CALEDONIA, Minn. — Caledonia, owner of a nation-leading 66 straight football wins, has not been seriously tested this season.
The 12-0 and No. 1-ranked Warriors now find themselves in the Class 2A state semifinals and with hopes of advancing a step closer to their fifth straight state championship.
Here is what Caledonia has accomplished in the last 12 years: nine Class 2A state championships, an overall record of 178 wins and 6 losses which is a 97% winning percentage and outscoring opponents 42-7 on average.
But here comes Barnesville. And if Caledonia is ever going to be tested this season, this figures to be the time and the team.
Even Barnesville head coach Bryan Strand admits to his team’s comfort in facing the 12-0 Warriors. The Trojans are also 12-0 and ranked just one slot below Caledonia, at No. 2 in Class 2A.
“The good thing about our kids is they're not intimidated by Caledonia,” said Strand, son of former longtime Southland football coach Dick Strand.
Some of that comfort comes from their familiarity with the Warriors and that they have hung with them the last two times they’ve met (at least for a half in 2016).
That especially includes a year ago when they clashed in the Prep Bowl final, Barnesville playing neck and neck with Caledonia until late in the fourth quarter. The Trojans trailed just 7-0 with 4½ minutes left in regulation before Caledonia got a couple of late touchdowns to win 21-0.
“We played them tough,” Strand said. “We’re hoping to do the same thing Friday.”
That’s when the teams meet again at state, this time at 11:30 a.m. in the semifinals at U.S Bank Stadium in Minneapolis.
On paper, this is the ultimate showdown.
Caledonia head coach Carl Fruechte understands why Barnesville is brimming with confidence.
“Really, I think they should be the favorite because they brought almost everyone back (from last year’s state runner-up team),” Fruechte said. “We lost a lot of guys from last year (to graduation).”
Two guys Caledonia didn’t lose are the King brothers, senior quarterback/defensive back Noah and sophomore wide receiver/defensive back Eli.
Noah threw for 339 yards in last week’s 56-14 quarterfinal rout of Pipestone Area and Eli had 90 yards receiving and a pair of touchdowns (Cole Kronebusch led Caledonia with 129 yards receiving and three touchdowns).
Despite all of the skill the Kings and other Warriors possess, Fruechte says the game will likely not come down to them. He points to what happens up front as the key to who reaches the final.
“In the state tournament, it’s always the same to me,” Fruechte said. “It comes down to your offensive and defensive lines. They have to attack and get after (the opposition). Against Barnesville, we’re going to have to be able to establish our running game or we’ll be in trouble.”
Running with the football is what Barnesville leans on most. Not nearly as diverse offensively as Caledonia, the Trojans — who have outscored opponents by an average of 46-8 — have an elite runner in quarterback Adam Tonsfeldt.
Part of what makes Tonsfeldt so effective is that at 5-feet-7, 140 pounds, he’s hard to locate.
When Tosfeldt is not hiding behind his big and strong offensive line, he’s sprinting to daylight. The junior, who’s helped Barnesville average 9.4 yards per carry, has 1,420 rushing yards this season. His per-carry average is a whopping 13 yards.
Barnesville also has one of the state’s top tight end/linebackers with 6-3, 220-pound senior Hunter Zenzen. He has committed to play at Iowa Stater.
Still, as much as Barnesville has going for it, the Trojans know what they are up against. It’s Caledonia, a team that no one has been able to solve in 66 games.
“You still have to give the advantage to Caledonia,” Strand said. “Until someone knocks them off, they are the favorite. Caledonia has the best coached teams I’ve ever played against.”