Cardinals are Class AA's second best for second consecutive year
MINNEAPOLIS -- Caledonia quarterback Kody Moore entered Friday's Prep Bowl with more than 2,000 yards passing and a 50 percent completion rate this season.
Moore completed just two passes for just 16 yards against Luverne (12-2), but made each of them count. Moore's only completions against the Cardinal defense were to Andy Bauer (five yards) and Zach Gran (11 yards).
"A big challenge that we had in front of us was to stop their passing game," Luverne head coach Todd Oye said. "They have a very good quarterback, and our team really stepped up to that challenge."
However, the lefty made the most of each completion as both went for touchdowns, giving Caledonia all the points it needed for a 14-7 Class AA victory over the Cardinals to earn a state title.
"It's real disappointing," Luverne's Jeremy Hoff said. "Coming in, I thought we had it this year. We lost to a good team, and hats off to them."
For Luverne, a few plays here and there could have made the difference.
"I think we would have needed a couple more bounces our way," Paquette said. "We were both great teams, and we both fought hard, but they just got a couple more bounces than us."
The Warriors' (13-1) first bounce came on the opening possession. Caledonia's Tyler Stemper forced a Paquette (109 yards on 19 carries) fumble, and Dustin King recovered the loose ball for the Warriors.
However, the defense held, as the Warriors were forced to punt.
"It was so close; it was such a battle, and it really could have gone either way," Paquette said of the game. "Early, we gave up the turnovers. That gave them field position. That didn't necessarily kill us; they didn't score on them, but they had field position the whole first half."
Even after Luverne recovered a muffed punt, the Cardinals had to give the ball back to the Warriors.
Caledonia's Zach Gran rushed five times on the ensuing possession -- moving inside the Cardinal 5-yard line.
Moore finished the drive with a pass to Bauer, and with a successful PAT, Caledonia had a 7-0 lead.
On the ensuing possession, the Cardinal offense came alive.
Paquette and Mitch Bauman (eight carries, 34 yards) started the drive on the ground, but it wasn't long before Hoff (14 carries, 29 yards) got in on the action. Hoff scrambled to offset the power attack of Bauman and Paquette, as Luverne moved down the field.
Bauman capped the 16-play drive that covered 80 yards in more than six minutes with a 2-yard burst. Sebastian Soares Sousa was true on the PAT, and the game was tied at 7-all.
Luverne fumbled on its next possession, but had one more opportunity to get on the board in the first half.
Taking over on its own 20, the offense went to work again. Hoff gained 15 yards on the first two plays, and Paquette picked up another first down with an 11-yard run.
Hoff (3-of-6, 36 yards) then completed his only three passes of the game on consecutive plays to Zach Olson, Weston Sawtelle and Bauman, as the Cardinals were on the Caledonia 18.
After the Warriors used two timeouts to ice Soares Sousa, the 35-yard field goal attempt was just wide -- ending the half tied at 7-all.
"We were a little bit tentative in the first half, and we just played better in the second half," Caledonia head coach Carl Fruechte said. "We talked about having fun. You play better when you're having fun and it's just another ballgame."
However, on Bauman's reception on the second to last play of the half, the senior fullback hurt his foot, sidelining him for the rest of the game.
"We were able to move the ball better in the first half, but in the second half when we lost Mitch Bauman, that got us out of sync a little bit," Oye said. "Last week we lost Zach Clark, so offensively, that limited our options."
With neither team able to move the ball to start the second half, Caledonia finally broke the tie.
By way of a roughing the passer penalty, Caledonia moved into Luverne territory. Pat Bolduan picked up 13 yards, and Gran picked up two minimal gains. Moore then completed his other pass of the game - an 11-yard strike to Gran for a Warrior touchdown.
A successful PAT gave Caledonia a 14-7 lead.
As the fourth quarter started, Luverne made a defensive stand to get the ball back. However, they were not able to pick up a first down, and were forced to punt with 7:12 remaining in the game.
With a heavy dose of Gran, the Warriors never gave the ball back to Luverne, and picked up a crucial fourth down conversion by just inches along the way.
"I'm proud of how hard we played," Oye said. "Caledonia is a very good team. Our guys played hard, and it was a very good high school football game."
Caledonia used 15 plays to clinch a state title, and end the Cardinals' hopes of glory.
"It feels great," Fruechte said. "I feel proud for our seniors and our community. It's something that they've worked hard for."
With an inconsistent passing game, Caledonia turned to Gran, who answered with 151 yards on 30 carries.
"We couldn't stop (Gran), who is a slippery running back," Hoff said. "We defended the pass well, but that running back killed us."
For Luverne, Friday's game was the second consecutive Prep Bowl appearance, and for the second year, the Cardinals will bring home second.
"There are a lot of teams that would love to be here once, and we've been here two years in a row," Oye said. "This season we defeated the team that beat us last year, and we won a lot of close games. We have nothing to hang our heads about; we had a great season."
Even with the momentum of wins over Triton and Pierz, the Cardinals came up just short.
"It's really disappointing," Tanner Skattum said. "We came in with a couple of big wins against Triton and last week was a big win, so this is a tough one to swallow."
Caledonia 7 0 7 0 -- 14
Luverne 0 7 0 0 -- 7