There’s a good chance nobody is enjoying Annandale’s state playoff run more than John Kalthoff.
The Cardinals’ senior quarterback is all about football, teammates say. And right now, Annandale is all about football.
“He lives and dies football,” Annandale receiver Brett Ahsenmacher said.
Annandale (9-1) plays New London-Spicer (7-4) at noon Saturday in the state Class 3A quarterfinals at Husky Stadium.
“They’re very physical and they have a very good secondary,” Kalthoff said of the Wildcats.
It’s one of three games this week involving area teams.
Holdingford (9-1) plays BOLD (10-0) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Husky Stadium in the Class 2A quarterfinals.
In Class 4A, Becker (9-1) faces Minneapolis DeLaSalle (10-0) at 7 p.m. Friday at Hopkins High School.
Annandale is back in the state playoffs for the second straight season after never having made it to the tournament. Since an 0-4 start in the 2011 season, the Cardinals are 19-3 and Kalthoff has led the way.
He has passed for more than 4,000 career yards and helps run Annandale’s diverse offense, which includes just a little bit of everything, from the no-huddle spread formation out of the shotgun, to the wildcat, to the trips backfield.
Annandale head coach Matt Walters puts it succinctly when describing the 6-foot-3, 200-pound senior.
“He’s the real deal,” Walters said.
Walters put up big numbers in Annandale’s 21-0 Section 5-3A final win over Foley, despite being sacked eight times as the Falcons blitzed relentlessly. Instead of rushing his throws or scrambling out of the pocket, he maintained his composure and wound up completing 16 of 22 passes for 210 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“He really showed his experience,” Foley head coach Larry Herm said of Kalthoff. “He got a lot of time last year and to have that kind of experience in high school is a pretty big deal. With two years under his belt and with them getting to the dome last year, he’s pretty experienced.”
The Metrodome was a dream for the Cardinals last season, who went into the playoffs with a 3-5 record, got hot and wound up 7-6.
While Annandale has nine new defensive starters, Kalthoff, Ahsenmacher, Matt Miller, Andrew Russek and Nicholas Anderson all saw significant playing time last year. All are skill position players.
Kalthoff completed 135 of 309 passes last year for 2,170 yards and 19 TDs with 20 interceptions. All the numbers are good, but they are better this year.
“He was just as talented last year,” Walters said. “But compared to last year, he knows how to handle tough situations like (Foley’s blitz).”
This season, Kalthoff has completed 109 of 188 passes for 1,723 yards and 11 TDs with seven interceptions. His completion percentage has gone from 43.6 percent in 2011 to 57.9 percent this season. And, that’s come with 13 less interceptions.
Ahsenmacher thinks he knows why Kalthoff has been more successful.
“He’s put in more time than anyone on our team,” Ahsenmacher said. “In the offseason, he’s always looking to play catch with somebody every day. He lives and dies football.
“He works really, really hard.”
Annandale beat New London-Spicer 28-21 on Oct. 5. The Wildcats played tough man-to-man defensive coverage on the Cardinals’ passing game and have fine defensive backs in Joey Dreier and Logan Brink.
Dreier and Brink both have returned two interceptions for touchdowns this season. Offensively, the Wildcats are led by running back Austin Stone (1,179 yards rushing with 13 TDs) and quarterback Ryan Vraa (68 of 131 for 1,022 yards and 10 TDs with 7 interceptions).
New London-Spicer is dangerous on special teams. The Wildcats have returned three kicks and two punts for touchdowns. The key man on those is returner Adam Essler, head coach Dan Essler’s son. Vraa is the son of activities director John Vraa.
Walters expects a tough matchup from its fellow Wright County Conference member.
“To me, this says a great deal about the Wright County Conference,” Walters said. “To me, the Wright County is the best. We know they’re very talented and had a nice run here the past four years.
“They’ll definitely be ready to play us. It should be a nice one up here on Saturday afternoon.”
