MINNEAPOLIS (WXOW) - Winning a state championship is difficult enough. Winning back-to-back is even tougher, but trying to win three in a row? Good luck.
In fact, only three times since the Minnesota State High School League expanded to six divisions (in 1997) has that happened. It's never happened in Class AA. Caledonia came close once before, but fell short. On Friday they got a second chance to win a third straight title.
To do so they would have to get by a revenge-minded Moose Lake/Willow River team who lost 27-0 to the Warriors just a year ago. But just like last season, Caledonia struck first. They capped off a three play scoring drive with a one yard run by Brad Strub. The extra-point would miss, so the Warriors led 6-0.
Caledonia wanted to stick a dagger in the Rebels' hearts early. Alex Varney threw a deep pass on the first play of their next possession, but Ben Moonen intercepted and ran it back to the Warriors' 14 yard line. The Rebels capitalized to take a 7-6 lead.
In the second quarter, Caledonia re-took the lead on a Levi Schmitz 36-yard field goal. With a 9-7 advantage, the Warriors tried to get more of a cushion before halftime. They did so when Varney hit Strub on a 25-yard touchdown pass. Schmitz would have the extra-point attempt blocked. Caledonia led the title game 15-7 at the break.
The wheels nearly fell off the Warriors' wagon in the second half. First, the Rebels tied the game on a 71-yard touchdown scamper by Jake Disterhaupt followed by a two-point conversion. Then, after a Caledonia punt, Tony Adamczak tossed an 84-yard touchdown to Isaac Coil for a 22-15 Rebels lead.
Caledonia threatened to score five minutes into the fourth quarter, but Varney came up short on a designed run on 4th and goal, turning the ball over on downs.
"That 4th and goal stop by them was huge. Give all the credit to them. They kept fighting. They kept with it," Varney said.
Warriors senior QB/DB got redemption. Three plays later, Adamczak watched as his pass was tipped, intercepted and returned for a touchdown by Varney. Caledonia tied the game at 22.
Varney said, "We knew that if we get a three and out, get a stop, that we would be in the game. It was huge getting that pick six right after that."
Caledonia came up with another defensive stop, and with time winding down drove into Rebels territory. They called their final time out with only one second remaining, putting the game on the leg of Schmitz.
Warriors senior OL Jake Dolle said, "This is why we've [played football] ever since third grade, working out for this. We just kept playing football and moved on. Look what happened."
After the Rebels called a time out to try and ice the Caledonia senior kicker, Schmitz stepped up and drilled the 24-yard attempt as time expired.
"We left it up to Levi," Varney said. "He pulled through tonight. That's why we call him 'Magic Man.'"
The 25-22 victory sealed the Warrior's 3rd straight Class AA Championship, and sixth overall. It's also the second state title under head coach Brent Schroeder.
The second-year head coach said, "The difference came down to execution at the end. Just a bunch of seniors and underclassmen working hard, striving for one goal and playing their hearts out all game long."
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