CALEDONIA — The execution was flawless and the impact of the play significant.
Caledonia High School senior Jordan Burg is no stranger to making a difference in football games, but a blocked punt that turned into a touchdown during last week’s 35-7 MSHSL Section 1AA championship win over Triton was different.
The top-ranked Warriors (10-0) had to battle back from a 20-point deficit when they beat the Cobras during the regular season, and they trailed Triton 7-6 after stopping it short of a first down in the first possession of the second half.
They didn’t have to wait to get the ball back after Burg blocked the ensuing punt and returned it 41 yards. One Owen King conversion run later, and Caledonia was starting a 29-point run that gave it a spot in tonight’s AA quarterfinals.
“That’s when we started to get our mojo back,” Caledonia coach Carl Fruechte said of the play. “We felt better after that for sure.”
The Warriors play second-ranked Minneapolis North (10-0) in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Burnsville, Minn., to determine which team gets a semifinal game at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis on Nov. 16.
Burg’s return of the punt and two interceptions highlighted a Caledonia defensive effort that forced the Cobras (9-2) into four second-half turnovers after the blocked punt.
“We needed a spark and someone to make a play, and that’s all I did,” said Burg, who also leads the team in receptions (46), receiving yards (630) and touchdown catches (9). “It got us fired up, and we started rolling after that.”
The 6-foot-1 wide receiver and linebacker leads the Warriors, who have won 38 consecutive games and are trying to win their third consecutive state title, with six interceptions and has 26 tackles and a fumble recover this season. He had three interceptions and returned one of those for a touchdown as a junior.
While he has made big plays in many scenarios, the blocked punt even made Fruechte smile when recounting it during a break at Thursday’s practice.
“He split the defenders just like we coach and extended for the ball just like we coach,” he said. “Then he got the scoop and score.”
Burg takes seriously the defensive tradition that preceded him. Caledonia has a long history of game-changing plays through turnovers, and his performance against Triton will have its place when such things are discussed.
But he’s more concerned with how the team plays tonight against the Polars, who won their section with a 44-30 victory over a Maple Lake team that completed its season with a 5-6 record. North’s defense has held five opponents to eight points or less and an offense that averages 47 per game.
“They are fast, athletic and spread the ball out a lot,” Burg said of the Polars, who won last year’s Class A state championship by beating Rushford-Peterson 30-14 in the title game and was state runner-up in 2015. “Our corners, safeties and outside linebackers have to play great in coverage, and our line has to get a push up front.”
The Warriors allow averages of 105 rushing and 65 passing yards per game and have surrendered 11 touchdowns all season. North passed for 181 yards last week and scored 44 straight points after Maple Lake scored the first two touchdowns.
Quarterback Armon Dalton only completed 10 passes, but they went to six different receivers.
In addition to helping contain Dalton, Burg hopes to connect with King on a big play or two to keep the offense rolling.
King, last season’s All-Tribune Co-Player of the Year, is averaging 219.4 passing yards per game and has completed 34 touchdown passes to go with four interceptions.
Like last season, he’s been effective with solid options among his group of receivers. Andrew Goergen (597 yards, 9 TDs) and Sam Barthel (405 yards, 6 TDs) have also had big games while passes have been completed to 14 receivers.
“All we have to do is get open, and Owen will find us,” Burg said. “Goergen gets double coverage a lot, and others get it sometimes, and Owen always seems to know where to go with the ball.”
Beating Triton twice was a big deal for the Warriors, who struggled during long stretches of both games before taking over. North will give Caledonia new challenges as it tries to win a third consecutive AA state championship.
“They will be bigger than we are, but that’s always the case for us,” Fruechte said. “I know our guys will be ready to play, and we’re excited for the game.
“If you aren’t excited to play in a game like this, what are you doing this for?”