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When Minnesota prep football postseason ends, 52 teams will be winners

By JIM PAULSEN and DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune, 11/12/20, 3:45PM CST


The absence of the Prep Bowl in a COVID-shortened season means section championships will stand as final games. But for many teams, it’s now about just being able to play a bit more.

Stillwater players celebrated their decisive win over East Ridge at the end of the game Wednesday evening. The Ponies secured one of the top seeds in the Class 6A postseason play. Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com

Stillwater revived its season with a strong finish, capped by a 16-0 shutout of East Ridge on Wednesday in its regular-season finale. It paid off Thursday when the Ponies earned a No. 1 seed in upcoming Class 6A playoff bracket.

The Ponies join No. 1-ranked Lakeville South, No. 2 Eden Prairie and No. 3 St. Michael-Albertville as top seeds for the abbreviated postseason, which begins Tuesday and runs through Thanksgiving weekend.

Without a Prep Bowl this year, the postseason will consist of section tournaments of teams, playing as many as three games, competing for eight section championships in six classes from Nine-Man to Class 5A. The Minnesota State High School League, which canceled the traditional state tournament because of COVID-19 concerns, calls them “culmination events.”

In Class 6A, home to the state’s 31 largest schools, the postseason will result in four section winners. Each of its four sections seeded its teams according its relative QRF ranking, then matched up teams on a randomly elected playoff table broken into four brackets. Each bracket will decide a winner to conclude the season on Nov. 27-28.

Stillwater coach Beau LaBore said after the Ponies’ victory Wednesday that his team never concerned itself with what was missing from the season, asserting they were simply thrilled to “get to play.”

“We get to be together. We get to practice. We get to play. Even if it’s an abbreviated playoff,” LaBore said. “We’re just going to be grateful for what have and we’re not going to worry about what we don’t.”

Lakeville South and Eden Prairie were the only two Class 6A teams to finish the regular season with 6-0 records. But the random nature of the bracket did not allow the Cougars the luxury of a first-round bye. They will host Cretin-Derham Hall in the first round of their bracket.

Only 28 Class 6A teams will compete in the bracket playoffs. Buffalo, Forest Lake and Maple Grove had their seasons canceled due to the current spike in COVID cases.

That means that four teams earned byes for the first round of the playoffs: Eden Prairie, which knocked St. Michael-Albertville from the ranks of the undefeated with a 24-14 victory Wednesday, Stillwater and a pair of No. 2-seeds, Farmington and East Ridge.

The brackets were announced without regard to each school’s playing status and then adjusted accordingly when the three schools were dropped out.

Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant, who has won 11 state championships, said his team isn’t going approach the postseason any differently than it has in the past.

“We tell the kids all the time that if you want to be a special team — and we’re good, but if you want to be special — it means every game you finish things. And these kids want to be special. They want to be remembered as a great senior class. That’s important to them. So it’s not about who we’re playing or where we’re going, you gotta play great.”

For many teams, which three months ago faced the prospect of not having a fall football season, just the opportunity to continue their season is motivation enough.

“We just want to play,” St. Michael-Albertville coach Jared Essler said. “Whatever happens, we’ve got two weeks of football left. Hopefully we can play three games, but we’ll play any kind of game, even if it’s like a soccer ‘friendly.’ We’ll play anybody.”

Because of regular season games left to be played Thursday and Friday, many sections in classes other than 6A have not been officially released.

Of some that were, here are some metro area notables:

• Rogers earned the No. 1 seed in Class 5A, Section 6, with intradistrict rival Elk River No. 2.
• Chanhassen, Mankato West and Chaska are the top three seeds in 5A, Section 2.
• In Class 4A, Section 2, Hutchinson was seeded No. 1 with Marshall No. 2.

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