The football state tournament has arrived and teams across the state battle it out on neutral-site outdoor fields for the right to take it inside U.S. Bank Stadium. And Star Tribune preps writers David LaVaque (26-20) and Jim Paulsen (32-14) are ready to leave the cold behind.
Class 6A: Maple Grove (9-1) vs. Woodbury (9-1), at Eden Prairie, 7 p.m.
Jim says: Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi is known for defense, but the Crimson has been an offensive juggernaut, averaging nearly 40 points per game. Put Woodbury’s Maroon District inclusion aside. These Royals deserve to be right where they’re at, having allowed just three points in the postseason. The pick: Maple Grove 34, Woodbury 30
David says: Congratulations to Woodbury as the last Maroon District team left standing. Unfortunately for the Royals, Maple Grove has shredded Maroon programs the past three weeks — after beating two state tournament qualifying teams. Woodbury will battle, but Maple Grove is on another level. The pick: Maple Grove 28, Woodbury 14
Class 6A: St. Michael-Albertville (6-4) vs. Wayzata (8-2), at Park Center, 7 p.m.
Jim says: St. Michael-Albertville hasn’t been able to find a consistent groove. How will the Knights’ rally from a 21-point deficit to beat Centennial Friday affect their future? Were they lucky to keep their season alive or will they use it as a springboard? Moving on is asking a lot; Wayzata beat them handily, 34-14, in September. The pick: Wayzata 26, St. Michael-Albertville 16
David says: Feels like old times ‘round the Trojans’ program. The defense gave a good Stillwater offense fits last week and allowed just one touchdown. The unit played fast and smart, rallying to the ball with several tacklers every time. St. Michael-Albertville heated up last week, but Wayzata hasn’t cooled down. The pick: Wayzata 24, St. Michael-Albertville 10
Class 4A: Holy Angels (8-2) vs. Becker (10-0), at Monticello, 7 p.m.
Jim says: The best team in Class 4A, No. 1-ranked Becker, vs. the best player in Holy Angels’ running back/safety Emmett Johnson. No one has stopped Johnson, who’s rushed for 2,355 yards and has topped 325 three times. Becker’s defense is battle-tested and resolute, giving up double-figures in points in just four games. The pick: Becker 50, Holy Angels 28
David says: I just might be swayed to pick the team with the best player on the field if Becker wasn’t the opponent. The Bulldogs play with the right mix of intelligence and swagger. And let’s not overlook Becker’s junior QB Ryan Bengtson (20 passing touchdowns) and senior RB Carter Callahan (17 rushing TDs.) The pick: Becker 42, Holy Angels 20
Class 6A: Farmington (6-4) vs. Eden Prairie (9-1), at Chanhassen, 7 p.m.
Jim says: Farmington dismantled a very good Minnetonka team in the second round, but I think the Tigers’ run ends here. They lost to Eden Prairie 37-29 in Week 2, a game that looks tighter than it was thanks to a pair of late Farmington touchdowns. Newsflash: Eden Prairie knows how to win at this time of the year. The pick: Eden Prairie 33, Farmington 24
David says: Eden Prairie’s offense prevailed last week with a gritty showing against a solid Lakeville North defense. The hunch is that the Eagles’ playmakers, especially senior RB Takhi Vaughn, are primed to explode this week. If not, Eden Prairie can still rely on its stout defense to do its part. The pick: Eden Prairie 30, Farmington 17
Class 6A: Shakopee (8-2) vs. Lakeville South (10-0), at Stillwater, 7 p.m.
Jim says: Shakopee has adjusted well to losing starting QB Dominic Jackson and played Lakeville South close without him, leading at halftime before falling 30-22 on Oct. 14. Expect that game to be fresh in the memories of the No. 1, 6A Lakeville South players. The pick: Lakeville South 35, Shakopee 21.
David says: What once appeared to be the dream Prep Bowl matchup becomes a footnote on Lakeville South’s run to a state title. No disrespect intended to Shakopee. But as good as RBs Jadon Hellerud and Chandler Ross Jr. are, missing your No. 1 QB due to injury isn’t going to cut it against South. The pick: Lakeville South 31, Shakopee 14.
Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy (10-0) vs. Mankato West (10-0), at Prior Lake, 3 p.m.
Jim says: The No. 1, 5A Scarlets have earned their ranking, running through their schedule rarely challenged. St. Thomas Academy’s physical, hard-nosed style presents a different obstacle, but Mankato West’s train is bound for a state title. I’m not sure anyone can derail it. The pick: Mankato West 20, St. Thomas Academy 13.
David says: Finally, we disagree. St. Thomas Academy has blanked three of its past four opponents. The Cadets’ offense starts with junior RB Love Adebayo. He’s tallied 100-plus yards in four of the past five games. Darn shame we don’t get to see both these deserving teams play at U.S. Bank Stadium. The pick: St. Thomas Academy 21, Mankato West 20