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Staff picks: Prep Bowl Edition

By Star Tribune, 11/28/13, 8:09PM CST


Let the games begin.


7 p.m. • Friday

Rosemount (11-1) vs. Eden Prairie (11-0)

Jim says: There have been whispers (well, more like a chorus) that Eden Prairie is unbeatable. This might be the best team Mike Grant has had at Eden Prairie, and that’s saying a lot. An offensive line that engulfs opponents, running backs that double as battering rams, a quarterback just waiting to break out and a fast, veteran defense that never misses tackles is tough to pick against. But the Irish are faster on offense than Eden Prairie and have had two weeks to prepare. They have clearly been the second-best team in Class 6A all season. Last year, I picked against Eden Prairie. I was wrong. But I’m drinking from the upset trough once more. Call me a fool, but I see a late victory for the Irish.

The pick: Rosemount 27, Eden Prairie 24

David says: This game showcases the state’s two best teams. Neither has trailed in a game since the season’s first week. Eden Prairie’s 42-13 average margin of victory is slightly better than Rosemount’s 39-12. This is the best matchup possible. And we’ve got a little Prep Bowl history on the line. A victory solidifies Eden Prairie as the ultimate dynasty in the ultimate team sport. No other program has ever won three consecutive state titles in the largest class. Against that backdrop, Eden Prairie wins its ninth overall state title. The Eagles are just too big and too fast, especially on offense. The final score won’t be obscene, but Eden Prairie leaves no doubt which team stands apart on the state’s prep football landscape.

The pick: Eden Prairie 35, Rosemount 14



7 p.m. • Saturday Brainerd (12-0) vs. Owatonna (12-0)

Jim says: It’s fitting that the Prep Bowl’s Metrodome era closes with one of its architects, Brainerd coach Ron Stolski, on the sidelines in the final game. Brainerd played just well enough in its semifinal victory over Chaska, but far from its best. The defense gave up 477 total yards. But the Warriors perfectly followed the script for winning football: no turnovers, an effective running game and a terrific performance from the special teams, including a kickoff return for a touchdown. Owatonna has deserved the No. 1 ranking all season, but this one feels like fate. Stolski’s 355th career victory — a state record — will be a championship.

The pick: Brainerd 20, Owatonna 14

David says: Summing up Owatonna requires two words: ruthless efficiency. The Huskies defense has allowed seven points in the past three games and posted two shutouts. The offense stumbled early in the state tournament semifinals with an interception, then scored on five of its next seven possessions. Quarterback Ian Langeberg completed nine of 12 passes, including a 30-yard touchdown to Sam Fenske. Running back Aaron Peterson rushed 30 times for 170 yards without a loss. Motivation is no trouble. Owatonna lost the 5A title game last season to Totino-Grace. The Huskies did not come this far to leave the job unfinished.

The pick: Owatonna 21, Brainerd 13



4 p.m. • Friday

Holy Angels (7-5) vs. Hutchinson (12-0)

Jim says: After a 3-5 regular season, Holy Angels has found a groove. After the loss of starting quarterback Anthony Ekholm to mononucleosis before the state tournament, the team has seen running back Connor Moriarty running with grit, fullback/linebacker Connor McCarthy hitting everything in sight and the Hoffman brothers, Adam and Danny (who took over for Ekholm at QB) making big plays on both sides of the ball. But defeating Hutchinson is asking too much, even if Ekholm returns. The Stars will have a hard time shutting down the relentless Tigers.

The pick: Hutchinson 40, Holy Angels 19

David says: Running the ball is Hutchinson’s deal and few teams know the Tigers better than semifinals opponent Delano. Yet Delano got trampled underfoot in a 35-9 loss. Running back Tory Adams picked up 106 yards and was only the second-most productive member of the backfield. Quarterback Marcus Hahn scooted for 126 yards on only six carries. Jayden Fleck added 59 yards at a 5.4-yards-per-carry clip as Hutchinson roared for 290 ground yards. Holy Angels is a nice story, but Hutchinson gets the final word with a second consecutive state title.

