Saturday, October 28, 2023 | Memorial Field, By Adam VanSickle
NORTHFIELD, MN— Stephen Kallestad has been a confident kicker for the Northfield football team all season. With the game on the line in the final seconds on Saturday night, his approach was no different. Prior to lining up the potential game winning kick, he was raising his arms up and down to get the crowd pumped up. Seconds later, he booted a perfect 34-yard field goal to give the Raiders a 3-point lead with only three seconds left in the game. The game winning kick pushed Northfield to a thrilling 24-21 section semifinal victory over the New Prague Trojans.
Familiar section opponents, Northfield (5-3, 3-1) had just faced off with New Prague (6-2, 2-2) three weeks earlier in a week 6 contest at New Prague that saw the Raiders come away with a 22-19 win. With that victory, the Raiders went on to earn the 2-seed in the Northstar South-Maroon section tournament while the Trojans would get the 3-seed. With only five teams in the section, the 1-through-3 seeds all earn a first-round bye. The Raiders and Trojans knew they would be facing off again as soon as the seedings were released.
This time it would be Northfield hosting New Prague at Memorial Field with a spot in the Section Championship on the line. The Raiders won the toss and deferred to the second half. Northfield’s defense came to play as they forced the Trojans to go three-and-out on their first two possessions. After a tough first drive, Northfield would strike first on their second drive of the game. After Owen Murphy grabbed a first down for the Raiders on a 15-yard run, Seth Thompson would add five yards on a QB option run. On second and five, Thompson would drop back and find Jake Geiger on a short pass over the middle, and he would do the rest. Geiger took the pass and beat the New Prague defense around the corner to the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown. The catch would mark Geiger’s fourth consecutive touch that resulted in a touchdown dating back to the Tartan game. Kallestad would add the extra point and the Raiders were up 7-0 with 4:17 left in the opening quarter.
The Northfield defense would force another three-and-out before New Prague would finally grab a couple first downs on their fourth drive of the game. On third and eleven, Trojan senior quarterback Will Seymour would find Jonny Connelly out of the backfield deep down field for a gain of 64 yards down to the Northfield one yard line. Seymour would take the snap on the next play and sneak around the left side for the New Prague touchdown to tie the score 7-7 with 7:58 remaining in the second quarter. The first half was a defensive battle on both sides as neither team could get much going. The Raiders Gavin Novotny grabbed an interception to end New Prague’s sixth possession at the end of the first half. Both teams would head to the locker room and look to make offensive adjustments to get the ball moving in the second half.
With only 49 yards of offense in the first half, the Raiders came out of the locker room with a bit of a new look in the second half. After receiving the second half kickoff, it was Kam Kaiser under center leading Northfield. After a three-yard gain and a sack, the Raiders were facing third and nine. Kaiser would drop back and find Geiger who went up to haul in a huge 18-yard third down conversion to keep the drive alive.
On the next play, Kaiser would take the shotgun snap, fake to Geiger coming across in motion and split the Trojan defense going untouched for a 68-yard touchdown run to give Northfield a 14-7 lead.
The lead would not last for long for the Raiders. New Prague senior RB/DB/K Jack Hennen would take the ensuing kickoff right through the middle of the Northfield defense 94 yards for the touchdown. The point after attempt was good and it was all tied up 14-14 with 9:35 to play in the third quarter.
Northfield would look to answer back on their next possession. With Kaiser still in at quarterback, he would cap off a five play, five-minute drive with a 38-yard touchdown run to put the Raiders back in front 21-14 with 6:53 left in the third quarter.
After the Raider defense forced yet another three-and-out, the Trojans would jump on a Logan Prescott fumble. New Prague couldn’t find any room on their next possession and would turn the ball over on downs. This time it was Northfield going three-and-out on their next drive as a couple Kaiser pass attempts would fall incomplete. New Prague would get the ball and drive it down deep into Northfield territory. On fourth and one from the Raider one yard line, it was Logan Prescott flying through to stuff Jack Hennen and put the stamp on the goal line stand for the Raider defense.
After taking over deep in their own territory, there was some confusion on the Northfield exchange between Kasier and Geiger. The handoff was muffed, and it was Trojan defensive back Jack Hennen coming in to jump on the ball and take it into the end zone for the New Prague touchdown. The point after attempt snuck in and the game was all tied up 21-21 with 8:08 left in the game. On the following possession the Tojans would again force the Raiders to punt. New Prague would get the ball back and Seymour would lead them down deep into Northfield territory. The drive would end with a Jack Hennen 23-yard field goal attempt flying wide left.
On the following Northfield possession, Seth Thompson would step back in at quarterback, but the Raiders would be forced to punt the ball away with 2:13 left to go in the game after three consecutive incompletions. It would be up to their defense to get the Raiders one final shot to win the game. The defense was up to the task, forcing another New Prague three-and-out. After a long delay that included a measurement, the Trojans would punt the ball away to Northfield on fourth-and-one.
Kaiser would secure the punt and Northfield would start the game winning drive from their own 35-yard line with 1:32 left on the clock. The coaches decided to put the game in Kaiser’s hands as he was the only one to touch the ball for Northfield on the final drive. Kasier would rush the ball six times for 42 yards setting up Kallestad’s heroics. On fourth and 10 from the New Prague 17-yard line with nine seconds to go, Stephen Kallestad stepped up and crushed the game winning field goal and the Trojans playoff hopes in the process.
After the kick cleared the uprights, there was still three seconds on the clock. Kallestad would squib the ensuing kickoff and special teams did the rest as they stuff New Prague’s return attempt and sealed the 24-21 victory for the Raiders. No stranger to the big stage, and a dual Fall sport athlete, Kallestad had just finished helping lift the boys’ soccer team to the state tournament the week prior. He finished the night a perfect 4-for-4 on his kicks and will look to continue his confident kicking down the stretch. After the offensive scheme adjustment heading into the second half, Kamden Kaiser finished the game with 21 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Geiger pulled down three catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, and Owen Murphy powered to 30 yards on four carries to highlight the offense. On defense the Raiders were led by Daniel Worden (10 tackles), Logan Prescott (7 tackles, 2 tackles for loss)and Gavin Novotny (6 tackles, interception).
With the win, Northfield (6-3) advances to the Section 1AAAAA Championship game on Friday, November 3 rd at 7pm on the new Owatonna High School field. It will be a battle of Section 1AAAAA #1-seed vs. #2-seed as the Raiders will take on the 1-seed Owatonna Huskies (7-2). Northfield will be looking to avenge rainy week 4 matchup that saw the Huskies come away with a narrow 26-21 victory.