Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s what every kid who plays high school football dreams about from the first day of fall practices: Playing for a state championship.
Whenever athletes get tired of two-a-day practices, the conditioning, the strength training and the drilling, they think about hoisting the championship trophy at the end of the season. That gratification makes the body of work worth the effort it took to get there. This week, seven teams will experience that joy, and seven others will go home wondering what they could’ve done differently to win a state championship.
The football season concludes with the Prep Bowl on Friday and Saturday, with games spread across seven classes at the Metrodome. There’s only one rematch from last year, but all the games are great match-ups that are very hard to predict on paper.
Here’s a look at all the games.
6A: Lakeville North (11-1) Vs. Eden Prairie (10-2)
Probably the most highly-anticipated match-up of the Prep Bowl is reserved for 7 p.m. Friday at the Metrodome, where Lakeville North will battle Eden Prairie for the new 6A state title.
Eden Prairie is seeking its second straight big school title after beating Wayzata in the Prep Bowl last year. After losing two straight to end the regular season, the Eagles have hit their stride with four straight wins in the postseason. They beat the same Wayzata squad 21-7 that shut them out in the regular season. The Eagles also knocked off Minnetonka 21-18 in the state quarterfinals.
Lakeville North has been at or near the top of the 6A rankings the entire season. The Panthers only loss came to South Suburban Conference champion Prior Lake in late September. They’ve won seven straight since, including a 23-3 win over that Prior Lake squad in the state quarterfinals and a 28-7 win over Rosemount in the semifinals.
It’s also a clash of styles as Eden Prairie’s run-heavy offense and physical defense goes up against Lakeville North’s more air-oriented attack and fast defense. A game like this will come down to turnovers and the line of scrimmage. The Eagles proved they are human with two regular season losses, but the Panthers still have a monumental task ahead. If nothing else to be different, I’ll take Lakeville North in a close one.
5A: Totino-Grace (11-0) Vs. Owatonna (11-0)
The 5A Prep Bowl might be the best match-up of the two days as two undefeated teams square off in Totino-Grace and Owatonna at 4 p.m. Saturday at the Metrodome. It’s a battle of metro versus southern Minnesota, private versus public schools.
The Eagles have a tradition at the state tournament that most are well aware of, and they’ve been successful enough that they opted up to play with the big schools before class 6A was created. In their first year in 5A, they got to the state semifinals before losing to Eden Prairie.
Owatonna, meanwhile, is a physical team with plenty of skilled athletes that lack the state championship experience most teams fall back on in these situations. But it means little in the outcome of this game as I know the Huskies will play hard and be ready for everything the Eagles throw at them.
Totino-Grace does a little bit of everything on offense and creates turnovers on defense. Owatonna loves to run it downhill and stuff the line of scrimmage on defense. The Eagles have a track record of success in big games, and it’s why I pick them to win this one in a close one. It may even come down to who has the ball last.
2A: Caledonia (12-0) Vs. Moose Lake/Willow River (13-0)
It doesn’t get any better than No. 1 against No. 2 for the state championship, especially when it’s a rematch of last year’s Prep Bowl. That’s exactly the scenario for the 2A Prep Bowl as Caledonia and Moose Lake /Willow River battle at 1 p.m. Friday. Caledonia shut out Moose Lake/Willow River 27-0 in last year’s state championship, so there’s no doubt that the Rebels will be looking for some revenge. They beat Hawley and Jackson County Central to get to the Prep Bowl. Caledonia beat Sibley East and BOLD to get there. Something to note: Caledonia’s defense has five shutouts on the season, and Moose Lake/Willow River has scored at least 21 points in every game this year. I’ll pick Caledonia in a game that should be much closer than last year’s Prep Bowl.
4A: Hutchinson (12-0) Vs. Holy Family Catholic (10-3)
It’s not very often that regular season opponents get a rematch in the state championship game, but Hutchinson and Holy Family Catholic have that scenario in Friday’s 4A Prep Bowl, which is at 4 p.m. The Fire is looking to avenge a 60-7 loss to the Tigers. Don’t be fooled by the score, things can get away from teams that play Hutchinson if they don’t stay disciplined early. The Tigers can tackle, and their offense does a great job of misdirection and faking in the run game. They can also run you over. The Fire also has a potent run game and features a fast defense that flies to the ball. Each team had quality wins at state also as Hutchinson beat Becker 28-14 at Holy Family Catholic beat Hill-Murray. I’ll take Hutchinson in a game that we all hope is closer than their regular season meeting.
1A: Bethlehem Academy (11-2) Vs. Mahnomen (13-0)
Saying Mahnomen is hungry to win a state championship is an understatement. The Indians all but dominated on the way to the Prep Bowl before falling to Dawson-Boyd in last year’s Prep Bowl. They avenged that with a 29-20 win in the state semifinals, setting up a title game match-up with Bethlehem Academy out of Faribault. The two squads play at 10 a.m. Saturday. The Cardinals run the ball early and often, while the Indians like to spread you out and take it downfield. Mahnomen’s defense has also stepped up with eight shutouts this season, including a stretch of four straight at one point. It’s why I think Mahnomen wins this game and gets their state title, because defense wins championships.
9-Man: Grand Meadow (12-1) Vs. Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley (12-0)
There will be a new 9-man state champion this year as neither Grand Meadow or Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley were in last year’s Prep Bowl. The two meet at 10 a.m. Friday with the state title at stake. It’s a great match-up on paper as the teams have combined for one loss this season. Grand Meadow got to the Prep Bowl by beating Mountain Lake Area 34-20 and South Ridge 61-6. The Wolverines punched their ticket with an overtime win over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross (last year’s state runners-up) and a 38-9 win over Goodridge/Grygla. My guess on this one is as good as anyone else’s, but I’ll take Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley in a close one.
3A: Rochester Lourdes (13-0) Vs. Blue Earth Area (12-0)
The top two teams, fittingly both unbeaten, meet for the Class 3A state title at 1 p.m. Saturday as Blue Earth takes on Rochester Lourdes. Blue Earth was in the 2A state tournament last year but lost to Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in the quarterfinals. In looking at each schedule, neither team has had much of a problem with their opponents over the course of the season, so it makes for an interesting match-up. It’s always more fun and dramatic when undefeated teams put everything on the line, and I’ll take Blue Earth to win this one in a close battle.
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 recap Friday’s action and preview Saturday’s games.