Caledonia quarterback Kennan Bruening (6) leaves Moose Lake/Willow River defenders in his wake during a first-half carry. Photo by Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
If it’s looks you’re going for, Caledonia, with its bleached-blonde mohawks, is probably not the first place to look.
But the Prep Bowl is about football, not beauty, and in that regard few do it better than the Warriors.
Caledonia completely shut down Moose Lake/Willow River, one of the highest scoring teams in the state, to earn its fourth Class 2A state championship in five years with a 27-0 victory on Friday, Nov. 25, at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
“That’s the best team in Class 2A,” Moose Lake/Willow River coach Dave Louzek said. “It’s a good thing for our kids to see. It give us something to work for in the future.”
On paper, the game appeared to be a toss-up. With three 1,000-yard rushers, Moose Lake averaged nearly 52 points per game en route to a perfect 13-0 record.
Caledonia had suffered one hiccup, a season-opening loss to Plainview-Elgin-Millville, before reeling off 12 victories in a row.
“I think that helped our guys get focused,” Caledonia coach Brent Schroeder said. “We don’t like to lose.”
Caledonia put its stamp on the game in the opening minutes as the defense forced Moose Lake into back-to-back three-and-outs the first two times the Rebels had the ball.
Caledonia also sputtered in its first two possessions, but mounted an impressive drive late in the first quarter to take a 7-0 lead. The Warriors went 87 yards on nine plays, with quarterback Kennan Bruening finding Adam Drenckhahn open on a fade pattern for an 11-yard touchdown pass.
Caledonia controlled play for remainder of the first half, holding Moose Lake to just one first down and 50 total yards.
“That’s our defense,” Bruening said. “They get us jacked up.”
Caledonia's Connor McCormick is congratulated after he scored his third touchdown in the Warrior's state Class 2A championship victory over Moose/Lake Willow River. Photo by Marlin Levison, Star Tribune
It was the Warriors' defense that made the biggest impact late in the third quarter.
Trailing 13-0, Moose Lake moved to the Caledonia 1-yard line, where the Rebels had two plays to try to punch the ball in. They got nary an inch as the Warriors stuffed Josh Cisar and Chris Gassert on consecutive plays, taking over on downs.
“That took a little wind out of our sails,” Louzek said.
Which became obvious when Caledonia took over on offense. Connor McCormick carried the ball twice for 48 yards, taking the Warriors out of danger.
That drive ended with a fumble, but Caledonia put the game on ice on its next possession when McCormick scored from 12 yards out. He tacked on another touchdown in the final minutes and finished with 183 yards rushing and three touchdowns.
“I knew today would be special,” Schroeder said. “We played with focus and passion. I can’t say enough about these guys.”
-- Jim Paulsen, Star Tribune staff writer
1. Connor McCormick, Caledonia
The senior running back dashed 38 yards for a touchdown run with 2:28 remaining, the play serving as the cherry on a performance that included 183 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
2. Austin Goergen, Caledonia
The Warriors’ run-stuffing senior linebacker repeatedly clogged the middle of the line, including twice during short-yardage plays during a crucial goal-line stand late in the fourth quarter. Goergen finished with a team-best eight tackles.
3. Travis Frank, Caledonia
Listed as a defensive lineman, Frank might has well have been a running back – for Moose Lake – with as much time as he spent in the Rebels’ backfield. Five of Frank’s six tackles were for losses adding up to 27 yards. Included in that total was two sacks. The senior also forced a fumble.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Football Hub staff
A goal-line stand late in the third quarter epitomized Caledonia’s suffocating defensive effort in the Warriors’ 20-0 triumph over Moose Lake/Willow River on Friday, Nov. 25, in the state Class 2A championship at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
Caledonia led 14-0 when it stuffed the Rebels on fourth down, taking over at the 1-yard line with 41 seconds left in the third quarter.
The Warriors’ shutout was a Prep Bowl rarity, especially since the games were moved to the Metrodome in 1982. Becker’s 28-0 triumph over Albany in 2005 Class 3A was the most recent Prep Bowl shutout before Friday.
The state title was Caledonia’s fourth in five years. The Warriors beat Triton 28-7 in 2010.
Senior running back Connor McCormick rushed for 183 yard and three touchdowns to pace the Warriors (13-1), who led 14-0 at halftime.
Chris Gssert, Josh Cisar and Jake Disterhaupt, Moose Lake's trio of outstanding running backs, managed a combined 114 rushing yards.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Football Hub staff