Rebels finish runners-up to Caledonia in Prep Bowl XXXBehind a durable defense and operative offense, Caledonia won its fourth state championship in five years – including their second straight – as they defended their title with a 27-0 shutout over the Rebels last Friday evening in the Class AA Prep Bowl XXX at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
MINNEAPOLIS – With eye paint smeared across his sweaty face, a worn-out Jake Disterhaupt stood sadly along the bare Metrodome sidelines after the Moose Lake-Willow River football team lost the state title game against the Caledonia Warriors.
“That’s definitely the best team I’ve ever seen,” he said.
Behind a durable defense and operative offense, Caledonia won its fourth state championship in five years – including their second straight – as they defended their title with a 27-0 shutout over the Rebels last Friday evening in the Class AA Prep Bowl XXX at the Metrodome in Minneapolis.
“I told these kids all week that Caledonia is the best of the best,” said Rebels Coach Dave Louzek. “And for us to be the best Rebel team ever, we have to beat the best. We were closer, but we’re not there yet.”
Louzek was referring to a 2008 state semifinal game with the Warriors, in which Caledonia shellacked ML-WR 44-13 on their way to the Prep Bowl title.
“Back then, we didn’t give them a game,” recalled Louzek. “Obviously our program has taken some steps – this time, we challenged them.”
This time, in a game much closer than the final 27-point discrepancy indicated, the fifth-ranked Warriors (13-1) did what no other team could this fall – they shut down the second-rated Rebels (13-1) talented backfield trio.
Entering last week, the junior Disterhaupt, and fellow senior running mates Chris Gassert and Josh Cisar had combined for nearly 4,800 yards rushing and 70 touchdowns. In just 13 games, all three superstars featured in the Rebels’ double-wingback, run-first, pass-second offense had over 1,000 yards on the season.
Averaging well-over 400 yards per contest – even cracking 500 several times – ML-WR was held to 111 yards against Caledonia. Gassert led with 46, Cisar followed with 41 and Disterhaupt had a scarce 27 total yards.
“They were just that good,” Disterhaupt said. “Their defense was the best we’ve seen. They just attacked us in the backfield and we couldn’t overcome it.”
“They’re a heck of a team on both sides of the ball,” added Gassert, “but their defense worked for everything. They definitely earned it.”
Caledonia Coach Brent Schroeder said slowing down the Rebels’ backfield was the focal point for his boys as they prepared for a game against an opponent that averaged more than 50 points a night and has been to the state tournament more often than most.
“Wow, what a team,” said Schroeder of ML-WR, a program that has been to eight state tournaments, including the past six straight. “Moose Lake deserves a lot of credit. Their program is second-to-none. There’s a reason why they’re in the state tournament every year. We knew they were dangerous and we had to play fast against them. Our kids just lit it up and refused to be beaten today.”
As Caledonia’s deadening defense held ML-WR to just one first down in the opening half, Warriors quarterback Kennen
Bruening first hit Adam Drenckhahn with an 11-yard fade pass in the second quarter, then watched as Connor McCormick ran in from a yard out to mark his first of three touchdowns in the game, making things 13-0 just before halftime.
Yet, Louzek said the game changed when Gassert was stuffed on a fourth-down dive up the middle on the goal line in the third quarter. It was then that the Warriors stopped the Rebels’ opening-possession drive of 76 yards and 18 plays, preserved their 13-point lead and took over.
“That was a huge turning point,” Louzek recalled. “It was hard work to get all the way down there, and then to be denied on the 1-yard line definitely took some wind out of the sails. We had opportunities, but we just couldn’t make the best of them.”
“You have to tip your cap to Caledonia,” said ML-WR senior middle linebacker and offensive lineman Spencer Clough, who had a team-best eight tackles against the Warriors in the school’s second Prep Bowl loss in as many attempts. “They did a great job.”
The game remained close until Tony Adamczak fired an interception, soon followed by a three-and-out by the Rebels. On both occasions, McCormick – who rushed for a game-best 183 yards on 24 carries – scored fourth-quarter touchdowns of 12 and 38 yards that put the game away.
Bruening also rushed for 97 yards and threw for 75 more in Caledonia’s win.
As for the shutout, it was the first in the Rebels’ recent memory, while Caledonia became the first team since 2005 to blank an opponent in a Prep Bowl, and just the 15th since the state championships moved to the Metrodome in 1982.
“This is where we wanted to be. Everybody has been working to bring home a state championship,” said an emotional Gassert, one of 13 graduating seniors. “But if it wasn’t us, then I’m glad to say that we can lose it to a team better than us.”
“It’s no fluke why they won it again,” added Clough. “And there’s no surprise why they’ve won four of the last five state championships. They’re a great team.”
It’s a team Louzek wants his Rebels to resemble down the road.
“We always talk about being hungry,” said the 13-year ML-WR coach. “Caledonia is never satisfied. They always want to get better. And that’s the message our younger kids are going to get from me. They have to stay hungry and start winning some state championships.”
Disterhaupt already is.
“We came in ready to play, we just couldn’t beat the best team in the state,” he said, “but we’ll be back here, for sure.”