MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – There is no better time for a high school football fan than between late September and early October. It’s when the conference favorites emerge and when all the hard work in offseason starts to show.

There are just four weeks left in the regular season, and for some teams less than that. But now we’re in the heart of the conference grind. Most of the opponents are familiar, the teams know each other’s schemes and game plan and it comes down to making a big play and the preparation during the week.

We may have already had our biggest total week in terms of big match-up, but there certainly isn’t lack of big games this week as teams head into the second half of their conference schedule. It’s also that fun time of year where schools are hosting Homecoming. Alumni come back to catch up, visit and take in football on those cool fall Friday nights.

There’s a plethora of big games Friday night, and we start with a clash to determine the front-runner in the Missota Conference with three games left.

Farmington (4-0) at Chaska (4-0)

There’s a huge match-up south and west of the Twin Cities metro between a pair of top 10 teams that are both unbeaten. The winner has the inside track to a conference title with three games to go. Chaska, the No. 5-ranked team in Class 5A, hosts Farmington, the No. 9-ranked team in Class 6A Friday night.

Chaska has a nice story. Still relatively new to the Missota, the Hawks finished fourth in the  league last year and two years ago won just one conference game. Chaska can make itself the front-runner with a victory over the Tigers Friday night. Its early-season schedule includes wins over Hopkins, Chanhassen, Shakopee and most recently Red Wing.

The Hawks feature two top threats on offense with Justin Arnold at quarterback and Kolby Seiffert in the run game. Arnold has 397 passing yards and five touchdowns in four wins so far this season. He also is the team’s second-leading rusher with 462 yards and seven scores. Seiffert leads the team in rushing with 608 yards and seven touchdowns. Chaska seems to thrive by being fast and physical up front on both sides of the ball.

The Tigers, as usual, thrive more in their passing game but feature a balanced attack. Quarterback Tyler VanWinkle is averaging about 173 passing yards per game and has nine passing touchdowns. His top target is Jordan DeCroock, who has 15 catches for 238 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Mac Bassett and C.J. Wynings have also combined for four touchdown receptions, while Bassett leads the squad in receiving yardage. Farmington is also a physical bunch on defense, led by Mason Auge’s 21 tackles.

When the two teams met last year, Farmington escaped with a 27-23 win over the Hawks. I expect it to be a great game, but I’ll pick Chaska in a close one at home.

Cretin-Derham Hall (2-2) at East Ridge (4-0)

East Ridge finds itself at the top of the Suburban East Conference at 4-0 and ranked No. 3 in Class 6A, but the Raptors will be without top rusher Nick Leach the rest of the season. Leach injured his knee last week. East Ridge will have to rely more on sophomore quarterback Seth Green, who has 631 passing yards and five touchdowns. The Raptors rushing attack will now be shared between Austin Kamrath and Dominik London, who have combined for nine touchdowns. The Raiders travel to East Ridge coming off a 20-7 win over Mounds View last week, but I think the Raptors come together, rally behind the adversity and get a big win.

Anoka (1-3) at Maple Grove (4-0)

Maple Grove, one of the top teams in the metro, hosts Anoka Friday night for Homecoming as the Crimson look to stay atop the Northwest Suburban Conference. Anoka has lost three straight games since beating Park Center in its season opener. Those losses have come to Andover, Wayzata and Centennial. The Crimson have four impressive victories over Armstrong, Hopkins, Elk River and Blaine. The rest of their schedule looks promising to go undefeated if they stay healthy. They’re led by running back Tahi Nomane, who has 657 rushing yards and six touchdowns. I’ll pick Maple Grove to win and do so convincingly.

Mankato East (1-3) at Mankato West (3-1)

The battle for bragging rights in Mankato is on the line Friday night as Mankato West hosts East in a Big Nine Conference battle. The Scarlets come in with a 3-1 record, and their only loss is to Owatonna. They’re led by quarterback Ryan Schlichte, who is averaging more than 240 passing yards per game and has 11 touchdown passes. Cory Johnson leads West in rushing with five touchdowns. Mankato East will be coming in with confidence after its first win of the season last week, but the Scarlets have too much depth at the skill position, and I expect them to handle the Cougars in this rivalry match-up.

Extra: Andover (4-0) at Osseo (3-1)

There’s a huge game in the north metro Friday night as Osseo hosts unbeaten Andover, with the winner staying at the top of the pack in the Northwest Suburban Conference. The Orioles, behind quarterback Matt Miedtke, have been one of the surprises of the fall. Miedtke has 1,069 passing yards and 12 touchdowns. Osseo keeps defenses honest with Jamien Hampton in the run game as he has 339 rushing yards and six touchdowns. Andover is led by quarterback Connor Wilkie’s 1,180 passing yards and 13 touchdowns. Derek McLaughlin leads the Huskies in rushing with about 122 yards per game and eight scores. This one is too close to call, but I’ll pick Andover in a coin-flip.

Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at about 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max and Frank Vascellaro will have all the action covered. The WCCO Radio Rally will also have all the action starting at 7 p.m.


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