In a matchup between last season's 1A and 2A champions, the Caledonia Warriors showed why they should be considered the team to beat again in 2A. Their shutout of Minneapolis North featured domination from all three phases of the game.
On the ground, Mason Staggemeyer was Caledonia's primary weapon. He started early with a nice run up the middle behind offensive lineman David Seymour then behind Walker Spier. Then – with his blocking not perfect – he broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage picked up five yards. He is not just a runner. He made a nice blitz pick up to give his quarterback time to throw. A physical runner, he did most of his damage in between the tackles. The senior has quick feet as well. The play was designed to go up the middle, but he cut to an outside hole to pick up a first down. His most impressive run was an inside dive. He got past the line of scrimmage, and it took three defenders to tackle him.
Staggemeyer got the benefit of an offensive line that dominated the final three quarters of the game. In addition to opening holes and wearing down the North front seven Seymour, Spier, Spencer Stemper, Brent Robley and Riley Cordes didn't allow a sack and gave quarterback Owen King plenty of time to throw.
One of the most impressive offensive line moments was turned in by Robley. During a run call, he drove a defensive lineman ten yards off the line of scrimmage.
“They were really good tonight,” King said about the offensive line. “They were moving their guys on run plays and were giving me all the time in the world in pass protection.”
King used the time he was granted by the line. He was most effective on slants and mid-range stuff. Despite the windy conditions King threw a perfect deep ball down the middle to Jordan Burg. King – a senior – can throw on the move like he did when he threw one of his touchdown passes to Burg. King didn't look to run but moves well in the pocket. When the situation presented itself, he ran for positive yards – including a short touchdown run off of a naked bootleg.
“King is a coach's kid,” head coach Carl Fruechte said. “He understands sports and is competitive. He loves to win and loves his teammates. He is the whole package.”
Burg was King's primary target. Facing a lot of press coverage, he showed he could run any route needed. Among his arsenal Friday night he caught slants, down and outs, and straight go routes. During his most impressive play, he caught a slant, broke a tackle and with only grass in front of him scored one of his three touchdowns.
“I will take him (Burg) one on one against anybody,” King said. “He was getting separation, and I was making the throws.”
King connected with other receivers as well. Andrew Goergen caught a ball in the flat broke a couple of tackles picked up a first down. Later he got wide open on a crossing route and made the catch. Marten Morem caught a crossing pattern, but his most significant contribution might have been on special teams. He uncorked punts for 42 yards, 53 yards, and 41 yards.
Austin Heim had the catch of the night. It appeared he was running a post route and was hit hard as he caught the ball. Despite the perfectly timed hit, Heim hung on and set up the Warriors with a first down.
At the beginning of the game and then coming into the second half it looked like North's offense might be able to give the Warriors' defense some trouble. Each time, within about three plays Caledonia, had adjusted to what the Polars were trying to do offensively and didn't give the defending 1A champions a sniff of red zone – much less the end zone.
The defensive effort all stared up front. Seymour fought off a block got a tackle on the outside. Then he combined with linebacker Nick McCabe for a loss. Seymour recorded a sack, but more importantly, he was able to get down the line consistently to get in on plays that were not run in his area.
Ryan Wagner spent the night making sure the Polars' backs were forced to play the game inside the numbers by keeping contain and forcing runners into defense. His play on the outside set up McCabe so he could make a big hit. Later Wagner penetrated and made a tackle on a 4th and short to prevent a first down.
Stemper played an impactful complete game from the interior line. He made at least three tackles for short gains, and he sacked the quarterback twice – once forcing a fumble.
Behind every good defensive line is a set of linebackers who benefit from the boys up front. However, this group would have played well even if the line struggled in front of them.
From his middle linebacker spot, Staggemeyer scraped to the outside to make a tackle on a sweep. Later he filled the hole and made a more traditional inside linebacker play – filling the hole and making a sure tackle. He made the kind of big hit fans could hear from the top row later inside run. He combined with 6 to read and stop a middle screen and sliced through the middle to make yet another tackle for loss.
Outside linebacker Heim made an open field tackle to prevent a first down and also recovered a fumble, but his best sequence came on back-to-back plays. First, he blitzed and wrapped up the quarterback for a sack; then on the very next play, he got in the air to bat down a pass to the flat.
“Our defense prevented the big plays and made them go the length of the field,” King told northstarfootballnews.com.
The secondary was all over the Polars' receivers. Especially in the first half, the North quarterback had to run more often than throw because he couldn't find anyone open.
The secondary wasn't just a coverage unit.
Peyton Schott made an open field tackle from corner spot to prevent a first down. Burg stayed at home and blew up a runner on an end around. Tate Meiners and Morem had excellent high low coverage on deep balls giving the Polars' receivers nowhere to go.
Based on what I watched Friday night, I can't put anyone else left in 2A above the defending champs. They have dominated all season and don't look to have many weaknesses.