Football | Class AA: Caledonia takes on wounded foe
It’s not like the Caledonia football team needs any extra advantages. After all, the Warriors are the three-time Class AA defending state champions and will take a 52-game winning streak into Thursday’s state semifinals against Paynesville.
But Caledonia, 11-0 and ranked No. 1, will have an added advantage against No. 10 Paynesville (9-2). Bulldogs senior quarterback Max Weidner suffered a broken leg in Paynesville’s 52-14 win over Pillager in the state semifinals, and he will not play against Caledonia.
"They lost their standout quarterback," Caledonia coach Carl Fruechte admitted. "But the guy they brought in, he’s a pretty good football player. He’s going to have our respect."
Junior Grady Fuchs will play in place of Weidner, who entered the state tournament having passed for 1,478 yards and 20 touchdowns. Before filling in last week, Fuchs was just 7-for-15 passing for 90 yards and a TD.
Last season in the state finals, Pipestone had to face Caledonia without its starting QB. It likely wouldn’t have mattered anyway as Caledonia won 57-6.
Caledonia and Paynesville will be playing in the state semifinals for the second straight year. Last season, Caledonia rolled to a 49-16 victory.
"I think they’re better this year," Fruechte said. "We’re a lot different team than last year."
The Warriors might not be as dominate offensively this season, but they have outscored foes by an average of 36.7 to 4.9 and beat New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva 41-0 in the state quarterfinals. The Caledonia defense has five shutouts and allowed more than one TD in a game just once.
Despite the injury to Weidner, Paynesville rolled past Pillager in the state quarterfinals. The Bulldogs average 50.4 points a game and allow 17.2.
Zach Schroeder has rushed for more than 1,300 yards and is one of three Paynesville players with more than 10 rushing touchdowns. Mitchel Schlangen has more than 25 catches for 500-plus yards and 10 TDs and the Bulldogs should have a size advantage on Caledonia on the line.
"They pound the ball off tackle and their guards and tackles are slightly bigger," Fruechte said. "We’re going to have to get to them before they get going."
Senior linebackers Nick McCabe and Evan Denstad are Caledonia’s top tacklers. Seniors Dylan Felten and Rayn Wagner anchor the defensive line.
The Warriors also have to be ready for Paynesville’s quick pace on offense.
"They’re putting up big numbers," Fruechte said. "They run a hurry-up offense and like to run a play every 10 seconds or so. We’re going to have to play really well on Thursday."
Caledonia has been playing at a high level all season. The Warriors not only overpower most foes, but they are usually quicker as well.
Owen King, who quarterbacked the Warriors to the past three state titles, has graduated but his brother, Noah King, has filled in nicely this year. The junior has passed for more than 2,200 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Tate Meiners has caught 75 passes for just under 1,200 yards and 20 touchdowns. McCabe leads the team with 1,305 yards rushing and has 18 TDs on the ground while Jack Beardmore has added 516 yards rushing and six TDs.
"We try to run a balanced offense," Fruechte said. "We have an even percentage of plays, pass and run."
The Warriors will be going up Paynesville’s 3-4 defensive front and it uses a cover-2 zone in the secondary. Freuchte said the Bulldogs feature a defense that has three big linemen and two big inside linebackers.
"We’re going to try and figure out what their weaknesses are and attack from there," said Freuchte, who note the Warriors script their first 15 offensive plays each game.
The Warriors also have to brace for any trick plays the Bulldogs might try to use.
"They like to do a lot of things, like onside kicks," Fruechte said. "Anything that pops up, we have to be ready for it."
Both teams have state experience in numerous sports. Both earned berths in the Class AA state baseball tournament last spring and Caledonia was also the Class AA state runner-up in basketball during the 2017-18 season.
After battling the elements in the state quarterfinals, the football teams now get the perfect indoor conditions at U.S. Bank Stadium with the winner advancing to the state title game on Nov. 23.
"It’s always exciting to play in U.S. Bank Stadium, we’re always privileged to play there," Fruechte said. "It’s a great facility, what more can a kid ask for?"
WHO:No. 1 ranked Caledonia vs. No. 10 Paynesville.
RECORDS:Caledonia is 11-0, Paynesville is 9-2.
WHEN/WHERE:2 p.m. Thursday, U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
UP NEXT:The Caledonia and Paynesville winner faces the No. 2 Minneapolis North (11-0) and unranked. Barnesville (10-2) winner in the state finals at 1 p.m. Nov. 23 at U.S. Bank Stadium.