Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s hard to believe that we’re just less than two weeks away from the 2012 prep football season being over.
By next Saturday, state champions will be crowned in seven classes across the state. Trophies and gold medals will be handed out to some very happy athletes at the Metrodome, signaling the end of a tough and emotional season on the gridiron.
Before teams can earn that right, though, they have to win their semifinal game to get to the Prep Bowl. Once that’s accomplished, then they can worry about their Thanksgiving “don’t eat too much” meal plan.
The state football semifinals are Thursday-Saturday, all at the Metrodome, and there are some truly great match-ups. I’ve looked at most of the brackets, and there are some games where it’s just a shame some teams won’t be going to the Prep Bowl.
Here are some of those marquee match-ups.
Wayzata (9-1) Vs. Eden Prairie (9-2)
Wayzata and Eden Prairie, the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds in the Class 6A bracket, will battle at 7 p.m. Friday at the Metrodome. Some may argue that it’s the Prep Bowl a week early after No. 1-seeded Edina was upset in the quarterfinals, but Rosemount and Lakeville North may disagree on that.
These two programs have had some great battles the last few years, most notably last year with Wayzata beating Eden Prairie in the regular season, then falling to the Eagles in the Prep Bowl. When the two teams met this year, the Trojans shut out the Eagles 16-0.
It’s a great game with a pair of contrasting styles going against each other. Eden Prairie wants to run it down your throat, control the clock and dominate at the line of scrimmage. They do it with the combination of Grant Shaeffer, Dan Fisher, Charlie Venable and Zach Hovey.
Wayzata prefers to use its speed and athleticism to make plays and dominate on defense to win the big games. Reid Pettersen is one of the better quarterbacks in the metro, and Jeff Borchardt moved from receiver to running back after star Mitch Underhill tore his ACL for the second straight season.
The Trojans can make enough big plays to show their earlier win over Eden Prairie wasn’t a fluke, but I think Wayzata wins this one in a closer contest by a field goal or less. Anything can happen when the season is on the line.
On the other side of the bracket, Rosemount faces Lakeville North Thursday night, with the winner advancing to the Prep Bowl. The Panthers shut out the Irish 35-0 earlier this season, but I expect it to be much closer at the state tournament. I’ll pick Lakeville North by a touchdown.
St. Thomas Academy (10-1) Vs. Owatonna (11-0)
One of the most intriguing match-ups of the state semifinals will happen at 2 p.m. Friday at the Metrodome as St. Thomas Academy squares off against Owatonna. And the two teams couldn’t differ more. The Huskies want to run the ball downhill and run you over, while the Cadets can do a little bit of everything on offense and make big plays. St. Thomas Academy has the track record of success at the Metrodome, while Owatonna brings the bruising presence of Big Nine Conference football. That big game presence should pay off for the Cadets, but they’ll get a great test. I’ll take St. Thomas Academy with its ability to make big plays and create turnovers in a game that’s really a coin flip.
Bemidji (9-3) Vs. Totino-Grace (11-0)
There aren’t many undefeated teams left in the state, but two of them are in Class 5A and they’re on opposite sides of the bracket. We already mentioned Owatonna, but Totino-Grace will go against Bemidji in the other semifinal at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Metrodome. The Eagles, who won multiple state titles since 2000 and then opted up to the big class last year, will be tested against a Bemidji squad that beat heavy favorite Mankato West last year. The Lumberjacks used a disciplined defense and big-play offense to get to the Prep Bowl last year, and they’ll need it to get back there this year. The Eagles’ balance on offense and stingy defense will lead them to a close victory in this one.
Becker (10-1) Vs. Hutchinson (11-0)
It’s been a little while since Dwight Lundeen and the Becker Bulldogs have been able to pace the sidelines at the Metrodome, but they’re back this week after beating the top team in Class 4A last week. Becker will face No. 2-ranked and unbeaten Hutchinson at 4:30 p.m. Thursday at the Metrodome. The winner faces the Princeton/Holy Family Catholic winner for the Prep Bowl. There is no mystery to the Tigers’ game: They run you over with their big offensive line and dominate on defense at the line of scrimmage. Becker, on the other hand, doesn’t mind spreading it out and flies to the ball on defense. Becker has been doubted most of the year and came through in almost every spot, but I don’t think they have the depth to stay with Hutchinson. The Tigers pull away late and win this one to advance.
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.