After a three-year hiatus (that followed five straight state titles), Caledonia football is back in the state tournament. The #2-ranked Warriors beat Lewiston-Altura and Dover-Eyota to reclaim the 1AA throne. The moved Monday night semifinal game versus the Cardinals (5-seed, 4-5) was not a work of art. The Warriors (1-seed, 8-0) had not played in 12 days and struggled with a few turnovers. Nonetheless, Caledonia led 21-0 at the half and L-A did not score until the fourth quarter. Cal won 21-6. Owen Denstad (6-48 rushing) had all three TDs. Ethan Stendel (13-22, 214 yards passing, 6-23 rushing), Tristan Meyer (7-130 receiving), Lewis Doyle (2-51 rushing, 3-37 receiving), Owen Staggemeyer (7-50 rushing), and Fischer Wait (3-47 receiving) also did work. The Warriors threw for 214 yards and ran for 199. In the finals, they met up with 2-seed D-E (6-3). Caledonia had to come back to beat the Eagles in the regular season 20-13. Carl Fruechte’s group got after it quick. Their first series covered 60 yards and took six plays. A Stendel to Meyer 5-yard TD pass on 3rd and goal (plus Denstad PAT) made it 7-0. The Warrior defense then forced a three-and-out. Caledonia marched 55 yards in 10 plays. Denstad punched it in from 4 yards out on third and goal. After another PAT, the Warriors led 14-0. But the Eagles replied in the second quarter. They covered 75 yards in eight plays. Landon Lehnertz’s 9-yard TD run capped it. With PAT, the score was 14-7. Cal then fumbled the ensuing kick-off. D-E scored seven plays later via a Levi Williams to Tyler Holzer 4-yard TD connection. Suddenly, it was 14-14 with 2:07 left in the half.
But then the game’s biggest play occurred. On the ensuing kick-off, Fischer Wait went left, escaped out the back-door, and the speedy junior got to run at Paul Giel Field. His 80-yard kick-off return TD was huge and (with PAT) sent the Warriors to the half up 21-14. To start the second, pressure on a pass forced a D-E incompletion on 4th and eight near midfield. Cal then went 53 yards in 12 plays. On 2nd and goal from the one, with the box stacked, Stendel pitched to Denstad who juked his way in for the score. The PAT made it 28-14. The Warrior defense then stopped a Williams run on 4th and one to start the fourth. D-E’s next series also ended on downs. Ben Stemper iced the game, scoring on a 25-yard run to make it 35-14 (4:00). D-E got a late touchdown. By 35-20 final, Caledonia is again 1AA champs. Stendel (10-16, 138 yards, TD passing, 17-62 rushing), Denstad (15-53, 2 TDs rushing, 17-yard reception), Doyle (4-51 receiving), Meyer (3-36, TD receiving), Stemper (2-47, TD rushing), and Josh Beardmore (2-34 receiving) did work on “O.” Williams was limited to 10 of 26 passing (101 yards, 2 TDs). He was D-E’s leading rusher with 78 yards on 11 carries. The Cal “D” also limited Lehnertz (20-77, TD rushing) on the ground. He garnered less than four yards per carry. Holzer and Brock Hughes (3-21 receiving) had the Eagles’ two receiving TDs. Stemper and Mason Banse were credited with 13 tackles for Caledonia. The #2 Warriors (10-0) will play #4 Jackson County Central (10-0) in the state quarters at Mayo High.