Prep Blog: Week 1, Previewing ‘The Big 4’

High school football is back. It’s one of the most fun times of the year in prep sports.

There just simply isn’t anything much better in Minnesota, especially the small towns, than “Friday Night Lights.” Football teams have been practicing for the last three weeks, all in preparation for that first big game.

Some programs are aiming to defend a district or state title. Others are hoping that this is their year. They put in the extra work in the summer, they’re healthy and there’s enough talent there to make a run. It all starts Thursday night because of Labor Day weekend, but here are some of Friday’s top football games.

Willmar at Buffalo

Week 1 of the high school football can be as nerve-racking as it is fun. It’s even more exciting when you get the chance to do it in a few facility. That’s the case Friday night as Buffalo hosts Willmar in its brand new stadium. It’s our Featured Game for WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally.

When the two teams met last year, Willmar escaped with a 20-19 victory.

The Bison, led by former NFL quarterback Todd Bouman as their current head coach, are looking for a bounce back year. They went 1-8 last season, with that lone win coming against Big Lake in the final week of the regular season. The year ended in hard fought loss to Lakeville North in the Class 6A playoffs.

The Cardinals had a rough stretch of their own last year, losing three straight after the opening win over Buffalo. They finished the year 5-6 and lost in the section championship game to Rocori, 7-0. It’s a big game for both teams, looking to get the football season off to a positive start and build momentum for the year ahead.

St. Michael-Albertville at Moorhead

The only blemish on St. Michael-Albertville’s 2015 season was a turnover-filled 26-16 loss at Moorhead to start the fall. The Knights followed with 12 straight wins, including beating St. Thomas Academy 28-21 to win the Class 5A Prep Bowl. St. Michael-Albertville brings back its top rusher from last year in Mitch Kartes, but they’ll have a new quarterback in Griffen Marquette. Moorhead was also a state tournament team last year after winning its first 11 games. The Spuds lost to St. Thomas Academy, 17-14, in the state semifinals.

Northfield at Red Wing

It’s always a good battle among southern Minnesota programs when Northfield faces Red Wing, and the two meet Friday night to start the season for the second straight year. Last year, the Wingers beat the Raiders 2015 to start the season. They eventually won six games, but lost to Winona in the section semifinals. They now have a new coach in John Ott. Northfield had a down year in 2015 by its standards, finishing 5-6. The Raiders faced Rochester John Marshall for a trip to the state playoffs, coming up just short 15-12. Never count out a team coached by Bubba Sullivan, they’ll always be competitive.

St. Thomas Academy at Mahtomedi

One of the better rivalries in the east Twin Cities metro is between two programs who expect success, but not without hard work. State finalist St. Thomas Academy faces Mahtomedi Friday night. While the Cadets came up just short in the Prep Bowl, the Zephyrs lost a tough section final 16-10 last year to North St. Paul. When the two teams met last year in the season opener, St. Thomas Academy’s fast and physical defense was too much for Mahtomedi as the Cadets claimed a 19-0 shutout. But it’s always a good game when these two programs meet.

Extra: Armstrong at Chanhassen

Armstrong was hoping to be a state playoff team last year, only to run into Maple Grove in the Class 6A round of 16. The Falcons open the 2016 season Friday with a rematch of last year’s opener against Chanhassen. Armstrong won that game 38-10 on the way to a 6-2 regular season. The Storm finished 4-6 last year, and that opening loss to the Falcons was the start of a 1-5 stretch. Chanhassen’s season ended in a 35-0 shutout loss to neighbor and rival Chaska. It’s a big game for both teams, who are looking to the fall season started on a positive and winning note.

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.

More from Jeff Wald
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