* Holdingford (9-1) vs. BOLD (10-0) – Huskers head coach Luke Mitchell is impressed with what he has seen on video and from scouting reports of BOLD, which is acronym for Bird Island, Olivia, Lake Lillian District.
“They’re a really good football team,” Mitchell said. “Their defense is really solid.”
The most points BOLD has allowed against Minnewaska in a 42-21 win in the Section 5-2A final.
The Warriors also have a consistent, power-formation ground game led by Chaz Rousch (1,469 yards, 12 TDs), Tyler Seehusen (872 yards, 12 TDs) and quarterback Tyler Rock (330 yards, 7 TDs).
BOLD rarely throws, having completed 44 of 70 passes for 781 yards and 16 TDs all season. The Warriors do have two receiving threats, Trent Athmann (18 catches, 283 yards, 3 TDs) and Trevor Nissen (10 catches, 227 yards, 8 TDs).
“Their backfield is really fast,” Mitchell said.
Holdingford will mix it up offensively. Jon Skwira (747 yards, 8 TDs) is the leading rusher. Quarterback Mitch Messman is a double threat. He has completed 87 of 151 passes for 1,180 yards and 15 TDs with 8 interceptions. He also has rushed for 478 yards and 5 TDs.
His favorite targets are Cody Schwinghammer (25 receptions, 365 yards, 6 TDs) and Taylor Mildbrandt (13 receptions, 294 yards, 3 TDs).
Milbrandt also has been a key at outside linebacker, moving into a starting role when Bo Maciej broke his leg. It’s the only significant injury of the season, Mitchell said.
Skwira (72 tackles) and Matt Messman (68 tackles) lead Holdingford in tackles.
* Becker (9-1) vs. Minneapolis DeLaSalle (10-0) – The Islanders present a formidable challenge to Becker.
“They were rated No. 1 in the state real early in the polls and they’ve stayed there,” Becker head coach Dwight Lundeen said. “They’ve scored a lot of points and they are very athletic.”
DeLaSalle has four potential Division I college players. Quarterback Reid Travis (6-7, 240, Jr.) is considered a major college basketball prospect.
Running back Chris Williams (5-10, 185, Jr.), wide receiver James Lawson (6-5, 200, Jr.) and defensive end Jareid Combs (6-5, 250, Sr.) all have received Division I recruiting interest, Lundeen said.
Williams has rushed for 1,670 yards and 24 TDs on 183 carries, a 9.1 yards-per-carry average.
Travis has completed 80 of 144 passes for 1,267 yards and 14 TDs with 4 interceptions. He also has run for 493 yards and 9 TDs.
Lawson has 27 catches for 531 yards and 9 TDs. Combs also plays tight end and has 26 receptions for 510 yards and 5 TDs.
Cody Vaughn leads a balanced defense with 54 tackles. Combs (45 tackles), Sam Johnson (43 tackles), Sam McCarthy (41 tackles, 3 interceptions) and GeVelve Gandy (29 tackles, 2 interceptions) all have had strong seasons.
“Some of things we do are very similar to some of the things they do,” Lundeen said. “Speed is their game.”
Becker is led in rushing by Austin Soare (816 yards, 11 TDs) and Eric Dudek (521 yards, 2 TDs). Quarterback Tommy Benson has completed 124 of 195 passes for 1,880 yards with 28 TDs and 6 interceptions.
Brett Watercott (40 receptions, 838 yards, 14 TDs) and Joel Hopkins (46 catches, 589 yards, 9 TDs) are top targets.
Bobby Lee (72 tackles), Nick Welinski (62 tackles) and Shane Busch (54 tackles, 3 interceptions) are defensive leaders.
Becker will have starting tackle Brady Kurtz (6-2, 227, Sr.) back in the lineup after he hurt his knee against Zimmerman. Kurtz is a captain and a leader on the line, Lundeen said.