MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – It’s state championship week in high school football, what every kid who ever puts on pads and a helmet dreams about.
It’s also a bittersweet time for coaches and players because now there’s a certainty: This is the last football game of the year. It’s the last time for the coach’s motivational pregame speech, and for some seniors, the last time they’ll ever play organized football.
Players who have been friends since they were little kids will be football teammates for the final time. They want nothing more than to go out champions. After all it’s why you go to camps in the summer, why you go through two-a-days in the fall and why you watch extra film or lift that extra weight. Hoisting the state championship trophy is what makes it all worthwhile.
There are seven great match-ups at TCF Bank Stadium this week, and two teams are putting undefeated seasons on the line. Here’s a look at four Prep Bowl match-ups.
Friday Class 4A: DeLaSalle (11-1) vs. Becker (11-1)
A pair of one-loss teams meet at 4 p.m. Friday at TCF Bank Stadium in one of the best match-ups of the Prep Bowl and perhaps one of the most surprising. Becker faces DeLaSalle in a battle of 11-1 teams, and it had to take one of the bigger upsets of the year for the game to take shape.
The Islanders knocked off two-time defending state champion Hutchinson with its best defensive effort of the season in a 35-14 win. They’ve relied on one of the best quarterbacks in the Twin Cities to get there. Billy Hart is averaging 174 passing yards per game and has three touchdowns in the state tournament. He also has a rushing touchdown. During the regular season, Hart had 31 passing touchdowns with just four interceptions.
The Bulldogs have somewhat quietly had a great season with an 11-1 record through 12 games. They beat Rocori 24-0 in the quarterfinals and Stewartville 39-20 to get to the Prep Bowl. They’re led by quarterback Michael Veldman, who is throwing for just less than 200 yards per game in the state tournament with two touchdowns. He had 26 touchdowns in the regular season. Becker’s run game is also led by C.J. Schwintek’s 89 yards per game and eight scores.
It’s hard not to pick DeLaSalle in this one after they just beat one of the most dominant teams in their class in recent memory.
Friday Class 6A: Eden Prairie (12-0) vs. Totino-Grace (11-1)
The two teams that will meet in the Class 6A state title game at 7 p.m. Friday TCF Bank Stadium should look very familiar to each other. They’ve met two out of the last three years in the state semifinals, so it should be a great game when Eden Prairie and Totino-Grace square off. The two teams met twice last year, with Eden Prairie winning 42-7 in the regular season and 47-22 in last year’s state tournament. Eden Prairie also beat Totino-Grace in the 2011 state semifinals.
This year, two similar styles face off as both teams run the ball effectively and rely on great defense to win games. Eden Prairie has running backs by committee in Will Rains, J.D. Spielman and Belal Omar, who combined to average about 200 yards per game in the regular season. Rains finished the regular season with 23 touchdowns.
Eden Prairie has won the last three Class 6A state championships, and has allowed just 17 points in those three state title games.
Totino-Grace has won seven straight games since a Week 5 loss and beat Mounds View 21-19 and Lakeville North 37-21 last week to get to the Prep Bowl. The Eagles are led by the running back duo of Kez Flomo and Ben Mezzenga, who have combined to average about 190 yards per game and have six combined touchdowns in the state playoffs. Quarterback Lance Benick is also a key figure in their offensive attack.
This game should come down to the battle at the line of scrimmage, where Eden Prairie is bigger and has more depth.
Saturday Class 5A: Simley (10-3) vs. Mankato West (11-1)
Mankato West is in the Class 5A State Tournament for the third straight year, but it’s the first time in that stretch the Scarlets have been in the Prep Bowl. They lost to Owatonna 28-0 two years ago in the quarterfinals and Chaska 27-6 in the semifinals last year. Mankato West can win a state championship for the first time since 2008 on Saturday as it faces Simley, a team that is 10-3 and won just two games last year.
The Scarlets like to spread the football out and throw it down the field, led by quarterback Ryan Schlichte. He is throwing for 185 yards per game and has six touchdowns in the state tournament. During the regular season, he threw for nearly 260 yards per game with 33 touchdowns.
Simley has won six straight games since losing to Mahtomedi in Week 7. That stretch includes wins over St. Thomas Academy in the section playoffs and state tournament wins over Sartell-St. Stephen (44-20) and Spring Lake Park (21-14). The Spartans have shown they can step up in the big games and aren’t afraid of the moment with the season on the line.
Mankato West will be favored in this game, but Simley should and will play like it has nothing to lose.
Saturday Class 3A: New London-Spicer (11-1) vs. Rochester Lourdes (12-0)
Rochester Lourdes has knocked on opportunity’s door for a state championship in each of the last three seasons. In the last three seasons, the Eagles have lost once in the Prep Bowl and twice in the state semifinals. The Eagles can win a state title Saturday and complete an undefeated season with a win over a perennial state tournament contender in New London-Spicer.
Lourdes beat St. Croix Lutheran 43-28 and Pierz 25-24 in overtime to reach the Prep Bowl. Two years ago, the Eagles lost to Blue Earth 30-7 in the Prep Bowl. This is also a match-up of last year’s state semifinals, where New London Spicer won 36-26.
The Wildcats’ only loss of the season came at Holy Family Catholic in Week 3. They’ve won nine straight games since. New London-Spicer got to the Prep Bowl with state tournament wins over Esko (52-27) and Glencoe-Silver Lake (13-12).
In the three other Prep Bowl match-ups, Edgerton/Ellsworth will face unbeaten Grand Meadow for the 9-Man state championship Friday morning. In Class A, Dawson-Boyd squares off against Minneota Saturday for the state title after getting to the Prep Bowl last year and losing to Mahnomen. In Class AA, Holdingford will face BOLD Friday afternoon. BOLD has won 12 straight games since losing its season opener.
Tune into WCCO-TV’s High School Sports Rally at about 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and David McCoy have all the action covered.