Prep Blog: Section Final Preview, ‘The Big 4’
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s section championship Friday. It’s one of the best days in the year for high school football. It comes second probably only to Prep Bowl Friday, which is the day after we stuff ourselves full of turkey on Thanksgiving.
Section championship Friday is where dreams are either accomplished or dashed. Everything a football player worked for in the offseason is on the line. The weights during the summer, drills and excessive conditioning during two-a-days.
At the end of section championship Friday, you’re either hoisting a trophy in celebration of a trip to state or you’re left to agonize over what might have been. We can’t possibly cover every section final, but we can highlight four of the biggest match-ups of the night, so here they are:
Blaine (8-1) at Anoka (8-2)
These two teams are no strangers to each other as they are rivals in the Northwest Suburban Conference. They met in Week 4, with Anoka running away to a 59-32 victory. It’s also our featured game in WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally.
The Tornadoes, ranked No. 6 in Class 5A, won the Northwest Suburban Conference with a 7-0 record. In that win over Blaine, they piled up more than 500 yards of total offense, including almost 400 yards rushing.
Anoka is led by a trio of talented running backs in DJay Johnson, Josh Werness and Ryan Rand. Werness is averaging 144 yards per game and more than eight yards per carry to go along with 12 touchdowns. Johnson has 625 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and Rand has 550 yards and six touchdowns. Quarterback Cole Boughner is also a threat in the passing game.
Blaine is led by the three-headed monster of Duke Anyanwu, Luis Sanchez and Avinle Kunle. Anyanwu is a dual threat quarterback with 846 yards passing and five touchdowns, but on the ground he has 947 yards and 17 touchdowns. Sanchez leads the team in rushing at 1,021 yards and 14 touchdowns. Kunle has 364 yards and three touchdowns receiving.
This game looks to be much closer than the Week 4 match-up, but there’s a reason Anoka has the home field advantage. The Tornadoes have played consistently all year, and I’ll give them the slight edge playing at home.
Osseo (9-1) at Wayzata (9-0)
There’s a great match-up on tap Friday in Plymouth as Wayzata hosts Osseo in the Section 4AAAAA title game, with the winner advancing to state.
The Trojans are the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A, while the Orioles are ranked No. 8 in 5A. If it’s a close game, it could end up being a shootout as both teams have a variety of athletes. But Wayzata did shut out Eden Prairie, which always features a high-powered offense, earlier this season.
Wayzata hasn’t missed a beat since losing star running back Mitch Underhill in the opening game. Antonio Ford and Erik Roti have more than filled in. They’ve combined for more than 1,600 yards rushing and 18 touchdowns. We learned Thursday that Roti will not be available for the game after an undisclosed injury he suffered against Champlin Park on Saturday. And don’t forget about quarterback Nick Martin, who has more than 1,000 yards passing and 13 touchdowns on the season.
Osseo also features a plethora of talent that will be tough to stop. The Orioles are paced by dual threat quarterback D.J. Hebert, who has 712 yards and nine touchdowns passing and 544 yards and eight touchdowns rushing. Bridgeport Tusler is the team’s top rusher with 850 yards and 11 touchdowns, and Tim Searcy has 724 yards rushing and eight touchdowns. Tusler and Tyler Strombeck also have a combined 10 scores receiving.
As much as I want to pick Osseo in this one, Wayzata has been a dominant force all season and is at its best when they’re at home. Wayzata wins by 10 or more points.
Hutchinson (9-0) at Mankato West (9-0)
It’s one of the few battles of unbeaten teams Friday night as Hutchinson travels to Mankato West to decide the Section 2AAAA champion. It’s also a battle of top five teams in Class 4A as the Scarlets are ranked No. 1 and the Tigers are No. 4.
Both teams have had plenty of success on offense this season, but they’ve done it in vastly different ways. Hutchinson runs a single win offense with a variety of because and thrives off disguising one of three or four players who could have the ball.
Hutchinson is paced by quarterback McKinley Anderson, who has 951 yards passing and 10 touchdowns and on the ground has 269 yards and eight scores. Brandon Ziemer and Evan Metag also have a combined 12 touchdowns.
Mankato West operates almost exclusively out of the shotgun and is primarily a passing team. Quarterback Phillip Nelson, a Gopher recruit, is one of the top passers in the state. He’s averaging 224 yards a game through the air with almost 1,800 yards on the season and 25 touchdowns. His favorite target is Hunter Friesen, who has 762 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns.
This should be a great battle that goes down to the wire. I give Mankato West the edge with Nelson behind center.
Rogers (8-1) Vs. Delano (8-1)
Two teams with just one loss each will square off at 4 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State University to decide the Section 5AAAA title. Rogers, the No. 7-ranked team in 4A, takes on Delano, a perennial power in the Wright County Conference.
Rogers’ only blemish on the season was a surprising 17-14 loss at Elk River in Week 7. Delano lost to conference rival Glencoe-Silver Lake in its regular season finale in a nail-biter.
Make no mistake about it, both of these teams run the ball and do it well. The Tigers are led by Cody Mathisen, who has 1,084 yards and 16 touchdowns passing. He also has 576 yards and 10 scores on the ground. Bryan Sinkel leads the team in rushing with 704 yards and 13 touchdowns.
The Royals are led by quarterback Matt Weber (615 yards and three TDs passing, 217 yards and 8 TDs rushing) and running back Jack McGuire, who has 708 yards and 10 touchdowns on the season.
Rogers, who lost to Totino-Grace in the Prep Bowl last year, always seems to come up with a big play or defensive stop in its victories. The team that wins the line of scrimmage wins this game, and I’ll give Rogers the slightest of eges.
Extras: Totino-Grace (9-1) hosts Mounds View (9-1) in a battle of top-10 teams Friday for the Section 2AAAAA title. It’s also the Eagles’ first year in 5A and should be a great game. St. Thomas Academy (9-0) hosts South St. Paul (9-1) for the Section 3AAAA title. It’s yet another great match-up on championship Friday.
Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and John Lauritsen will have all the action covered. We’ll have a full report from Anoka/Blaine, plus highlights of several other games.