#1 WARRIORS TURN BACK LEWISTON-ALTURA 20-7, SETS UP SECTION 1-AA GRUDGE MATCH WITH CHATFIELD
#1 Warriors turn back Lewiston-Altura 20-7, sets up Section 1-AA grudge match with Chatfield
By Dugan Thomas
The Caledonia defense forced a fumble in the second quarter Saturday night, recovered by Blaine Knutson.
CALEDONIA, MN - 10/26/2013
The #1 ranked Caledonia Warriors knocked off Lewiston-Altura 20-7 Friday night to advance to their 9th straight MSHSL Section 1 Class AA championship game. They'll meet the Chatfield Gophers in a rematch of the first game of the year, which was won by the Warriors 19-18. Chatfield beat Triton 35-3 Friday night in the other semi-final game to set up this monster clash of the titans.
Caledonia definitely had their hands full with Lewiston-Altura Friday night, as the Cardinals were looking to send shock waves through the state, trying to take down the three-time defending state champs.
After a quick Caledonia fumble, and a botched punt snap on the next possession, Lewiston-Altura held all the momentum in the early stages of the game. The Warriors found themselves deep in their own territory after they couldn't get the punt away, and needed to make a stand to get the momentum back. The defense came up huge on a fourth-down play at the Warriors 20-yard line, and were able to keep points off the board.
Lewiston-Altura came out firing on offense not fearing the Warriors at all, as they did everything they could to confuse Caledonia with their run game and keep drives alive. The bend but don't break Caledonia defense stood strong when it needed to, and the teams traded punts going into the second quarter.
With the Warriors setting up their offense on the 20-yard line, Carl Fruechte dialed-up a little play-action. Mason DeMorett faked a right handoff to Ryan Pitts and rolled out to his left. Coming across the field on a shallow crossing route, Alex Goetzinger had a step on his defender and DeMorett hit him in perfect stride. Goetzinger turned it up with nothing but green grass in front of him, and brought the Warriors home crowd to their feet. An 80-yard sprint to glory put Caledonia on the board first and put a charge into the rest of the team. The Mason Ashbacher extra-point was blocked, but the Warriors struck first and held a 6-0 lead.
Lewsiton-Altura had a little drive going on the next possession, but the Warriors defense came up with a strip-fumble, and Blaine Knutson recovered. Caledonia couldn't take advantage of the turnover on the next offensive series, but a possession later they had the ball back with time running down in the half.
They started deep in their own territory with quick passes to Sam Schulte to get the drive going, and a highlight catch by Sean Connor down the seam got them another first-down. With no timeouts and the clock running, the Warriors found themselves in scoring position. A run by Pitts landed them on the doorstep, then a fade to Connor in the end zone missed. Another catch by Schulte in-bounds kept the clock running, and Caledonia had to rush to the line to get the fourth-down play off around the five-yard line.
DeMorett took a quick quarterback keeper straight-up the middle, as the offensive line dug-in and tried everything they could to push the Cardinal's defenders back. When the dust settled, the ball ended up a yard and a half short of the end zone with .7 seconds left on the clock. Lewiston-Altura took a knee at the 1-yard line on the next play, and the half ended with Caledonia holding a slim 6-0 lead.
Lewiston-Altura kept the momentum going in the second-half, as they forced the Warriors to punt on their first possession and received great field position around the 50-yard line. A couple plays later Cardinals running back Brady Lange finally broke loose. He took a handoff to the right, sliced through the line and bounced off two Warriors defenders on his way to a 38-yard touchdown run. The extra-point kick was good, and Lewiston-Altura stunned the Warriors with a 7-6 advantage.
Caledonia didn't waste time getting the momentum back on the next possession, as they brought in their two tight-end set and started pounding the run. Carl Fruechte made a great call to get physical up-front, and the line started to wear down the Cardinals. Run after run was thrown at them with Ryan Pitts leading the charge. Ryan took a pitch from DeMorett and broke it outside, made a defender miss on the edge, and coasted into the end zone for a 19-yard touchdown to steal the lead right back. The extra-point by Ashbacher was good, and it made the score 13-7 Warriors, with left in the 3rd quarter.
The action packed third-quarter kept going as Lewiston-Altura relied on their deceptive running back Brady Lange, and he guided them into scoring territory again. The Warriors came-up big inside their 10-yard line, and forced a big 4th-down call. The Cardinal's coaches surprisingly called for a field-goal, and it backfired on them, missing wide-right to keep the score 13-7.
The Warriors took control of the ball at their 20-yard line, and turned to Pitts again. He broke off another big run to start the drive, then had an equipment problem to send him to the sidelines. DeMorett turned to his next offensive threat a couple plays later and took it to the air.
On a stop-and-go route to the far sidelines, Sam Schulte turned his defender around, and DeMorett put a back-shoulder throw on him. As the Cardinal's defender fell down, Schulte made a tough catch spun around, and quickly turned on the jets. A pretty 54-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch turned the tide for the Warriors, and it made the score 20-7 to end the third-quarter.
