Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The opening of the high school football season is one of the most exciting times of the year for prep athletes, but it’s also a time of great unknowns.
Teams have put in more than two weeks of two-a-day practices, watched film and hit the weight room. Some players have dreams of state championships, while others are just hoping not to get cut. Whatever the case, it’s all about putting on the jersey and strapping on the pads Friday night.
It’s the first full week of games, with a good split of action between Thursday and Friday night. Here are four games this week to keep an eye on, or to venture out to if you’re looking for a good early battle:
Richfield at South St. Paul
Coming off a run to the Class 4A State Tournament, South St. Paul opens its season Friday night against Richfield in a clash of Classic Suburban Conference opponents. It’s also the featured Game of the Week for WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally.
The Packers have a load of talent to replace from last year’s squad that finished 10-2 overall and second in the conference at 6-1. Richfield struggled to a 1-8 record, including a 1-6 mark in the Classic Suburban. But a new season means a new opportunity for every team.
I expect this to be a good contest since it’s the first game for both teams, but I’ll give South St. Paul the edge playing at home. South St. Paul won last year’s contest 47-7.
Lakeville North at Lakeville South
The battle for bragging rights in Lakeville is earlier than normal as the Panthers and Cougars face off in Week 1. It’s a key game for both teams to start off the South Suburban Conference schedule Thursday night.
Lakeville North was 10-0 before losing to Cretin-Derham Hall in the Section Class 5A State Quarterfinals. Gone are quarterback Trey Heid and receiver Charlie Hayes, a bulk of the team’s offense last year.
Lakeville South started last year 5-0 before losing to its rival Lakeville North in the Section 1AAAAA semifinals last year. The Cougars graduated their all-metro quarterback Mitch Leidner, who is now playing for the Gophers. They’ll need a slew of unproven talent this year to step up.
It’s quite a match-up to start the season and one that will be talked about all week leading up to kickoff. It will be a close game since it’ll be the first game and filled with jitters and mistakes. North beat South twice last year, 30-6 in the regular season and 24-14 in the opening round of the playoffs.
I’ll give the edge to Lakeville North, but it should come down to the wire.
St. Croix Lutheran at Providence Academy
St. Croix Lutheran is coming off a perfect 14-0 season and a Class 3A state championship, and one of their best players is back to help lead them this season. Jackson Goplen led the Crusaders with more than 1,100 yards rushing and 15 touchdowns, averaging nearly 160 yards per game. They’ll travel to Tri-Metro Conference rival Providence Academy, which finished 10-3 last year and 6-2 in conference play. St. Croix Lutheran won two match-ups against them last year, 52-6 in the season opener and 58-29 in the Class 3A semifinals. I’ll give St. Croix Lutheran the edge.
Rocori at Brainerd
A pair of Central Lakes Conference rivals will square off in Brainerd Friday night as defending 4A state champion Rocori travels to take on the Warriors. The two teams tied for the Central Lakes Conference title last year with 5-1 records. Brainerd beat Rocori 28-20 in the match-up last year, while their only conference loss came to Sartell-St. Stephen. The Spartans graduated a star quarterback and wide receiver combo that led them to the state title, while Brainerd graduated its top quarterback, top two running backs and top two receivers. It’s a rivalry game, and I’ll give the Warriors, the home team, the edge.
Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max and John Lauritsen will bring you all the highlights. Also check the WCCO Prep Blog early next week for a recap of who had big weekends in the first week of prep football.