Conference titles are on the line and big games abound Wednesday on the last night of regular-season high school football in Minnesota before section playoffs begin next week. Here is a look at four key matchups that the Star Tribune will be covering:
Lakeville North (6-1) at Rosemount (6-1), 7 p.m.
Lakeville North’s two-year run of strong football, culminating in a Class 6A Prep Bowl runner-up finish last fall, was supposedly in danger after graduation losses. But the Panthers clearly believed otherwise.
An outstanding defense has led the charge. Which is more impressive – Lakeville North’s four shutouts or its four touchdowns permitted in seven games? It all adds up to a measly 5.2 points per game allowed.
Jesse Cardenas leads the team with 59 tackles and defensive ends Greg Menard and Tristyn Hanson contributed four sacks apiece.
On offense, running back Jamiah Newell has rushed for 1,015 yards at a 7 yards per carry clip.
The Panthers ended Rosemount’s season in the semifinals of the Class 6A state tournament last year.
A two-overtime loss to Wayzata in Week 1 is all that separates Rosemount from being undefeated. Quarterback Jackson Erdmann has thrown for 939 yards and 13 touchdowns, bringing desired balance to the typically ground-and-pound Irish.
Dimitri Williams embodies Rosemount’s dual-threat capabilities, leading the team in rushing (471 yards), receiving (335) and scoring (14 TDs).
While not as stingy as its Lakeville North counterpart, Rosemount’s defense only permits two touchdowns per game, plenty of cushion for a potent offense. And the defense has scored touchdowns in three consecutive weeks, two on Conner Yepsen interceptions.
David says: A balanced Rosemount offense scores just enough at home to win. Rosemount 17, Lakeville North 10.
Jim says: Defense wins big games and no defense in the metro is better than Lakeville North’s. Lakeville North 24, Rosemount 14.
Osseo (6-1) at Totino-Grace (6-1), 7 p.m.
It’s fair to say that few outside of Osseo thought the Orioles, who lost 2012 Metro Player of the Year Bridge Tusler to graduation, would be better this year, but that is certainly the case. Coach Derrin Lamker’s squad is more balanced this year, thanks to the arm of senior quarterback Matt Miedtke, who has thrown for 1,652 yards — more than double the passing yards the Orioles generated in 2012 — and 20 touchdowns, and bookend receivers Connor Kittleson and Josh Goldschmidt, both of whom stand 6-3 and have a combined 65 catches. That dimension has opened up possibilities for running backs Jaimen Hampton and Prince Krauh.
Totino-Grace began the season shorthanded due to injuries and other team factors, but the Eagles are close to full strength now and look fully like a team prepared to make another strong postseason run. Quarterback Seth Sullwold has gained confidence as the season has progressed, largely due to the presence of a trio of stellar running backs in Lance Benick, Kez Flomo and Kai Barber. The defense, coach Jeff Ferguson’s baby, has rounded into shape and is the key to everything the Eagles do. They’re athletic, smart and physical and rarely give up big plays.
David says: Osseo serves notice of its strong Class 6A playoff chances. Osseo 24, Totino-Grace 17.
Jim says: Totino-Grace has lost just two games in the past three years, both to Eden Prairie. Totino-Grace 21, Osseo 13.
St. Michael-Albertville (7-0) at Rogers (7-0), 7 p.m.
If the goal of scheduling is to build to a climactic finish, then the Mississippi 8 Conference nailed it. Two undefeated teams meeting for the title on the final night of the regular season shows a definite flair for the dramatic.
With booming youth football numbers, Rogers is looking like a program that will be good for a long time. The Royals feed off a big-play running game that has put up more than 2,000 yards this season, led by junior Gunnar Bloom. But the passing game is also an option as QB Connor Henderson has thrown for 627 yards. If there is a weakness, it’s Rogers’ recent penchant for starting slow. The Royals trailed St. Francis 12-0 and Big Lake 10-0 before rallying for convincing victories.
St. Michael-Albertville has leaned on its defense, giving up less than 200 total yards per game and holding five of its seven opponents under 10 points. Statistically, the Knights are equal with Rogers in terms of yards gained but have not scored at quite the rate of the Royals. Running back Chris Kartes has been remarkably consistent, rushing for less than 98 yards just once en route to a team-high 726 yards.
David says: St. Michael-Albertville takes the lead in a tough Mississippi 8 Conference. St. Michael-Albertville 21, Rogers 20.
Jim says: Rogers’ big-play ability will be the difference. Rogers 33, St. Michael-Albertville 21.
Roseville (6-1) at Mounds View (5-2), 7 p.m.
Roseville is enjoying its best season since going 8-4 and reaching the state tournament in 2006. A victory Wednesday gives Roseville at least a share of its first Suburban East Conference title ever.
Senior quarterback Jacques Perra and other talented athletes earned Roseville respect from conference opponents, Mounds View coach Jim Galvin included. What really makes the Raiders tough, Galvin said, is being “good up front on both sides of the ball.”
Perra’s 1,755 yards passing and 20 touchdowns lead the SEC. He has completed almost 60 percent of his passes while throwing just three interceptions. The team’s turnover ratio is a solid plus-10.
Junior receiver Jesper Horstad leads the conference with 787 yards and 11 touchdowns. His 38 receptions average 20.7 yards.
The Mustangs’ offense, despite relying on some undersized linemen, has executed the run-heavy wing-T scheme. Mounds View leads the conference with 1,747 rushing yards and backs Matt Hunt and Sola Olateju have combined for 12 touchdowns and more than 1,300 yards.
However, Galvin said, “our defense hasn’t lived up to expectations.” Mounds View ranks an uncharacteristic fifth in the conference against both the run and pass. Success against Roseville and in the approaching playoffs, Galvin said, requires “getting pressure and intercepting a pass or two.” Galvin is going for career victory No. 100 on Wednesday.
David says: Roseville wins a battle of teams with contrasting styles. Roseville 28, Mounds View 17.
Jim says: Expect Mounds View to be in a surly mood after an unexpected loss to White Bear Lake. Mounds View 31, Roseville 21.