Stemper, Goergen, and Winjum make big plays to keep Caledonia undefeated

By Dugan Thomas

Tanner Gran carries the ball in the second quarter against Rushford-Peterson Friday night for the Warriors, with tight-end Seth Twite in the background.

CALEDONIA, MN - 09/05/2014

The Rushford-Peterson football team became very good in a hurry. That was the one thing that came to mind when they beat Chatfield pretty soundly last week and I looked at their roster. 18 seniors commanded by a very skilled position player group, and huge offensive and defensive lines. 6'9" 305 pound junior Matt Culhane and 6' 285 pound senior Connor Johanson were just two members of their impressive lineup, with Trojans running back/wide receiver Alex Vix looking to steal the show.

They came to Caledonia looking for a win they haven't had since 2006, but the Warriors have a heart and fight that just won't quit, and they made one more play than the Trojans did on Friday night to seal a 7-6 win.

Caledonia junior linebacker Sam Stemper quickly became the star of this game in the first quarter with R-P mounting a drive. A 4th and 2 play from Caledonia's own 31-yard line went terribly wrong for the Trojans, and Stemper capitalized in a big way.

R-P's quarterback Jonnie Koenen took the shotgun snap and never took his eyes off of slot receiver Cole Kingsley. The 5-yard out pattern was his target and he was firing. Stemper read Koenen's eyes perfectly, cut under the route, and was off to the races. A cut-back move at the 30 guaranteed Sam end zone glory, and gave the Warriors a jolt of energy with his 75-yard interception return.

Those kinds of plays usually aren't made by first-year starters, but Sam Stemper isn't playing like one. That was a textbook defensive play that showed great coaching, and great instincts. It was the second interception of the year for Stemper, and he's quickly becoming a star on this football team with his play on both sides of the ball.

The extra-point kick by Alex Goergen gave the Warriors a 7-0 lead, and proved to become critical when this game wound down.

The next drive for R-P had one of two big plays on the night for Alex Vix. The Trojans slot receiver got lost in the Warriors zone, and Koenen found him with a quick roll-out pass. Vix broke a tackle, broke another, and was off to the races down the left sideline. Caledonia sealed him in and corralled him when he cut-back to prevent a touchdown, but Vix picked-up 54-yards on the catch and had the Trojans looking to score.

The Warriors defense didn't let the big play scare them, and they stiffened-up to keep the Trojans scoreless. A 2-yard run, and three straight pass plays fell incomplete to give the Warriors the ball back, and it kept the momentum on their side.

Caledonia took the 7-0 lead into halftime and looked to build on it in the second half, but both teams struggled to capitalize in a quick moving third quarter, and after three it remained 7-0 Caledonia.

With about eight minutes left in the game, Caledonia started at their own 23-yard line and began to pound the ball with their power-I formation. Runs by Tanner Gran, Sam Stemper, and Austin Bauer picked-up multiple first-downs and ran time off the clock. They brought it all the way down to R-P's 35-yard line when a critical 4th and 2 needed to be made for a first down. The Trojans answered with their stud linebacker Josh Agrimson knifing through the line and making a big stop at the line of scrimmage to turn the ball over on downs.

The huge momentum shifts in high school football caught the Warriors on the very next play. Trojans quarterback Jonnie Koenen caught the Warriors on a blitz, and fired a perfect strike to Alex Vix on a slant route. Vix turned on his speed and was gone, a 66-yard touchdown play to put R-P right back into the game with 4:26 remaining.

The extra-point call was critical, and R-P head coach Davin Thompson sent out his kicker to try to tie the game at 7. Case McCormick and Alex Goergen had other ideas, and they weren't going to let the Trojans steal this game. With McCormick driving his blocker into the backfield, it opened-up a lane for Goergen to come free right up the middle to block it. The ball went off his arm and midsection and didn't have a chance, which kept the lead 7-6 Warriors.

Caledonia received the kickoff and quickly picked-up a first down to keep the clock moving, but a holding penalty on the next play forced them back 10 yards, and they had to punt 3 plays later.

