The sounds of football are being heard all around the state this week as Minnesota’s high school teams hit their fields to start the fall season.
It’s a very odd year as the high school football season is not only starting a few weeks early, the first games are before the Minnesota State Fair. It’s largely because the site of the Prep Bowl, TCF Bank Stadium, is tied up in the last two weeks of November for Gophers home games.READ MORE: Next Weather: Dry Start In Twin Cities, Showers Later On
We’ve previewed the 2014 state tournament teams from Class 6A and Class 5A. This week, it’s Class 4A’s turn and it’s a group led by defending state champion Becker. The Bulldogs were somewhat of a surprise to win the Prep Bowl last year after Hutchinson had won state championships the two years prior.
It should be another extremely competitive fall season with several great match-ups and close games. Here is a look at Class 4A, based on last year’s eight state tournament participants.
Becker (12-1), East Central District
Becker always seems to have a strong football program, and the Bulldogs proved it last year with an unprecedented run to the Prep Bowl. Becker won 12 straight games after a season-opening loss to Minnetonka. That included state tournament wins over Rocori, Stewartville and DeLaSalle.
The Bulldogs will likely be led this year by quarterback Andrew Stangler, who will have big shoes to fill in replacing start athlete Michael Veldman. Becker will also be looking for a big season out of Milan Kent, one of last year’s leading rushers.
Becker didn’t do itself many favors in the scheduling area this season. The Bulldogs open by hosting Hutchinson. The remaining first half of their schedule includes games at New London-Spicer, home against Little Falls and at Zimmerman.
South St. Paul (9-2), East Metro District
South St. Paul has been an annual contender in football for several years now with a balanced offensive run game. The Packers had potential for a big season in 2014, winning nine straight games after losing their season opener. Despite big wins over rivals St. Thomas Academy and Mahtomedi, the season ended in a crushing state quarterfinal loss to Stewartville, 34-33.
South St. Paul returns quarterback Dan Pietruszewski, who passed for seven touchdowns in the regular season last year and was one of the team’s top rushers. Malik Holmes is also back to provide depth in the rushing attack, and Ryan Duffy could also be in the mix running and passing.
The Packers open the fall with a home game against North St. Paul. The first half of the schedule also includes a game at Cottage Grove and home games against Simley and Hastings. After three of the first four at home, South St. Paul will be tested with three of its last four on the road.
DeLaSalle (11-2), Suburban District
DeLaSalle made a run to the Prep Bowl last fall, but came up just short of celebrating a championship. The Islanders knocked off defending champion Hutchinson 35-14 in the state semifinals, then ran into traditional state power Becker in the title game and lost 24-6.
DeLaSalle needs to replace quarterback Billy Hart, one of the better players in the Twin Cities last year. The Islanders are hoping Nick Weber can step in and fill that void. He appeared in seven games last year. They’ll also be looking for contributions from Sage Booker and Joshua Weber.
The Islanders open the 2015 slate against the only team they lost to in the regular season last year, Holy Angels. They follow with a game at Irondale, then host Park Center before traveling to Benilde-St. Margaret’s. If they can get off to a good start, there is great potential for a big fall season.
Hutchinson (11-1), East Central District
Hutchinson is looking to get back on top of Class 4A after having a dominant run end last fall. After winning consecutive state titles, the Tigers were 11-0 before losing to DeLaSalle in the state semifinals last year. It ended a streak of 37 straight wins.
Hutchinson has some big shoes to fill as Mr. Football, Robbie Grimsley, graduated. The Tigers always have depth in the run game, and they’ll be looking for big seasons out of Matt Piechowski and Isaiah Nelson. They’ll also have Austin Kopesky back at running back.READ MORE: Body Found In Mississippi River In Anoka Identified
The Tigers have a brutal schedule early, traveling to Becker in a match-up of state tournament teams last year. They also host rival Glencoe-Silver Lake, travel to Watertown-Mayer and host Delano in the first half of the season.
Cloquet (10-1), Northeast District
Cloquet is one of the most competitive high school football programs that doesn’t get a lot of attention being in northern Minnesota. But the Lumberjacks make it a habit of being a state tournament team. In 2014, they took a perfect 10-0 record to the Class 4A State Tournament before falling to DeLaSalle in the state quarterfinals.
The Lumberjacks were loaded with senior talent last year, so this season will be much about new players stepping up to keep the program moving forward. Those athletes include running backs Mickey Smith and Jeb Leone as well as Joseph Depp and Wyatt Benson.
Cloquet opens its regular season at Esko before hosting Virginia. The Lumberjacks also travel to Duluth Denfeld and host Grand Rapids for the first half of their schedule.
Rocori (7-5), North Central District
Rocori is always one of the better football programs in central Minnesota, and the Spartans made the most of an off season last year. They got off to a 2-5 start before winning five straight games to earn a trip to the state tournament. The Spartans faced Becker in the quarterfinals and were shut out, 24-0.
Rocori will likely be led by returning quarterback Connor Schoborg, who saw action in two regular season games last year. Ben Hoffman is one of the team’s top returning running backs, and Alec Anderson will be one of the team’s top receivers.
The Spartans open the 2015 season at Big Lake before hosting Willmar in Week 2. The first half of their schedule also takes them to Sauk Rapids-Rice before coming back home to host St. Cloud Tech.
Stewartville (10-2), Southeast District
Stewartville is looking to build off one of its better seasons in school history in 2014. The Tigers finished 10-2, with their only regular season loss coming to Rochester Lourdes. They reached the state playoffs and knocked off South St. Paul 34-33. They also gave Becker a game before losing 39-20.
The Tigers will be led by returning quarterback Andrew Quandt, who also had four touchdowns in the regular season as a running back last season. They should also get contributions in the run game from Ryan Clark and Jordan Johnson. Lucas Scruggs is back to lead the team at wide receiver after catching six touchdowns in the regular season last year.
Stewartville has a good mix of players back, setting up what could be another good fall season for the Tigers. They start the season at Chatfield before hosting Byron. The first half of the schedule also includes games at Cannon Falls and a tough test at home against Kasson-Mantorville.
Holy Angels (10-1), Suburban District
Holy Angels had a great season come to a crashing halt last fall, and it should serve as motivation for bigger things this fall. The Stars went 8-0 in the regular season, then beat Richfield and Holy Family Catholic to earn a trip to the state tournament. The playoff run ended in a 45-14 loss to Hutchinson.
The Stars always seem to have a slew of athletes. There could be competition at quarterback with both Brendan Ballard and Tommy Kraus back. Holy Angels should also have depth running the football with Danny Hoffman, Dimitry Greco and John Kipper all back.
Holy Angels has a tough schedule early. It opens at DeLaSalle, then heads to Chanhassen in Week 2 before a pair of home games against Bloomington Jefferson and Orono to finish the first half of the schedule.MORE NEWS: Next Drive: Highway 36 Reopens In Roseville After Serious Crash
It should be another extremely competitive fall on the football field, and many of these teams that were battling for a state title last year could be doing the same in October or November.