MINNEAPOLIS — The words that accurately describe what the Caledonia High School football team did to Paynesville Area on Thursday are more appropriate for an operating room.
The Warriors were precise, efficient, and downright surgical in their MSHSL Class AA state semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium. The result was a 49-16 blowout that wasn’t in doubt after the first two series. Caledonia (12-0), the top-ranked Class AA team in Minnesota, outright mauled the Bulldogs and put the game out of reach before Paynesville even had time to respond.
The win — Caledonia’s 40th consecutive victory — puts the Warriors into the state championship game against the winner of today’s semifinal between Pipestone Area and Moose Lake/Willow River. The title game is slated for 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 24, at U.S. Bank Stadium. It is Caledonia’s third consecutive state championship appearance, and eighth in the past 11 seasons.
It looked so simple. Perched in the corner of the Vikings’ billion-dollar building, one could see the Warriors run over, through and around Paynesville (9-3) players seemingly at will. Caledonia scored touchdowns on all six of its possessions in the first half, riding a dominant showing from its offensive line and the so-expected-its-overlooked brilliance of senior quarterback Owen King. It wasn’t until the Warriors took their foot off the gas and ran the ball straight into the line three times in a row that they were stopped — seven of their nine drives ended with touchdowns.
The numbers are startling in both their enormity and bear reporting.
King finished 13 of 16 passing for 214 yards and three touchdowns; Nick McCabe had 106 yards rushing and two touchdowns on nine carries; Mason Staggemeyer had 72 yards and two scores on seven touts; Andrew Goergen scored twice and gained 97 yards on six catches; Jordan Burg had the other receiving TD and 60 yards on four snares.
Both of Paynesville’s scores came well after Warriors had taken their starters out of the game.
The question isn’t how they do this on the field — the Warriors have been the better team than their opponents’ seemingly since King took over under center.
The question is what Caledonia does in the days, weeks and months leading up to the season that it’s able to perform this way year-in and year-out.
“Our guys will tell you, we always talk about the next game, the next game, the next game,” Warriors coach Carl Fruechte said. “It’s just how we handle it … we talk all the time about being businesslike.”
Business for Caledonia doesn’t begin just when the lights are on for games, though. The work its players put in in the weight room and in the team’s speed training program set them apart the minute they walk on the field.
“Their legs and their arms and their hips,” Paynesville coach Max Meagher said of what makes Caledonia such a challenge to play. “They’re extremely physical. That’s a level of a football team that we haven’t seen this year.”
What that physical advantage allows Caledonia is a larger margin for error for when things aren’t perfect. And when they are, or as close to perfect as Thursday was for the Warriors, the result is wide open lanes for the running backs and a clean pocket for King.
The evidence was clear on the jerseys of King and Staggemeyer — King’s looked fresh out of the washing machine while Staggemeyer’s was stained with blood from a cut on his chin acquired on one of his many hard hits from his linebacker spot.
“I wasn’t touched all game,” King said. “There was a clean pocket back there all game. We talked about this week, our offensive line did their job and our receivers made the plays.”
But the Warriors’ advantage isn’t just physical.
The dedication to film study permeates the team. Warriors’ players come in before school on Mondays to start reviewing their opponent, spend their lunch hours throughout the week breaking things down, and then have time dedicated before or after practice to watching more tape.
That’s how, despite the Bulldogs’ misdirection-based option offense, the Warriors were never fooled. Any chunk of yards Paynesville gained was the result of a broken tackle — a Caledonia defender seemed to fill every gap as soon as it was created.
“We knew we had to prepare for every situation,” said Staggemeyer, who tied with Tate Meiners with a game-best seven tackles. “We knew we had to be ready for every formation, every play.”
Fruechte added that with the amount of preparation the Warriors do, he and his coaches are able to think about and game plan for what foes may try to counter with once their first choices don’t pan out.
At this level, it’s difficult for any opponent to be more physical than the Warriors, and they do everything they can do to ensure they’re totally prepared.
All Caledonia has done for most of the varsity roster’s tenure is win. Still, the fact that three consecutive championships — something few teams nationwide accomplish — is within reach isn’t lost on its players.
“It’d be a dream come true,” Staggemeyer said. “It’d show that all the hard work in the offseason pays off.”