Blaine celebrated its come from behind win in the section tournament.
It’s regarded as the best night of the high school football season Friday, when players throughout Minnesota pump all their passion and pride into realizing their state tournament dreams. Here’s a look at five north metro teams either carrying the No. 1 section seed or playing the underdog role against a top-seed. All games start at 7 p.m.
No. 6 seed Blaine (5-4) at No. 1 Mounds View (8-1)
Coaches for both programs are looking past the obvious. Blaine doesn’t play like a No. 6 seed to Mounds View’s Jim Galvin. And the Mustangs’ defense, while undersized, has impressed Blaine’s Tom Develice.
The victorious team ends a four-year state tournament drought.
Mounds View’s wing-T offense is predicated on running the ball. Backs Jeff LeMay (371 yards), Danny DeWitt (344) and Joe Janey (274) are an effective trio capable of gaining yards inside and out. When it’s time to throw, quarterback Joe Fredrickson typically finds tight end Ryan Kaczynski for big plays. They have connected for 10 touchdowns.
“We like to run but we don’t get a lot of big running plays,” Galvin said. “So hitting the play-action pass is key. Joe’s accurate and finds the right guys.”
Blaine’s spread offense starts with quarterback Ben Beckman, a strong passer who also can make plays with his legs. Running back Nathan Kroutil (159 yards) and receivers Grant Boege (four catches for 75 yards) and Joe Blommer (9-for-88) helped upset No. 3 Centennial last week.
Develice said avenging a loss to the Cougars started with the right mind-set.
“In some of our games, our kids would get down on themselves and then either we couldn’t score or couldn’t stop the other team from scoring,” Develice said. “The past few games we’ve fought back and played 48 minutes and some good things happened.”
No. 6 seed White Bear Lake (4-5) at No. 1 Maple Grove (8-1)
Overlook White Bear Lake? Maple Grove Matt Lombardi doesn’t like to hear that kind of talk.
“We’re still a new enough program where every game is a step that matters,” said Lombardi, in his fourth year with the Crimson. “It’s not hard to get up for this game because it’s the last home game of the year and it’s the win you need to go to state.”
Maple Grove, which lost in the state tournament quarterfinals last fall, got big games last week from senior running back Clark Wieneke (140 yards rushing, one touchdown) and sophomore quarterback Brad Davison (298 yards passing, three touchdowns). The latter ranked as a welcomed breakout performance.
“His emergence is big,” Lombardi said. “He’s a sophomore that’s played a full year so he’s trickling into junior territory.”
Section 7: No. 3 seed St. Francis (8-2) at No. 1 Bemidji (8-1)
It takes awhile for the St. Francis Saints to go marching in. They traveled to Brainerd last week and hit the road for Bemidji next.
“We knew this would be our path as the No. 3 seed,” Saints coach Chris Lindquist said. “The kids understand and they think it’s fun.”
The formidable trio of quarterback Hunter Trautman, running back John Santiago and tight end/defensive end Blake Moreno have performed to the best of their abilities. But several other players have emerged to fill key roles. Junior running backs Isaiah Brunette and Max Green have combined for 946 yards and 11 touchdowns. Receiver Tyler Pallum became a downfield threat, catching 23 passes for 423 yards (18.4 yards per reception) and five touchdowns.
Section 4: No. 3 seed Mahtomedi (6-4) at No.1 Spring Lake Park (6-3)
These teams met in the first round last fall and Spring Lake Park escaped with a 15-14 victory.
“I’m sure they’re looking to do to us what we did to them,” Panthers coach Jeff Schlieff said.
Much has changed for Spring Lake Park since last season. First and foremost, the team joined the Northwest Suburban Conference and saw a considerable upgrade in week-to-week competition.
“Maybe it’s nice to be more rested than having to play so hard for so long but you have no choice but to get better,” Schlieff said.
Aaron Murphy, who caught two touchdown passes to beat Mahtomedi last year, moved to free safety. But the primary story of the Panthers’ secondary is Josh Bauer. He has 11 interceptions this season.
Osseo (6-3) at East Ridge (8-1): Osseo’s fast and aggressive defense presents a tough matchup for the powerful East Ridge offense. The host Raptors are led by Oregon-bound quarterback Seth Green.
Stillwater (7-2) at Totino-Grace (8-1): Each team features a bruising running back: Zach Knox (Stillwater) and Kez Flomo (Totino-Grace). The Eagles have made five consecutive trips to the state tournament; Stillwater hasn’t advanced there since 2006.
Section 6: No. 2 seed Elk River (7-2) at No. 1 St. Michael-Albertville (8-1): St. Michael-Albertville finished the regular season ranked No. 1 in the Associated Press poll. No. 8 Elk River is a big-game hunter, however, having beaten No. 2 Rogers last week.
Section 4: No. 3 seed Columbia Heights (5-4) at No. 1 St. Croix Lutheran (7-2): A rematch of the Section 4 championship game won 49-20 by St. Croix Lutheran. The Crusaders also defeated the Hylanders 56-42 earlier this season.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574