State Class AA football: Pipestone Area must go through Caledonia to win championship
PIPESTONE -- To be prepared in football, it’s always a good idea to study your opponent.
Unfortunately for the Pipestone Area Arrows, everything they’re learning about the Caledonia Warriors this week may cause them to wince.
Caledonia is … well, how might one put this delicately … very, very good. The Warriors own a 12-0 record heading into Friday’s 1 p.m. Minnesota Class AA championship game against PA at U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
They averaged more than 400 yards of offense in the regular season while giving up just 160.
They are the two-time defending AA champions. In 2016, they defeated Eden Valley-Watkins 61-12 for the title. In 2015, they rolled over Pipestone Area 40-0 for the crown.
Their state tournament domination goes farther back than that. They also won championships in 2007, 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2012. Yes, they “slipped” in 2009, finishing 11-1; and in 2013, finishing 10-1; and in 2014, losing in the state semifinals to go 10-1.
Their quarterback in 2017, Owen King, is called by Pipestone Area head coach Clay Anderson “arguably the state’s best quarterback.” In last Thursday’s 49-16 semifinal victory over Paynesville, King completed 13 of 16 passes for 214 yards and three touchdowns. “I wasn’t touched all game. There was a clean pocket back there all game,” King was quoted as saying later by the La Crosse Tribune.
Their win over Paynesville was the team’s 40th straight. Caledonia scored on all six of its possessions in the first half.
The good news, of course, is that Pipestone Area is very, very good, too. That’s why the Arrows -- who beat Moose Lake/Willow River 28-6 in their quarterfinal contest -- will be playing their second consecutive game Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Pipestone Area spotted ML/WR a 6-0 first quarter lead before running off 28 unanswered points.
The Arrows did it by spreading the field and throwing the football. Senior wideout Tyl Woelber, already famous around southwest Minnesota as a game-changing game-breaker, had himself a field day against the Rebels with two touchdown catches (28 and 71 yards), a TD pass by his own hand (64 yards) and a 2-point conversion catch.
He finished with 124 yards receiving on five receptions. Teammate Braeden Rieck -- another Arrow who has impressed Caledonia head coach Carl Fruechte -- caught four for 67.
Caledonia will have to account for Woelber. It is a team that thrives on film study, so it won’t be a surprise to the Warriors when Anderson (as he does often) calls for trips receivers on one side of the field so that he can pull Woelber to the other side -- forcing the defense to choose who to double-team.
“It starts with No. 20 (Woelber) and it goes from there. We gotta keep him in front,” said Fruechte. “He’s a tremendous athlete. We want to make sure we contain his speed and not let him get outside. And we gotta make sure we tackle him. He’s hard to tackle, and that’s a credit to him.”
Fruechte calls himself an admirer of the job Anderson has done to make Pipestone Area one of southwest Minnesota’s top high school programs. What the PA head mentor has done with the Arrows, he said, “is a cornerstone of what we’re trying to teach.”
The Arrows are in the state tournament for the third time in four years. And win or lose, said Anderson, this has been a remarkable season to have reached the state championship with so many juniors playing key roles -- including Rieck, quarterback Cody Thompson and the team’s best defensive player, Matt Enger.
“We may actually be a year ahead of ourselves,” Anderson said.