The pick: Hutchinson 38, Holy Angels 14


1 p.m. • Saturday

St. Croix Lutheran (10-2) vs. New London-Spicer (10-2)

Jim says: It would be difficult to find a more disciplined, fundamentally sound team than St. Croix Lutheran, as its 10-game winning streak attests. However, talented and tough New London-Spicer, like Hutchinson, earned its callouses by surviving the rugged Wright County Conference. The Wildcats have escape artist running back Adam Essler, explosive receivers Jarrett Hatlestad and Shane Zylstra, and a fullback/linebacker in Ben Beuning who never loses one-on-one battles.

The pick: New London-Spicer 32, St. Croix Lutheran 22

David says: You have to love St. Croix Lutheran’s versatility. The Crusaders got into a track meet in the quarterfinals and won 38-35 thanks to explosive offensive plays. They showed moxie in the semifinals, kicking the winning field goal with six seconds remaining in a 3-0 victory. So the Crusaders can play it any way you like. But can they play with New London-Spicer? The feeling here is not well enough.

The pick: New London-Spicer 28, St. Croix Lutheran 14



1 p.m. • Friday

Chatfield (12-1) vs. Minneota/Lincoln HI (13-0)

Jim says: On Aug. 23, Chatfield lost on the road to three-time defending champion Caledonia by a single point, 19-18. On Nov. 1, the Gophers ended the Warriors’ 36-game winning streak and their hopes for a fourth consecutive title with a 13-10 overtime victory in the Section 1 championship game. With a running game that barges through opposing defenses, Chatfield will show that, on the prep football field, this is the year of the Gopher.

The pick: Chatfield 33, Minneota/Lincoln HI 20

David says: Caledonia’s elimination from state title contention was supposed to open the door for two-time runner-up Moose Lake/Willow River, remember? Well, Minneota/Lincoln HI dispatched the previously undefeated Rebels in the quarterfinals. Quarterback Austin Buysse, running back Jeff Gladis and company will prove themselves capable Gopher hunters.

The pick: Minneota/Lincoln HI 21, Chatfield 20



10 a.m. • Saturday

Dawson-Boyd (12-1) vs. Mahnomen (13-0)

Jim says: The superlatives for Mahnomen come easily. The Indians have outscored opponents 592-44. They’ve given up only seven touchdowns all season, only three on the ground. Going into the tournament, Mahnomen held opponents to less than 1 yard per rushing attempt. Eight shutouts. A 27-game winning streak, which includes the 2012 state championship. Thinking overconfidence, perhaps? No way.

The pick: Mahnomen 26, Dawson-Boyd 12

David says: The game is a rematch of the 2011 Prep Bowl, won 35-20 by Dawson-Boyd, so it can be done. The Blackjacks have much to offer. Quarterback Joey Lee, involved in all four touchdowns in the semifinals, keeps the offense chugging. And the defense gets off the field; it held Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s to 3-for-13 on third down. But Mahnomen’s stellar run cannot be ignored.

The pick: Mahnomen 31, Dawson-Boyd 14



10 a.m. • Friday

Underwood (10-3) vs. Grand Meadow (12-1)

Jim says: Early on, Underwood was a one-point season-opening victory away from an 0-3 start. Leading rusher Noah Thompson has been hurt so often that his wardrobe leans toward gauze. But the Rockets avenged one of those losses — to Wheaton/Herman-Norcross — in the playoffs. Thompson is still running wild. The gritty, gutsy Rockets will win, but don’t expect it to be pretty.

The pick: Underwood 33, Grand Meadow 30

David says: Hey, Jim, Grand Meadow didn’t exactly coast into town. The Superlarks — Prep Bowl runner-up a year ago — defeated three teams ranked in the final top-10 rankings in the past three weeks. The formula starts with a large helping of Landon Jacobson. He ran 33 times for 202 yards in the semifinals. Michael Stejskal’s 11 solo tackles sparked the defense.

The pick: Grand Meadow 28, Underwood 24

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