MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s playoff time in high school football in Minnesota. That means we’re in the heart of the fall, and every time a team takes the field the season is on the line.
Athletes and teams hit the practice field in August and do the two-a-day practices for what starts now. It’s a chance to have an opportunity to play for a spot in the state tournament. The opening round of the playoffs for teams who didn’t receive first-round byes was Tuesday night. Those who survived and advanced will either play Friday or Saturday this week.
It’s the section semifinal round, which means this weekend’s winners, two in each region, will advance to play next week to earn a spot in the state playoffs. It’s what every kid who ever grew up playing football dreams about.
There are plenty of big games Friday and Saturday night, and here’s four of the most intriguing match-ups.
Wayzata (2-6) at Minnetonka (4-4)
The records don’t necessarily show it, but two high-powered teams and conference rivals will go at it Friday night in the Section 6AAAAAA Playoffs as Minnetonka hosts Wayzata. It’s our featured game for WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally.
It’s an odd year as both teams come into the playoffs struggling, and they met last week to end the regular season. Wayzata is just 2-6 this season with its only wins at Farmington and at Edina. The Trojans went 0-4 on their home field this year. Last week, they lost to the Skippers 17-6. They’re led by running backs Anthony Clarke and Austin Gordon, who combine to average just more than 100 yards rushing per game and have 11 touchdowns on the season. Quarterback Jake Marsh has seven touchdown passes on the year. Wayzata enters the contest having lost six of its last seven, but now is as good a time as any to start winning again.
Minnetonka enters the game at 4-4, but ended a three-game losing streak with last week’s win over Wayzata. Braden Sikes is a dual threat at quarterback with eight passing touchdowns on the season. He also is second on the team in rushing yardage and has scored four rushing touchdowns. Vance Barnes leads the Skippers with about 80 yards rushing per game and six touchdowns. He’s also one of their top targets at wide receiver.
Expect a close game that goes down to the wire, but the edge should go to Minnetonka playing at home.
Woodbury (1-7) at East Ridge (7-1)
City rivals square off Friday night the Section 4AAAAAA bracket as East Ridge hosts Woodbury in a match-up of two programs headed in opposite directions. Woodbury is 1-7 on the season, including a 50-0 loss to the Raptors in Week 4. The Royals need their best effort of the season to achieve what would be a monumental upset. East Ridge finished 7-1 and should be considered one of the teams to contend for a 6A state championship. Junior quarterback Seth Green will have a large say in what transpires the rest of the season for the Raptors. He committed to play football at Oregon before his team’s 42-3 win over Forest Lake last week to close out the regular season.
Saturday: Rogers (8-1) at Elk River (6-2)
Rogers had a perfect season going until it lost to St. Michael-Albertville 22-21 in Week 8 of the regular season, but the Royals didn’t take much time to bounce back. They opened the Section 6AAAAA Playoffs with a 63-0 win over Willmar. Elk River was 6-0 before losing consecutive games to Totino-Grace and Anoka. The Elks bounced back with a 42-40 win over Blaine to earn one of the two byes in the bracket. Elk River hosts Rogers Saturday, with the winner one game away from the state tournament.
It should be a great game featuring a pair of talented running backs. Gunnar Bloom averages nearly 120 yards per game and has 17 touchdowns for Rogers, while Elk River’s Zach Ernst averages 168 yards per game and has 16 scores. The defense that contains the other team’s top running back has the best chance to win. The winner advances to face the St. Michael-Albertville/Monticello winner next week for a trip to the state playoffs.
Saturday: Park Center (5-4) at DeLaSalle (7-1)
After going just 2-7 last year, Park Center has seen a turnaround in 2014 with a 4-4 regular season and its first playoff win in a long time last week, 35-0 over Fridley. The Pirates face undoubtedly their toughest challenge of the season Saturday night as they head to Minneapolis to face a talented DeLaSalle squad in the Section 6AAAA semifinals. Park Center is led by Adam Buirge, a Northern Illinois football commit, who is one of the team’s top offensive weapons. He’s also their defensive leader. DeLaSalle is led by quarterback Billy Hart, who throws for more than 240 yards per game with 31 touchdowns. He also runs for 70 yards per game with eight rushing touchdowns.
Saturday Extra: Simley (6-3) at St. Thomas Academy (6-2)
It should be a great battle between a pair of Metro East Conference rivals Saturday night as St. Thomas Academy hosts Simley in the Section 5AAAAA Playoffs. The two squads each finished 5-2 in the conference this year, and the Spartans are coming off a 52-8 win over Tartan in Tuesday’s playoff round. St. Thomas Academy, always a tough team in the playoffs, has won four straight games. In their last the games, the Cadets’ defense has allowed a total of 14 points. The two teams did not meet during the regular season.
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 of Friday night’s action covered. They’ll also preview Saturday games.