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State Football: Bulldogs heat up frigid night

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Paynesville's Grant Ludwig dives to try and sack Barnesville quarterback Caleb Stetz in the Class AA state quarterfinal Friday night at Alexandria High School. Jake Schultz / Tribune 2 / 7
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Paynesville's Zach Schroeder scampers for a first half run in Friday's Class AA state quarterfinal match against Barnesville at Alexandria High School. Jake Schultz / Tribune 4 / 7
Paynesville's Zach Schroeder tries to get warm prior to the opening kickoff of Friday's Class AA quarterfinal match against Barnesville at Alexandria High School. Jake Schultz / Tribune5 / 7
Paynesville's Max Weidner breaks through a hole in Friday's Class AA state quarterfinal match against Barnesville at Alexandria High School. Jake Schultz / Tribune6 / 7
Paynesville's Sam Oehrlein tries to pull in a catch in Friday's Class AA quarterfinal match against Barnesville at Alexandira High School. Jake Schultz / Tribune7 / 7

ALEXANDRIA—Max Meagher stood outside the gates to the football field at Alexandria High School. The temperature for his Paynesville football team's state quarterfinal against Barnesville read zero degrees for much of the night. It felt colder than that. Crosswinds and snow had whipped across the turf for the last three hours. His face, much like the spectators that lined both sidelines, had long ago settled into a deep red hue.

But Meagher didn't care about any of that—not on this evening, at least.

In the battle of the 'Villes, it was Barnesville that felt the Payne.

The Bulldogs lit up the scoreboard, cranking up the heat with their offense on the season's most frigid day for a 58-33 win over the Trojans to advance to the Class AA state semifinals next Thursday against Caledonia in Minneapolis.

Thirty-eight of its 58 points came unanswered, spanning parts of three quarters. 24 of those came over the final 5:34 of the first half to blow the game wide open.

"That wasn't a perfect game," Meagher said. "But we played one darn-good football game."

Jake Arnold ran for 140 yards, Zach Schroeder added 90 yards on the ground and both scored two first-half touchdowns. Paynesville quarterback Max Weidner completed seven of his 10 passes for three touchdowns and threw no interceptions.

It was offense at will for the Bulldogs.

"We came in with a great week of practice," Arnold said. "Credit to our blockers up front and just the way we executed. It was a lot of fun."

Ferocious winds coupled with a steady downpour of snow seemed to indicate that it would be an evening of tough sledding for both offenses. That could not have been less true.

"We didn't care about the cold," Schroeder said. "We were going to play our game."

Paynesville led 40-14 going into halftime, leaving Barnesville hoping for a miracle over the last two quarters, but just minutes before the game had the makings of a back-and-forth affair.

The Trojans responded to an Arnold touchdown runon the game's second play from scrimmage with a pair of one-yard touchdown runs, both by running back Brady Tweeton en route to a four-score performance.

Schroeder broke a 49-yard run with 2:43 left in the first quarter to draw even at 14-14, a score that would hold until midway through the second period.

Paynesville was just getting started.

While the white precipitation ceased falling early in the second quarter, Barnesville did its best to stop things from snowballing. It did not go as planned.

Six consecutive drives for the Trojans ended in either a fumble, interception or turnover on downs. Five of them came to a halt in Barnesville territory, giving a lethal Bulldogs offense a short field.

After Schroeder's 49-yard run off left tackle—Paynesville's bread and butter throughout the first half—to tie the score, the Trojans began their march back down the field.

But Barnesville turned the ball over on downs on its next two possessions, the second of which was a costly failed fake punt attempt from its own 13-yard line in the second quarter to flip the field position.

Then the fumbles proceeded to come in numbers.

Paynesville fumbled following the turnover on downs, recovered by the Trojans at the 10-yard line. Barnesville was quick to oblige the favor, however. Grant Ludwig jumped on a loose ball at the opposing 20-yard line moments later, leading to a go-ahead 19-yard strike from quarterback Max Weidner to Sam Oehrlein.

The Bulldogs pulled a play out from their vast bag of tricks for a two-point conversion, as wide receiver Luke Johnson completed a pass to take a 22-14 lead with 5:34 to play in the half.

Carter Carlson, who would add a fourth-quarter interception, then came away with turnovers on consecutive possessions for the Bulldogs. The senior pounced on a fumble at midfield to set up, of all Paynesville's scores on the day, perhaps its most impressive.

Two plays into the ensuing drive, Arnold took a sweep and bounced the ball outside the left tackle once again. A problem quickly presented itself in the form of a handful of unblocked Trojans pursuing Arnold, pushing him toward the sideline. Arnold took matters into his own hands.

The senior tailback found a slight cutback lane, burst through a pair of Barnesville tacklers and streaked toward the sideline, where he stepped through one last tackle en route to a 49-yard touchdown fora 28-14 lead.

Carlson read the eyes of Trojans quarterback Caleb Stetz two plays later, hauling in an interception with a juggling effort.

Barnesville's third consecutive turnover would lead to yet another Bulldogs score thanks to some fortuitous bounces.

After a 25-yard catch by Schroeder on third down moved Paynesville into the red zone, it faced another third-and-long from the nine-yard line. Weidner rolled out and lofted a pass to Ludwig, who got tangled with a defender and fell to the ground.

From the cold turf, the tight end looked up to find the ball square between the numbers on his jersey for a 34-14 lead with 30 seconds to play in the half.

"That's not how you draw it up, but when an athlete makes a great play like that you take it," Meagher said.

The rout was on, but the Bulldogs still had more points left in them before halftime.

Barnesville fumbled on the first play from scrimmage following the kickoff—its third lost fumble of the quarter—and Weidner found Ludwig streaking down the seam down to the goalline, where Schroeder punched in the score with 12 ticks on the clock.

"They kept hammering us and shoutout to them," Trojans head coach Brian Strand said. "They had a good game plan and it worked well for them."

Paynesville added three more touchdowns in the second half, including a 65-yard touchdown run by Levi Bast on a reverse in the third quarter.

"We noticed they were chasing hard on the backside, and so we run that reverse and it worked out," Meagher said.

As the clock wound down toward the inevitable, Barnesville players did their best to soak in every last moment of a memorable run.

Paynesville, meanwhile was looking forward to going to the Bank.

"Man," Arnold said, pausing for the right words. "Getting to U.S. Bank Stadium for the state semifinals, it's a dream. It's a dream come true."

Curt Hogg

Curt Hogg is a sports reporter at the West Central Tribune in Willmar, Minnesota. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 2016. 

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