The Cardinals didn't give up though, as they started driving once again. A big reception down the sidelines brought them across the fifty, and Brady Lange broke through on the next play into the secondary. Ryan Pitts never gave up on the play, and caught Lange from behind, stripping the ball away in the process. The Warriors recovered the fumble at their own 16-yard line, and they took over with an incredible play made by Pitts to save a touchdown.
Caledonia then went on a crucial 9-minute offensive drive to salt away the clock and seal the victory. They drove to the Lewiston-Altura 10-yard line, but missed on a fourth-down play to give the ball back with left in the game.
Sam Schulte ended it a couple plays later when he went up for a jump-ball pass against a Cardinals receiver and wanted it more. He came down with the interception, and the Warriors kneeled on it the rest of the way to seal the 20-7 win.
Caledonia advances to the Section-1 Class AA final for another rematch of the championship game with Chatfield. Caledonia leveled the Gophers in 2012 on their home turf 29-0, winning the section title for the sixth straight year. This year's game was moved to a neutral site, and it will be played at Verizon Wireless Stadium on the WinonaStateUniversity campus, Friday November 1, at .
The Stars of the game for Caledonia were it's four senior captains. When plays needed to be made, the leaders of this team stepped-up and made them happen.
Ryan Pitts had 31 carries for 193 yards, and a 19-yard touchdown run. He also had 11 tackles on defense, and made the incredible strip-fumble tackle to stop a late Lewiston-Altura touchdown threat.
Sam Schulte had 6 receptions for 78 yards, and a 54-yard touchdown catch. He had 6 tackles on defense, and sealed the game with his 4th quarter interception.
Alex Goetzinger had two receptions for 97 yards, and an 80-yard touchdown catch. He also tallied 10 tackles from his linebacker position on defense.
Mason DeMorett was 10 of 19 passing for 208 yards and 2 touchdowns. He's also been really impressive in the hurry-up offense, making the calls at the line of scrimmage and keeping the unit in check. That's the mark of a true leader.
I expect to see a huge turnout for the section championship game Friday night at WinonaStateUniversity. Not only from Caledonia and Chatfield fans, but from high school football fans in the area as well. The Verizon Wireless Stadium neutral site venue adds drama to the game, and fans in the area know these two teams have legendary football programs, and it should be another great heavyweight title fight.
The artificial turf has been a friend to the Warriors for many years through the playoffs, as Caledonia is always known for it's great team speed. This year's team has a handful of track stars at the skill positions (Pitts, Schulte, Buttell, Goetzinger, Connor, Heaney) and the Field Turf at WinonaState might give them a big advantage on both sides of the ball and special teams. Chatfield has speed in the form of running back Jake Neis and wide receiver Drew Hurley, but I didn't see many other players that really stood out in the first game of the year in Caledonia.
Speaking of Jake Neis, the Warriors totally shut him down in last year's title game, but this year is a different story. He's been tearing up the Southern Football Alliance-Blue Division this year, and last time I checked, Neis and Ryan Pitts were running neck-and-neck with each other in total rushing yards for the year. He broke off a couple big runs against Caledonia in the first game of the year and finished with 183 total yards, plus he's Chatfield's go-to guy when the game is on the line. If Caledonia can stay in their gaps and be disciplined the whole game against the run, they'll contain him like they did last year. If not, Neis could be a handful.
Caledonia took over last year in the special teams department in the title game, blocking a Chatfield punt and dominating field position all game long with their return group. Ryan Pitts had a kick return touchdown called back in the first game with the Gophers this year by a penalty. Caledonia always has the upper hand in special teams year after year. If they want to win this game, they'll have to do it again.
Jake Neis might be Chatfield's best player, but Caledonia has the best all-around football player south of the Twin Cities. He has elite speed and strength with great instincts, and makes game-changing plays all over the field.....his name is Ryan Pitts.
I'm not going to lie, I see this game as a state championship-type title fight, and the first game of the year verified it. These two teams proved all year long that they're the best football teams in southeastern Minnesota, and maybe in all of Class AA. Chatfield might have an edge in the beef department, they're pretty stout up the middle - but Caledonia definitely has the upper hand on the edge, with incredible team speed throughout. Not to mention their coaches have done it before, time and time again, the best coached team in the state.
Caledonia - 20 Chatfield - 6
MSHSL SECTION 1AA
CALEDONIA 0 6 14 0 - 20
LEWISTON-ALTURA 0 0 7 0 - 7
Second quarter: C-Alex Goetzinger 80 pass from Mason DeMorett (kick failed).
Third quarter: LA-Brady Lange 38 run (Austyn Neldner kick); C-Ryan Pitts 19 run (Mason Ashbacher kick); C-Sam Schulte 54 pass from DeMorett (Ashbacher kick).