on fourth and four, fell incomplete. But the Warriors got a huge break when the Gophers were called for pass interference on the fourth down attempt to give Caledonia a first down at the 14 yard line.
DeMorett then hit Buttell with an eight yard completion to the six – Buttell’s fourth catch of the drive. On fourth and a yard at the five, Pitts picked up a huge first down to the two yard line with a great run. Two plays later DeMorett scored on a quarterback keeper to give the Warriors a 19-18 lead with 2:11 left to play.
The Gophers still had time to score but the Caledonia defense rose to the occasion, holding the Gophers to a third and 10, and the Warriors won the game when senior Jacob Nielsen jumped in front of a Skare pass and intercepted it with 1:23 left to play.
Caledonia then ran out the clock and beat Chatfield for the 10th straight time while giving Schroeder his 41st win in 42 games as head coach.
“Coach (Carl) Fruechte did a great job with the guys at the end with the offense taking care of things,” Schroeder said. “It is a credit to our kids that they just stuck with it.”
DeMorett finished the game with 131 passing yards, and Pitts rushed for 68 yards on 18 carries. The Warriors took advantage of five Chatfield turnovers and three missed extra point attempts to get the win. Alex Goetzinger led the defense with nine tackles and one forced fumble. Tanner Langen added eight tackles, and Blaine Knutson had six tackles and two fumble recoveries.
Up next for Caledonia will be a trip north to Wabasha-Kellogg Sept. 6 before returning home Sept. 13 to take on Goodhue.
CALEDONIA 19, CHATFIELD 18
Chatfield 12 0 6 0 — 18
Caledonia 0 13 0 6 — 19
First quarter: Ch—Alex Brandt 2 pass from Nate Skare (kick failed); Ch—Jacob Nies 1 run (kick failed).
Second quarter: Ca—Sam Schulte 38 pass from Ryan Pitts (Mason Ashbacher kick) 7:12; Ca—Alex Goetzinger 11 pass from Mason DeMorett (kick failed) 1:00.
Third quarter: Ch—Neis 59 run (kick failed).
Fourth quarter: Ca—Mason DeMorett 1 run (pass failed) 2:11.
Rushing: Ch—Neis 22-183; Ca—Pitts 18-68.
Passing: Ch—Skare 5-20-1-112; Ca—DeMorett 11-30-1-131. Receiving: Ch—Drew Hurley 3-78, Jayme LaPlante 1-32; Ca—Adam Buttell 5-50, Alex Goetzinger 5-40, Sam Schulte 4-48.
Total yards: Ch: 256-112—368; Ca: 84-169—253.
Fumbles-lost: Ch—6-4; Ca—0-0.
Records: Ch 0-1, 0-1; Ca 1-0, 1-0.