R-P started at their own 28-yard line and went to work with time winding down. A 17-yard pass to Cole Kingsley started it off. Then a quarterback scramble by Koenen brought them to Caledonia's 38-yard line. A play later, Eli Craig drifted back into the deep middle, and made a huge pass breakup for the Warriors at the 10-yard line to keep the Trojans out of scoring territory.

The next play was a perfect example of the Caledonia defense stepping up to the challenge, and taking over the game. On 3rd and 10, Koenen took the shotgun snap and rolled to his left. Looking for Kingsley on a wheel route down the sideline, Warriors linebacker Seth Twite came free and was all over him. The pressure made Koenen throw an off-balance pass that floated on him, and Jacob Winjum had blanket coverage on Kingsley down the sideline. Winjum undercut the throw and hauled in the interception to put the game away for the Warriors. R-P didn't have any timeouts left, and two kneel-downs was all it took to keep the Warriors undefeated on the season with a huge 7-6 win.

Rushford-Peterson came to play, but so did Caledonia. One team had to win, and the Warriors made one more crucial play than the Trojans did Friday night, and they went home with the victory. This was a southeastern Minnesota clash of the titans, and I believe these are the two best teams in the area without a doubt. It would not surprise me to see R-P go deep into the state Class A playoffs this year with this loaded roster. Caledonia is always a factor in Class AA, and they solidified their #3 state ranking with this victory, and will have all other teams in the division gunning for them.

Next week the (3-0) Warriors travel to Hayfield to take on the (1-1) Vikings on Friday, September 12, game time 7:00. 

Game Notes:

The Caledonia defense was again keyed by the big turnovers. The two interceptions by Sam Stemper and Jacob Winjum gave the Warriors 8 INT's on the year already, with 10 turnovers total. You take away the two big passes caught by Alex Vix, and you'll see the Warriors held a very lethal R-P offense to very little, and only 6 points. This group never gives up, and they always feel like they'll make the play at the end, which they did with the Winjum interception. They do this time and time again, and Coach Schroeder has this group playing with a huge amount of confidence.

Alex Goergen has been incredible with his special teams play this year. He's been kicking and punting all year long, and he gives the Warriors excellent field position with his kickoffs and directional punting. He kicked the extra-point on the Stemper interception return touchdown, and he blocked the R-P extra-point attempt to keep the score 7-6. Special teams play doesn't get in the headlines most of the time, but Alex deserves a great deal of credit for the way he's been handling those duties. Hunter Hauser-Caldwell has been doing a great job with the long snapping, but he received a shoulder injury during the game, and was in a lot of pain on the sidelines. Hopefully he can recover and continue his excellent play at cornerback and on special teams.

The Warriors had a great gameplan by Coach Fruechte to stick to the ground game and not test R-P's excellent secondary. Brandon Tornstrom led the offensive line with a strong night from his offensive tackle spot. He had multiple clear-out and pancake blocks that caught my eye, and he's a huge force to be reckoned with. Caledonia had 167 yards on the ground, and Tanner Gran led the running back group with 65 yards. Mitchell Schmitz has been the lead dog at fullback, and he doesn't get enough credit for the job he's been doing. His energy and fight are always there, and he doesn't back down from anyone. Devan Heaney, Tanner Gran, and Sam Stemper continue to fight hard for every yard, and the depth at running back is outstanding this year.

Southern Football Alliance - Blue

Caledonia    7  0  0  0  -  7

R/P               0  0  0  6  -  6

First quarter: C-Sam Stemper 75 interception return (Alex Goergen kick).

Fourth quarter: RP-Alex Vix 66 pass from Jonnie Koenen (kick blocked).

Rushing: C-Tanner Gran 13-65; RP-Cole Kingsley 11-35.

Passing: C-Austin Bauer 2-4-0-6; RP-Koenen 8-22-2-189.

Receiving: C-Tanner Langen 2-6; RP-Vix 2-120.

Total yards: C-167-6-173; RP-103-189-292.

Fumbles: C-1-0; RP-1-0.

Records: C 3-0, 3-0; RP 2-1, 2-1.