MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – We’re now in the second half of the high school football season. Games are getting bigger with conference championships on the line as well as games with playoff seeding implications.
It’s in the second half of the season where the true leaders and stars of each team tend to step up and make the big plays to help their teams win big games. It’s also where a team finds out what it’s made of as the regular season winds down.
Does a program that got off to a rough start have the mental toughness to turn things around before it’s too late? Can a team that’s gotten off to a good start keep it together to make a postseason push? There are several questions left to be answered before the end of the regular season.
This week there are plenty of big match-ups around the metro area, but we can only pick four. Here they are:
Minnetonka (4-0) at Wayzata (4-0)
The Wayzata Trojans host the Minnetonka Skippers Friday night in a battle of unbeaten teams who are also both ranked in the top five in the state in Class 5A. It’s also our featured “Game of the Week” for WCCO’s High School Sports Rally.
So what should we expect for the game? No disrespect for either team’s defense, but I expect this to be a shoot-out where the first team to 40 wins. Wayzata relies on its speed both in its offensive backfield and its defense as a whole. The Trojans lost star running back Mitch Underhill to a torn ACL, but Erik Roti and Antonio Ford have stepped up in his absence, accounting for 597 yards and eight touchdowns in four games. They can also throw it around as Ethan Zeidler (317 yards, 2 TDs) and Jeff Borchardt (194 yards, 3 TDs) are their big threats at receiver.
Minnetonka, meanwhile, has relied on a big play offense and a stellar defense to get off to a 4-0 start. The Skippers allowed their first points of the season in a 28-14 win over Edina last Friday. Before that, they shut out Totino-Grace, Robbinsdale Armstrong and Bloomington Jefferson.
I’d love to pick Minnetonka to win this game, but Wayzata is nearly impossible to beat on their home field. I give the Trojans the slight edge.
Rosemount (3-1) at Lakeville South (4-0)
It’s a huge game for both teams Friday night in Lakeville. The Irish are ranked No. 7 in 5A and are looking to avenge a 28-7 loss to Lakeville North last week. The Cougars are ranked No. 4 in 5A and can take control of the South Suburban Conference, at least until they face Lakeville North in Week 6.
Lakeville South is led by star quarterback Mitch Leidner, a University of Minnesota recruit. He’s one of the top passers in the metro area with 523 yards and seven touchdowns in four victories. Senior Chris Moore (196 yards, 2 TDs) and junior Austin Britnell (109 yards, 1 TD) lead the Cougars’ rushing game.
The Irish will try to grind away at their opponent’s defense with a punishing run game, led by running backs Matt Larson and Bryce Wildeberg. Senior quarterback Nate Lemoine is also a threat to run the ball at any time.
Rosemount also relies on its ability to control the line of scrimmage with its offensive and defensive line.
It’s a great rivalry in a new conference, and it should be a fairly low-scoring game. I’ll give the slight edge to Lakeville South as they’re very tough to beat on their home field, which they finally get to use after it was re-seeded.
Stillwater (3-1) at Mounds View (3-1)
The Mustangs, ranked No. 9 in Class 5A, host the Ponies in what should be a highly-contested game between rivals with a lot on the line. The winner is still in the hunt to win the Suburban East Conference, while the loser is left to fight for a spot in the middle of the pack of a highly-competitive league.
This one is the very definition of a toss-up. Mounds View played the first three weeks on the road and had a relatively easy go of it in two victories. The Mustangs finally played their home opener last week and took care of Roseville 27-7. Mounds View throws a variety of threats at opponents in the run game and can occasionally threaten with the pass downfield. The Mustangs also thrive on defense by generating pressure on the quarterback.
Stillwater started the season hot with victories over Woodbury and White Bear Lake before losing to Cretin-Derham Hall two weeks ago. The Ponies rebounded with a win over Forest Lake last week. This week’s match-up with Mounds View could dictate how the rest of their season goes. Getting a big win on the road would give them a ton of momentum heading into the home stretch of the season. A loss could potentially send them into a tailspin with East Ridge, Roseville and Hastings still left on the schedule. I wouldn’t call it a “must-win,” but it’s a game they’d love to have.
DeLaSalle (3-1) at Providence Academy (3-1)
DeLaSalle heads west to Plymouth on Friday to take on Providence Academy in one of the better rivalries of the Tri-Metro Conference. The two teams have traditionally played close games that come down to the wire.
The Islanders have been blessed in the past with some of the best running backs around. They rely on their athletic ability and speed to beat opponents. Providence Academy relies more on ball control and wearing out their opponent’s defenses, but they’re not afraid to throw a trick play or two in there just to keep teams honest.
The winner here takes control of the west part of the Tri-Metro Conference. If the Islanders can make big plays, I give them the slight edge on the road this week.
In other big games around the state, Faribault faces Owatonna in probably the most heated rivalry in the Big Nine Conference. Anoka also faces Centennial in the Northwest Suburban Conference after pulling an upset over Blaine last week.
Tune into WCCO-TV at 10:20 Friday night for High School Sports Rally with Frank Vascellaro, Mike Max and John Lauritsen. We’ll have a live report from Wayzata High School in our featured “Game of the Week.”