Reporting Jeff Wald
MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s one of the best times of the year to be a high school football fan in Minnesota.
Friday and Saturday marks the semifinal round for sections in all seven classes around Minnesota. It means teams are one win away from playing for a trip to the state playoffs. It’s what every player who puts on pads in August dreams about: The chance to play for a section championship and keep a team together for at least one more week.
The goal for every team at the start of the season is to reach the state tournament. Half the teams in action Friday and Saturday will get that chance. There are some big match-ups this weekend, and here are the ones that stand out.
Featured Game: Section 4, Class 6A
Stillwater (3-5) at Cretin-Derham Hall (6-2)
Stillwater and Cretin-Derham Hall last faced off in Week 3 of the regular season in a game that was showcased on national television. All eyes were on Raiders defensive end Jashon Cornell, but it was the Ponies who came away with a 21-7 victory. But a lot has changed for both teams since, and they meet Friday night at the University of St. Thomas in the Section 4 Playoffs for Class 6A.
In fact, Stillwater hasn’t won a game since that night. The squad has lost five straight games, including two that went to overtime. The Ponies finished the regular season with a 39-22 loss to White Bear Lake and are looking to turn things around before it’s too late. They’re led by a solid quarterback in Trevor Tillett (982 yards passing, 6 TDs) and running back Zach Knox (1,450 yards, 17 TDs).
They’ll both do everything they can to stay away from Cornell, one of the top recruits nationally in the class of 2015. Cretin-Derham Hall has gone a vastly different direction, winning five straight since losing that nationally-televised match-up. Raiders quarterback Ricardo Johnson III has had a nice season, passing for more than 900 yards and eight touchdowns. Cole Banham leads the team in rushing.
Both teams have a track record of success in the playoffs, but Cretin-Derham Hall is more consistent at winning big games and getting deeper in the playoffs. That’s why I’ll pick the Raiders to win and advance.
Section 6, Class 6A
Minnetonka (5-3) at Edina (4-4)
Edina will host Minnetonka Friday night in a fantastic Lake Conference rivalry game with a trip to the Class 6A round of 16 on the line. It’s our featured match-up for WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally.
The Skippers got off to a 5-0 start, but have lost three straight games to end the regular season. The first of those three was a 27-20 loss to that same Edina squad, but a rematch in the playoffs is a great opportunity for revenge. Coach Dave Nelson always seems to have a knack to get his teams to play at another level in the playoffs, and they’ll need that against a tough Hornets team.
Minnetonka is led by quarterback Nick Rooney, one of the top passers in the metro. He has more than 1,700 yards and 15 touchdowns through the air. His top target is Mitch Felknor, who averages about 9s yards per game and has 11 receiving touchdowns. Jason Witherspoon and Vance Barns have also combined for nine rushing touchdowns. Edina is led by quarterback Troy Peterson’s 122 passing yards per game and four touchdowns. He’s also one of their top rushers with nine touchdowns on the ground. Kevin Placide is their speed back and is dangerous every time he gets the ball.
The Skippers lost at Edina earlier this year, and I’ll pick them to avenge that in a close one despite going on the road.
Section 5, Class 6A
Centennial (4-4) at Blaine (6-2)
Centennial was in cruise control with four straight wins before the Cougars lost three straight games to end the regular season and finish 4-4. They lost a tough one to Coon Rapids 23-20 last week and now travel to Blaine Friday night. The Bengals have won four straight, including a 42-20 win over the Cougars two weeks ago. Centennial is led by Tyler Iaquinto’s 86 yards per game and eight touchdowns in the run game. Blaine is led by quarterback Alex Copa’s 119 passing yards per game and six touchdowns. He’s also their second-leading rusher with about 93 yards per game and nine scores. Nate Kroutil leads the run game with about 100 yards per game and six touchdowns. This is the type of game where playing at home in front of your own crowd and surroundings is crucial. The two teams are pretty evenly matched, but I’ll take Blaine to advance playing at home.
Section 2, Class 4A
Dassel-Cokato (1-7) at Hutchinson (8-0)
Dassel-Cokato is having a rare down season at 1-7, but the Chargers are never a team to sleep on in the playoffs. They’ll travel to unbeaten Hutchinson Saturday for the right to play in the Section 2AAAA title game. If Dassel-Cokato is going to pull the upset, it’ll have to stop the Tigers dominant rushing attack. It’s led by Tory Adams, who has nearly 1,000 yards on the ground and 17 touchdowns. Robbie Grimsley and Jayden Fleck have also combined for 750 yards and 12 scores. The Chargers will also need quarterback Dalton Asplin and running back Joel Carlson to have their best games of the season. Dassel-Cokato had lost six straight before beating Mankato East in the playoffs last week. Hutchinson is coming off a 47-0 shutout win over Mound-Westonka. I’ll take Hutchinson in a game that should be closer than its 43-7 win over the Chargers two weeks ago.
Section 5, Class 5A
St. Thomas Academy (7-2) at Tartan (6-2)
There’s a great semifinal match-up Saturday east of the Twin Cities metro as Tartan will host St. Thomas Academy in a Section 5AAAA game. The only team the Titans didn’t face during the regular season is St. Thomas Academy, so it should be a fantastic game with a trip to a section championship on the line. The Titans are led by quarterback Tim McCarthy’s 975 yards passing and 10 touchdowns. Keenen Bellaphant is one of the better unknown running backs in the metro with more than 1,100 yards on the ground and 13 touchdowns. Tartan has won two of its past three heading into the postseason, including a big overtime win over Mahtomedi in Week 6. The Cadets are led by quarterback Ben Fiers and can beat you with just about anybody in their ground game. I’ll take the Titans to surprise the Cadets and advance.
Extra: Section 4, Class 6A
Mounds View (6-2) at White Bear Lake (4-4)
Despite Mounds View having the better record, White Bear Lake will host the Mustangs Friday night in the Section 4 Playoffs in Class 6A in a match-up where both offenses can score plenty of points. Mounds View enters the contest having scored at least 40 points in four straight games, including a 50-47 win over Roseville in the regular season finale. The Mustangs have won three of their past four, but when the two teams met in Week 7, the Bears came away with a convincing 45-25 win. Mounds View will be relying on the run game of Matt Hunt (864 yards, 16 TDs) and a dual threat at quarterback between Joe Frederickson and Chance Carnahan, who have combined for 14 touchdowns. White Bear Lake is led by quarterback Trey Anderson’s 1,400 yards passing and 15 touchdowns. He also leads the team in rushing with 827 yard and nine scores. I look for White Bear Lake on its home field to get a victory 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 David McCoy will have all the action covered. Also listen to the WCCO Radio High School Football Rally with Steven Thomson starting at 8 p.m.