Prep Blog: First Round Playoff Preview
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – The regular season in high school football is over, which means there are no more guarantees for anything anymore. We’re in the playoffs, where the ultimate goal is to survive, advance and hopefully win a championship.
The polls are meaningless, everybody has a 0-0 record and it doesn’t matter how ugly a game is as long as you’re on the winning side when it’s over. This is that time of year where a team that struggled in the regular season can find some confidence with one big win and have it go a long way.
There have been plenty of programs in the past that have won once or twice in the fall, then all the sudden get hot at the right time and at least earn the right to play for a trip to state. It doesn’t matter how you get there, as long as you’re playing on the first Friday night in November for a section championship.
For many teams that had successful regular seasons, they get a little time off to get healed with a first-round bye. Those that aren’t so fortunate take the field Tuesday night with their season on the line. Here are some of the better first round playoff match-ups as well as a glance at the 6A Playoffs.
Waconia (1-7) at Chanhassen (6-2)
Waconia is one of those teams that if you look past them in the playoffs, they’ll find a way to beat you when you’re not focused. The Wildcats travel to Chanhassen Tuesday night in a Section 2AAAAA playoff game. The Hawks are playing as confident as any team right now, having won six straight games after losing to Hudson (Wis.) and rival Chaska in the first two weeks of the season.
To say Chanhassen is balanced in the run game is an understatement. One of the big names is Raymonte Maynard, who averages almost 110 yards per game. The Minneapolis Washburn transfer has five rushing touchdowns on the season. Ryan Licau is averaging more than 90 yards on the ground per game with seven touchdowns, and Nathan Johnson runs for about 60 yards per game with five touchdowns on the season. The Storm also features a fast, physical defense that had allowed just 23 points over four games, including two shutouts, before beating Red Wing 41-27 in its regular season finale.
The Wildcats have lost two straight since their only win of the season, but now is as good a time as any to figure things out. They’ll need to have that happen now, or the season will be over.
That said, there’s a reason why home field advantage is important in the playoffs. I’ll pick Chanhassen to storm over the Wildcats.
Elk River (2-6) at Monticello (5-3)
There are a couple of intriguing match-ups in the Section 6AAAAA Playoffs Tuesday, highlighted by Monticello hosting Elk River. The Magic had a special season in the works before losing two of its last three regular season games. The Elks have been close in a lot of games this year, but have lacked the depth needed to finish games strong. Monticello will have confidence entering the playoffs after beating Duluth Denfield 49-18 in its finale. Elk River is also coming off a win, handling Park Center 41-6 in its regular season finale. The winner gets Rogers on Saturday, and I’ll pick Monticello to win in a game that will be closer than most expect.
New Prague (1-7) at Northfield (3-5)
Expectations are always high in the Northfield football program and they will remain that way as long as coach Bubba Sullivan is running the show. The Raiders will host New Prague Tuesday night, with the winner moving onto face No. 1-seeded Chaska. When the two teams met in Week 3 of the regular season, it was the Raiders who came away with a 27-15 victory and it was their first of the season. New Prague’s lone regular season victory came against Red Wing. The Raiders are known for their strong defense, and I expect it to be on full display. I’ll take Northfield at home to advance.
Buffalo (2-6) at Willmar (6-2)
Willmar had a strong showing in the north portion of the Central Lakes Conference, and the Cardinals got rewarded with a home game for the Section 6AAAAA Playoffs. They’ll host Buffalo, which struggled to a 2-6 season in the Mississippi 8 Conference. The winner travels to St. Michael-Albertville Saturday. Willmar’s two losses were to Brainerd and St. Cloud Apollo, but their six wins all came in dominating fashion. They beat Rocori and St. Cloud Tech to end the regular season. The Bison snapped a four-game losing streak with a 47-8 win over Duluth East last week, but the momentum probably won’t last long. I’ll pick Willmar to win Tuesday.
Class 6A Playoffs At A Glance
The Class 6A bracket features the 32 biggest schools in Minnesota, and most of them will do battle in the opening round of that bracket Friday night. The top seeds for the four sections are conference champions in Rosemount, East Ridge, Maple Grove and Eden Prairie. The No. 2 seeds are Lakeville North, Roseville, Osseo and Wayzata.
One of the big games Friday will be in St. Paul as Cretin-Derham Hall hosts Stillwater. The Ponies actually beat the Raiders in the regular season in a game that was nationally televised. There’s also three great games in the Section 6 bracket for Class 6A. Edina will host Minnetonka, Wayzata will host Hopkins and Prior Lake will face Shakopee.
Check back with the WCCO Prep Blog later this week as we preview more 6A action as well as some big games on Saturday.