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Erickson kicks top-ranked Chatfield past Caledonia and into Class AA state tournament

Chatfield, ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA, nipped No. 8 Caledonia 10-8 in the Section 1AA football championship game on Friday.

Caledonia, Chatfield Section 1AA football championship
Chatfield, including senior Sam Backer (21), celebrates after the Gophers won the Section 1AA football championship game 10-8 against Caledonia on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, at Kasson-Mantorville High School in Kasson.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin
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KASSON — Jeff Johnson needed him.

Chatfield’s Jacob Erickson is a senior now. He entered his junior season as the team’s starting quarterback, with all-world tailback Sam Backer lined up behind him. But that junior campaign was tragically cut short by a Week 2 ACL injury at Triton, putting the future of Erickson’s football career in serious doubt.

But Johnson had a plan for Erickson.

“He’s a great athlete. He also loves basketball and baseball. I had a talk with him last spring, and I said, ‘Hey, you’re still a weapon,’ ” said Johnson, Chatfield’s 17-year head coach. “I said, ‘You can punt it. You can kick it. If we’re going to be a championship team, we need you.’

“And he said, ‘I’ll do it.’ ”

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That decision paid huge dividends for the Gophers on Friday at KMTelecom Stadium. With ice water in his veins, Erickson drilled a 27-yard field goal midway through the fourth quarter, which eventually proved the decisive chapter in an otherwise tightly contested 10-8 victory over No. 8 Caledonia, with Section 1AA supremacy very much at stake.

The win sends No. 1 Chatfield (10-0), once again, to the state quarterfinals, where the Gophers will take on unranked Blue Earth Area on Thursday at Mayo High School.

Caledonia, Chatfield Section 1AA football championship
Chatfield’s Jacob Erikson makes what turned out to be the game-winning field goal during the Section 1AA football championship game against Caledonia on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, at Kasson-Mantorville High School in Kasson. Erikson's kick lifted Chatfield past Caledonia 10-8.
Traci Westcott / Post Bulletin

“I knew I was going to come back, but I wasn’t sure what my role might be,” said Erickson, a three-sport star for the Gophers. “I knew that I could kick and punt for the team. I wasn’t sure about quarterback, so the special teams side of things is what I ended up sticking with and that’s what I’ve been working on this year.”

That hard work has since yielded a team-wide confidence in his abilities. In practice, Erickson is typically good from 40-plus.

With that in mind, Johnson and his staff entered Friday’s title-game tilt with a plan. They envisioned the exact scenario. Down 1. Second half. What kind of field-goal attempt are we comfortable with here?

They knew they had options with Erickson.

“From the 15-yard line, 20, 25, you know, in that position, we kick it with that kid,” Johnson said. “We knew our field-goal range was, and the ball ended up right in that range in the end. And it worked out.”

Erickson’s heroics were actually set up by another moment of special-teams brilliance from Chatfield.

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With Caledonia clinging to a narrow 8-7 lead early in the fourth quarter, the Gophers’ defense forced a quick three-and-out, prompting a Warriors punt. The subsequent attempt was then blocked, with Caledonia senior Jackson Schild, who attempted the pooch punt, lined up just 8 yards behind his center prior to the snap. Chatfield’s Kailan Schott was the one who got his hand on it, setting the Gophers up in enemy territory at the 21-yard line.

Chatfield defeated Caledonia 10-8 in a Section 1AA football championship game on Friday, Nov. 4, 2022, at Kasson-Mantorville High School in Kasson.

Four plays later, following a failed third-down conversion facing fourth-and-6 at the 10, it was a no-brainer for Johnson.

“I was definitely expecting the call,” Erickson said. “I was watching the coaches right there, and when I saw them turn toward us on the sideline, I knew that we were going to kick it.

“I was ready to go. I didn’t even have a lot of nerves, to be honest. I just knew that if I kept my head down and did my best that it’d go right through. I just kicked it up there.”

Think his teammates are happy he suited up this season? You need not ask.

“That’s one of my best friends. I love that kid,” Chatfield senior Sam Backer said. “Honestly, we wouldn’t be where we are now without him, and I hope everyone knows that, and I hope he knows that. It was a huge moment. He hits them from far out in practice and he’s always clutch. I appreciate him so much.”

“It feels great that I’m still worth something to this team,” Erickson said. “We all work hard and do great together. It’s special.”

A scoreless first half brought on the drama of the second.

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Chatfield got things started midway through the third quarter, but at first, it was Caledonia at the doorstep with a chance to break the 0-0 tie. But a fourth-and-goal attempt inside the 1-yard line saw the Gophers’ defense hold firm, inflicting a heartbreaking turnover on downs mere inches from the goal line.

On the very next play, Backer, still climbing the state’s all-time rushing standings with the record still in reach, took a first-down attempt 99 yards to the house.

“When teams play great defense it’s like, yeah they’re great but there’s always a weakness to exploit somewhere,” said Backer, who capped the night with 208 rushing yards, almost half of which came on the TD. Backer was otherwise limited to 109 yards on 20 carries, a per-carry average of 5.5. Tame by his historic standards.

“We hadn’t run out of empty (formation) all game, and I saw how spread out their defense was. I knew right then, if I hit the right hole here I’m gonna be gone.”

Indeed he was, but Warriors wasted no time in responding. Their very next drive went for 12 plays and seven first downs in just over five minutes, culminating in a 1-yard QB sneak touchdown from sophomore Ethan Stendel. That TD was then followed by a bruising 2-point conversion run from senior Ayden Goetzinger to make it 8-7 Caledonia.

But that was the extent of the offensive scoring. It came down to Erickson in the end.

The Gophers needed him. Johnson knew they would.

“Storybook ending. I love it. I love it for him,” Johnson said. “He didn’t get to finish his junior season. Baseball’s probably his favorite sport. He’s a pretty good basketball player, too. Missed all of that. Slipped and fell last spring and kind of re-tweaked it again, and he rehabbed it as hard as he could.

“He’s still a little sore, even now, and he still comes out and punches that through for a section championship.

“Wow.”

CHATFIELD 10, CALEDONIA 8

Caledonia 0-0-8-0 — 8

Chatfield 0-0-7-3 — 10

First quarter

No scoring

Second quarter

No scoring

Third quarter

CHAT — Sam Backer 99 run (Jacob Erickson kick), 6:45.

CAL — Ethan Stendel 1 run (Ayden Goetzinger run), 1:04.

Fourth quarter

CHAT — Erickson 27 field goal, 6:34.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

RUSHING: Caledonia — Goetzinger 19-78, Eric Mauss 6-28, Lewis Doyle 8-17, Stendel 3-14, Tucker Ginther 2-6, Owen Denstad 1-2; Chatfield — Backer 21-208, Kailan Schott 11-32, Jackson Schild 1-5, Luke Carrier 1-minus 12, Team 1-minus 1.

PASSING: Caledonia — Doyle 3-5-0-32, Stendel 4-10-0-18, Goetzinger 0-1-0-0; Chatfield — Backer 1-5-0-9.

RECEIVING: Caledonia — Caleb Conniff 4-39, Owen Denstad 2-6, Josh Breadmore 1-5; Chatfield — Carrier 1-9.

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