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By DAVID LA VAQUE and JIM PAULSEN, Star Tribune staff writers, 09/27/12, 10:05PM CDT


As September draws to a close, the high school football season is at halftime. Here are five things about the first half that are worth keeping an eye on in the second half:

As September draws to a close, the high school football season is at halftime. Here are five things about the first half that are worth keeping an eye on in the second half:

Deeper Lake Conference

Winners of a combined 11 state championships in the past 16 seasons, Eden Prairie, Wayzata and Minnetonka are in their third season headlining Minnesota's ultimate football power conference, the five-team Lake. But it's the success of Edina and Hopkins, known more for hockey and basketball, respectively, making new waves.

Both started 4-1, earned victories against a top-10 opponent -- Edina upset Minnetonka in overtime last week -- and joined the aforementioned Big Three among the top 10 teams in this week's Associated Press poll.

What's more, the new Class 6A playoff format could result in four Lake Conference teams advancing to the state tournament. That makes Edina's game at Hopkins on Friday critical for both teams' section seeds.

New hope for 5A schools

In 2011 St. Francis had a season to remember: a 7-1 regular season, North Suburban Conference title and the No. 1 seed in Section 7, Class 5A.

And a 43-7 trouncing in a section game against Blaine, a school nearly twice its size in enrollment.

This year is different. A new Class 6A of the 32 largest schools in Minnesota has liberated other Class 5A programs that just couldn't compete when those behemoths were in the mix.

Teams such as Andover, East Ridge, Apple Valley and St. Paul Central can now look at their potential section playoff schedule believing in themselves rather than hoping for a miracle.

Leading with line play

Both Cretin-Derham Hall and Cooper have speed and skill to excess, yet both are .500 teams because of inconsistent line play.

Mounds View and Spring Lake Park, on the other hand, are both undefeated because both sides of the ball rarely let down.

And arguably the state's top three teams -- Eden Prairie, Wayzata and Lakeville North -- all have offensive and defensive lines to be reckoned with. Expect the season's second half to show that teams go only as far as their lines will lead them.

Grand finales

Wednesday, Oct. 17, concludes the regular season for most teams, and the schedule-makers created some tantalizing showdowns:

• If No. 1 Eden Prairie and No. 2 Wayzata remain undefeated, their heavyweight fight -- a rematch of last season's big-school title game, won by Eden Prairie -- decides who wins the Lake Conference title and who takes the state's top ranking into the postseason.

• Totino-Grace (5A) at Osseo (6A) offers a matchup of two of the finest teams in their respective classes. Both are on track to arrive unblemished.

• After three consecutive meetings in the section final, St. Thomas Academy (5A) and South St. Paul (4A) moved to different classes. But the rivalry endures. The Cadets will head to South St. Paul seeking payback for last season's overtime loss.

All-Unsung Team

Five players who began the season with little fanfare but deserve a shout-out because of their play on the field:

Quarterback: J.T. DenHartog, Hopkins. The Royals are 4-1 and a big reason is DenHartog, who is 79-for-127 for 998 yards and 10 touchdowns. He's also a threat to run, with nearly 200 yards on the ground and four touchdowns. Honorable mention: Alex Wiese, Hastings.

Running back: Jackson Goplen, St. Croix Lutheran, and Billy Kellogg, Cooper. Goplen runs angry and has the speed to outrun secondaries. He has 633 yards, averaging 12 yards per carry, and seven TDs; Kellogg is Cooper's Percy Harvin in an explosive 5-9, 175-pound package. He has 611 yards rushing, 151 yards receiving and nine TDs. Honorable mention: Chris Williams, DeLaSalle; Michael Diggins, Centennial.

Receiver: Max Knutson, Mounds View, and Brett Watercott, Becker. Knutson sat out of football for two seasons but has produced big this fall with 17 receptions for 344 yards and four TDs. In Becker's high-powered offense, Watercott has a metro-leading 590 yards receiving and 10 TDs, one for every 2.4 receptions. Honorable mention: Justin Freyholz, Andover; Zach Wiese, Hastings.

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