The look on Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson’s face after the Skippers’ 21-16 victory over Edina in the first round of the Class 6A, Section 6 football playoffs Friday said it all.
After an interception in the final minutes sealed a victory that should have been salted away much earlier, Nelson wore an expression that was as much relief as gratification. The victory ended a three-game Minnetonka losing streak and sent the Skippers into the second round of the big-school playoffs.
“Our kids played hard. You always know they’re going to give us their best game,” Nelson said. “In the long run, it’s good for the kids to experience that. I’m going to look on the positive side. It’s nice to get a victory.”
Minnetonka will play Friday at undefeated Maple Grove, hoping to regain the form that propelled them to a 5-0 start.
Quarterback Nick Rooney is a savvy thrower with a strong arm, with the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver a strike and the intelligence to find secondary receivers if his primary target is covered. If he has time to throw and the Skippers can generate the kind of running game they did against Edina (Jason Witherspoon rushed 39 times for 176 yards), they can force the Crimson out of its comfort zone.
If Maple Grove can get its ground game, led by Clarke Wieneke and Tahi Nomane, rolling, it will make for a long night for Minnetonka.
Here’s a look at Friday’s other section playoff games involving west-metro teams. All but the Class 6A games are section finals.
Totino-Grace at Wayzata
Since imploding against Eden Prairie on Oct. 11, Wayzata has played with a renewed focus, routing Lake Conference rivals Minnetonka and Hopkins. The defense, which has been a consistent strength for most of the season, will have its hands full with the Totino-Grace power running game. The Trojans’ offense has scored 35 points in consecutive games and has excellent speed in the backfield in Tanner Bedard and Austin Gordon, both of whom can squirt through holes before they close.
Centennial at Eden Prairie
It would be unfair to say Centennial is nothing more than a speed-bump on Eden Prairie’s seemingly inevitable march to a third consecutive state title. But the Eagles are relentless and consistent, beating all comers, no matter their record, in the same demoralizing fashion. You know they’re coming, with a big offensive line, battering-ram running backs and a defense that never misses tackles.
And seemingly every game, there’s virtually nothing an opponent can do to stop them.
Section 2: Mankato West at Chaska
Perhaps the most competitive matchup of the weekend. Both teams are athletic and explosive. Home field? Advantage Chaska. Postseason experience? Strongly in favor of Mankato West. Chaska will need keep its nerves in check to make the same types of plays that have led it to eight consecutive double-digit victories.
Section 3: Apple Valley at Minneapolis Washburn
It’s pretty much accepted that playing a tough regular-season schedule is a plus when postseason play comes. That suggests that Apple Valley, which went 3-4 in the tough South Suburban, has the advantage over Washburn and its uneven Minneapolis Conference schedule. Washburn counters with the most heralded running back in Minnesota in Jeffrey Jones, the likes of which the Eagles have not seen this season.
Section 6: St. Michael-Albertville at Rogers
A rematch of a tremendous regular-season finale, which Rogers won 38-37 in overtime when St. Michael-Albertville failed to convert on a two-point conversion attempt. Both teams rolled in the section semifinals. This game has seemed inevitable all year. Expect a similarly close game.
Section 6: Benilde St. Margaret’s at DeLaSalle
DeLaSalle won the previous matchup this season 35-14 on Sept. 28. It also defeated the Red Knights 26-24 in the 2012 section semifinals. Benilde-St. Margaret’s has plenty of motivation on its side. But outside of quarterback Keaton Studsrud, the Red Knights cannot match DeLaSalle’s athleticism. They will have to limit big plays, control the clock and avoid turnovers to have any chance of winning.
Section 5: Becker at Delano
Both can boast of having No. 1-ranked Hutchinson on the ropes on the road before eventually losing. It was the only loss of the season for each team. Becker likes to put the ball in the air, Delano like to keep it on the ground. At this time of year, strong running games usually win out.
Section 3: Holy Angels at St. Paul Highland Park
A big question in this game is which Holy Angels team will show up. The one that averaged nearly 50 points in its four victories? Or the one that scored less than 10 points per game in its five losses?