Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s hard to believe that the regular season is over in high school football, and now every team in the state will be playing this week with a little more desperation.
It’s now the playoffs, and it’s what every player looks forward to when they hit the field in August for two-a-day practices. This is that time of year when players leave it all on the field, because if they don’t, they’re probably turning in their football gear the day after a playoff loss.
The postseason tends to bring out the best in players and teams. You see who the true teams are that can come together and get the big win when it’s an absolute must. For many of those teams who don’t have first-round byes in their brackets, they journey to the state tournament starts Tuesday night. Here are four games around the metro worth keeping an eye on if you’re a football fan.
Irondale (5-3) at Mahtomedi (5-3)
It should be a close game in the north Twin Cities metro Tuesday night as Irondale faces Mahtomedi in the Section 4AAAAA playoffs. The winner travels to play top seed Totino-Grace Saturday night. It’s eben something of an unusual year for both squads as they ended the regular season each with 5-3 records. Two of Irondale’s three losses were to highly-ranked teams in South St. Paul and Spring Lake Park. The Zephyrs surprisingly lost to Chisago Lakes in their opener, then a tough South St. Paul squad and Hill-Murray. The one win that gives them confidence was a 20-13 victory over then No. 2-ranked St. Thomas Academy.
Being at home in the playoffs is always a huge advantage, and with Mahtomedi’s bulldozing run game that averages more than 240 yards per contest, I’ll give the Zephyrs a touchdown edge in this one.
Fridley (3-5) at Benilde-St. Margaret’s (4-4)
Fridley and Benilde-St. Margaret’s will square off in St. Louis Park Tuesday night with the winner advancing to play top seeded DeLaSalle in the Section 6AAAA playoffs. There’s an interesting twist in this game as Benilde hosts with a better record, but when the two teams met in the regular season, Fridley rolled to a 51-21 victory. The Tigers lost four straight before winning their regular season finale to gain momentum heading into the postseason. The Red Knights have won two straight heading into the playoffs. Each team’s approach should be interesting as Fridley averages 163 rushing yards per game, but allows more than 317 yards on the ground. The Red Knights average about 223 yards a game on the ground.
I’ll take Benilde-St. Margaret’s to avenge its loss to Fridley this year with the home field advantage in the playoffs.
Buffalo (3-5) at St. Michael-Albertville (5-3)
It’s a big match-up on paper in the Section 6AAAAA playoffs as St. Michael-Albertville hosts Buffalo in a clash of Mississippi 8 Conference rivals. It’s also another odd scenario where the home team actually lost to the road team in the regular season. When they met earlier this season, it was a bit of a wild game where the Bison made a late comeback for a 15-13 victory. The Knights had won five of six, but lost to Monticello to end the regular season. Buffalo finished with victories over Duluth Denfeld and Big Lake. The winner gets Monticello Saturday afternoon. I’ll take STMA to avenge its regular season loss and advance to face the Magic.
Waconia (1-7) at New Prague (5-3)
It’s been a surprisingly disappointing year for Waconia, traditionally one of the most competitive teams in the Twin Cities metro. The Wildcats can forget about a frustrating regular season if they can start a playoff run, and it begins Tuesday night at New Prague in the Section 2AAAAA playoffs. The Trojans have had a good season with three straight wins to finish plus a close loss to a tough Farmington squad. The winner gets No. 1 seed Chanhassen Saturday afternoon. Waconia appears to be in a down year, but it should still give New Prague a great test. I’ll take the Trojans at home in a close game.
Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at about 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and John Lauritsen will keep you updated on all the playoff action.