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State Class AA football championship: Pipestone Area busted in finale

MINNEAPOLIS -- The first half wasn't pretty for Pipestone Area Friday in its Class AA Prep Bowl contest against Caledonia. The Arrows turned the ball over three times -- once deep in Warrior territory -- resulting in 13 points for their opponents...

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Pipestone Area tight end Justin Rops (23) pulls in a long pass with Caledonia defender Tanner Gran providing tight coverage at Friday’s state Class AA high school football championship at TCF Bank Stadium. JESSE TRELSTAD/DAILY GLOBE

 

MINNEAPOLIS - The first half wasn’t pretty for Pipestone Area Friday in its Class AA Prep Bowl contest against Caledonia.
The Arrows turned the ball over three times - once deep in Warrior territory - resulting in 13 points for their opponents. By halftime, Caledonia had rolled up a 33-0 lead. When it was all said and done, the Warriors had the seventh state title in school history with a 40-0 victory.
“We knew going in that they were going to be really tough,” first-year Arrows head coach Clay Anderson said. “I think what I was most impressed with was the speed of their defense.”
It was a stark contrast from the way Pipestone Area had been starting its games in the state tournament. In its previous two contests, it outscored opponents 85-7 in the first half and out-gained them 433 yards to 141.
For the Warriors, it was old-hat.
The 33-0 advantage at the break gave Caledonia a new state record. In 14 games this season, it outscored opponents an astonishing 497-0. That’s right, it didn’t give up a single first-half point. Friday, it put up 258 yards of offense to 104 for the Arrows during the game’s first 24 minutes.
“So far this season we really haven’t had any close games,” said Caledonia running back Sam Stemper, who finished with 172 yards and two scores on the ground. “We know we’ve gotta come out and start fast. That’s our mentality and that’s what we did.”
Caledonia didn’t waste its opportunity to strike first. A reverse on the opening kickoff gave it good field position at the 45-yard line. A 17-yard run by Stemper followed by a 27-yard pass completion from Owen King to Symon Ely quickly got the Warriors down to the Pipestone 10-yard line.
The Arrows held firm on first and second down, but on third down tight end Alex Goergen slipped into the open and was wide open for a 10-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was good and with just 1:55 gone by in the contest, Caledonia had taken a 7-0 lead.
“They threw to their tight end more than we expected,” Anderson said. “That we hadn’t really seen on film.”
Both defenses stiffened after that. Goergen recovered a fumble on the Arrows’ first drive, but their ‘D’ stood its ground. Later, Daniel Larson came up with a big sack to force a Caledonia three-and-out. That left the score at 7-0 after one.
Pipestone Area looked poised to score early in the second quarter. A 17-yard pass over the middle from Brayden Baartman to Justin Rops put it at the Warriors’ 30 on the first play of the frame. Two plays later, Rops made an incredible one-handed catch over his back shoulder for a 24-yard pickup down to the 13.
That is where the drive came to a screeching halt. For the second time in the contest, the Arrows put the ball on the ground. Caledonia’s Mitchell Schmitz recovered it at the 14 to snuff out the threat.
“That missed snap that they recovered was a killer,” Anderson said. “I think that broke our backs a little bit. We knew that things really had to go well for us but when we fumbled the snap, that was a killer.”
The Warriors’ took advantage, converting plays of 19, 13 and 21 yards to swiftly move deep into Pipestone territory. On the same play they had scored on earlier, King hit Goergen on a 12-yard touchdown pass over the middle. The extra point failed, but after the 8-play, 86-yard drive that took just 2:04 off the clock, the Arrows trailed 13-0.
On their ensuing drive, the Arrows converted one third down on a nice pass from Baartman to Caleb Tinklenberg. A few plays later, however, they faced 4th-and-1 at their own 47. They decided to go for it.
The gamble didn’t pay off. Schmitz got in the backfield to stuff the run and force a turnover on downs. A 19-yard pass to Colton Lampert was followed by Stemper getting a massive hole on the right side to get down to the four. Stemper finished the four-play drive with a 2-yard TD run that put the Warriors up 20-0.
Again, a fumble proved costly for Pipestone.
This time, Joe Schieber stripped it and Brandon Robley was there to recover for Caledonia at the Arrows’ 34. Stemper finished the drive with a 1-yard touchdown run that put PA in a 27-0 hole with 2:22 left in the first half. King and Lampert hooked up on a 39-yard fly pattern for six late in the half to bring the halftime deficit to 33-0.
“You just ask about their character,” Anderson said of his halftime speech. “We told them that there are two ways to go; we can tank or we can battle. I was really proud of the way we battled the rest of the way because we could’ve caved in the second half.”
A roughing the kicker penalty helped extend a Pipestone Area drive early in the third quarter. Nice runs by Baartman and Larson helped them move the ball out to around midfield, but it stalled there.
Caledonia responded by going 91 yards on nine plays over 3:37. That ended with a touchdown connection from King to Lampert on which the QB extended the play by rolling right and Lampert went to his tip-toes to stay in bounds. That set the score at 40-0 at the end of three.
“Isn’t he good?” Anderson asked rhetorically about King, who completed 13 of 20 passes for 207 yards and four TDs. “He really does a great job of keeping his eyes downfield and he has three talented kids to throw to. That one in the second half was a thing of beauty. That was a big-time, college catch.”
A pass interference erased a Lampert interception early in the fourth quarter, but Ben McCabe made up for it two plays later with a Caledonia pick. A 37-yard run by Stemper had the Warriors knocking on the door again, but a couple Pipestone sacks squelched the late opportunity.
By game’s end, Caledonia out-gained the Arrows 394-127. Pipestone Area also had four turnovers compared to zero for the Warriors.
Garrett Ploeger led the Arrow rushing effort with 38 yards on 13 carries. Larson rumbled for 31 yards. Rops and Tinklenberg had two receptions each for 41 and 17 yards, respectively, while Baartman was 5-for-13 passing for 71 yards.
The Arrows were without their top three running backs, including star senior Austin Moeller who was a game-time decision. He tried to give it a go, but wasn’t feeling well enough after pregame warmups to play.
“He’s a great player,” Anderson said. “He’s a great running back and a really good linebacker. When we have him and Daniel we’re pretty tough.”
Pipestone Area ended its season with a record of 13-1. It was the second straight year the Arrows have been to the state tournament after falling in the state semifinals in 2014.
Anderson is happy with the direction of the program.
“We have a really good senior class and all of our linemen are gone,” he said. “But the town was a-buzz and we had so much support. But we told the kids just now, it’s not this game that defines their season. It’s the journey that got us here.”
PA 0 0 0 0 - 0
Cal 7 26 7 0 - 40

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