Of five semifinal games on Friday at the Metrodome, four have staff writers Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque in an agreeable mood. Check during the day for in-game updates and results on the Star Tribune Football Hub at mnfootballhub.com.
Eden Prairie (10-0) vs. Totino-Grace (9-2), 7 p.m.
Jim says: After defeating Osseo in the quarterfinals, Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson said his team improved more in the last month than any team he’s had. So don’t expect a repeat of the 42-7 shellacking Eden Prairie handed the Eagles in September. But Eden Prairie’s special trait this season is hitting a level of play that it hasn’t had to use often, and is far out of opponents’ reach. In other words, Eden Prairie’s best is yet to come.
Pick: Eden Prairie 35, Totino-Grace 21
David says: Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant calls Anthony Anderson and Dan Fisher the best tandem of running backs to don the Eagles’ red and black. Both are big, physical runners with quick feet. They are too much for Totino-Grace to handle. Something to watch: Eden Prairie quarterback Ryan Connelly and tight end Zach Hovey will connect for a big gain more than once as Totino-Grace loads up to stop the run.
Pick: Eden Prairie 38, Totino-Grace 14
St. Michael-Albertville (10-1) vs. Owatonna (11-0), 2 p.m.
Jim says: St. Michael-Albertville has shown it can win close games and shootouts, demonstrating admirable gutsiness that serves teams well at this time of year. But big-game experience also counts, and 2012 Prep Bowl runner-up Owatonna has that. The Huskies’ offense has put up impressive numbers, but the real wow is the defense giving up fewer than 50 yards per game on the ground.
Pick: Owatonna 30, St. Michael-Albertville 16
David says: Last year, Owatonna players were wide-eyed about playing in the Metrodome. This year the Huskies are on a mission, looking to come all the way back to win the final game. And yes, the defense deserves its due. Owatonna enters Friday’s game on the strength of two consecutive shutouts. Other teams cannot win if they cannot score.
Pick: Owatonna 28, St. Michael-Albertville 10
DeLaSalle (10-1) vs. Holy Angels (6-5), 4:30 p.m.
Jim says: Holy Angels has salvaged its season with a strong playoff run, thanks to a tough regular-season schedule. But DeLaSalle has too many weapons, including star running back Chris Williams, who is so difficult to bring down he seems allergic to turf. On the Metrodome’s fast surface, the Islanders will be tough to catch.
Pick: DeLaSalle 44, Holy Angels 21
David says: Holy Angels has much to offer, starting with tackling machine Connor McCarthy. He averages about 17 per game. But DeLaSalle can counter with elite playmakers at several positions. From tough-running Williams to get-it-done quarterback Billy Hart and shutdown cornerback Alex Hempe, the Islanders have the look of a champion.
Pick: DeLaSalle 35, Holy Angels 17
Hawley (10-1) vs. Chatfield (11-1), 11:30 a.m.
Jim says: Chatfield nearly defeated three-time defending champion Caledonia in the season opener and then finished the task by ending the Warriors’ 36-game winning streak in the Section 1 finals. That’s a locker room full of football cred.
Pick: Chatfield 20, Hawley 8
David says: We agree once more. Hawley reached the state quarterfinals last season so that experience can only help this time around. But Chatfield slew the dragon and deserves the benefit of the doubt until another team rises up.
Pick: Chatfield 21, Hawley 14
Kittson County Central (12-0) vs. Grand Meadow (11-1), 9 a.m.
Jim says: Great defense always trumps great offense. Want proof? Grand Meadow held explosive Mountain Lake, which had been averaging 60 points per game, to just 18 in a 35-18 quarterfinal victory. Pick: Grand Meadow 42, Kittson County Central 16
David says: Kittson County Central finished No. 2 in the final state rankings for a reason. Sure, the Bearcats can run the ball. But they throw effectively and started the season with three consecutive shutouts.
Pick: Kittson County Central 30, Grand Meadow 21