MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s state semifinals weekend in high school football, which means last week’s 56-team state tournament field has been cut in half.
There are 28 teams left in the state that still have a chance to be hoisting a state championship trophy the weekend after Thanksgiving. But half of those teams will leave the Metrodome heartbroken by the time the weekend is over. For some teams, a dream that started in August is still alive. For some who are expecting to get this far, there is unfinished business.
When you’re this far into the season, all the match-ups are great. There are fantastic athletes battling each other for every inch, and coaching staffs scheming for the element of surprise. Here are some of the best match-ups this weekend as teams battle for a coveted spot in the Prep Bowl.
Class 6A – Metrodome
Eden Prairie (10-0) vs. Totino-Grace (9-2)
It’s rare that teams who faced each other in the regular season meet this far into the playoffs, but that’s the case Friday night as Eden Prairie faces Totino-Grace. Eden Prairie handled Totino-Grace 42-7 in Week 3 of the regular season. Totino-Grace’s other loss of the regular season came to Osseo, and they avenged that in the quarterfinal round last week with a stunning 34-33 victory.
Eden Prairie wins by dominating at the line of scrimmage on both sides and running the football. They’re led by running back Anthony Anderson, who had 107 yards and a touchdown in their state quarterfinal victory. Quarterback Ryan Connelly also had 70 yards passing and a touchdown in the 42-14 win over Lakeville North.
Totino-Grace is led by the running back duo of Kez Flomo and Lance Benick. Flomo ran for 88 yards and a touchdown against Osseo. Quarterback Seth Sullwold had his biggest game of the season at the right time, throwing for 124 yards and three touchdowns against the Orioles.
Predicting Eden Prairie to win is an afterthought for most. I don’t think it will be nearly as one-sided as the first match-up, but I’ll take them to move past Totino-Grace.
Class 5A – Metrodome
St. Michael-Albertville (10-1) vs. Owatonna (11-0)
St. Michael-Albertville has gone largely unnoticed this season. But the Knights put themselves on the map by beating Rogers in a section championship, then dominating Sartell in a 52-28 win at St. Cloud State last week. Next up is No. 1-ranked and undefeated Owatonna as the two teams square off Friday afternoon at the Metrodome.
The Huskies are big up front and like to run the football. They’re led by Aaron Peterson’s 140 rushing yards per game and 15 touchdowns. Quarterback Ian Langeberg passed for about 167 yards a game and had 20 passing touchdowns during the regular season. Sam Fenske and Ty Sullivan also combined for 14 receiving touchdowns during the regular season.
The Knights are led by the trio of quarterback Jackson Greenwaldt, running back Chris Kartes and wide receiver Dallas Freeman. Greenwaldt is a threat to throw and run, while Kartes has averaged around 100 yards on the ground most of the season. Freeman had arguably his biggest play of the season, an interception for a touchdown, against Sartell.
St. Michael-Albertville wins with its defense, and the Knights will have their hands full against the Huskies. In a close one, I’m going with Owatonna.
Class 4A – Metrodome
DeLaSalle (10-1) vs. Holy Angels (6-5)
DeLaSalle faces Holy Angels and a battle of private schools on Friday at the Metrodome, with the winner facing either Delano or Hutchinson in the Prep Bowl. The Islanders have had several players step up on the way to a 10-1 season, led by quarterback Billy Hart and running back Chris Williams. The duo has proved to be nearly unstoppable for most opponents. Holy Angels might be the surprise of the state playoffs after losing five games in the regular season. The Stars beat St. Paul Highland Park to reach the state tournament, and then knocked off Kasson-Mantorville last week. Both teams have a plethora of weapons and speed, but I’ll take the Islanders to advance in a close one.
Class 3A – Metrodome
New-London Spicer (9-2) vs. Rochester Lourdes (10-1)
Two teams who have had plenty of state tournament success meet Saturday afternoon at the Metrodome as New London-Spicer faces Rochester Lourdes. The Wildcats are led by running back Adam Essler, who had 185 yards rushing and three touchdowns in the state quarterfinal victory. Rochester Lourdes comes in with unfinished business, having reached the 3A Prep Bowl last year and losing to Blue Earth. The Eagles are led by running back Kane Carstens, who ran for 186 yards and three touchdowns in the quarterfinals. After last year, Lourdes will be playing with a chip on its shoulder and I’ll pick them to get back to the Prep Bowl.
Extra: Mahnomen (12-0) vs. Bethlehem Academy (9-3)
Mahnomen is back to defend its Class A state title from last year, and its semifinal opponent on Saturday will look very familiar. That’s because it’s Bethlehem Academy, which is a rematch of last year’s Prep Bowl. It was a fantastic game where the Indians came away with a 20-14 victory. Mahnomen enters this year’s state semifinals a perfect 12-0. The Indians are led by the rushing duo of Tom Pavek and Trevor Haugo. They each average more than 150 yards on the ground and combined for four touchdowns in the quarterfinals. The Cardinals are led by quarterback Kollin Hanson’s 10 passing touchdowns during the regular season. Christian Von Ruden leads their rushing attack, which features multiple weapons, with about 89 yards per game and six touchdowns during the regular season. Mahnomen’s rushing attack will be too tough to contain in this one, so I’ll take the Indians in a close on.
Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and David McCoy will have all the action covered.