Staff writers Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque offer their insights and make their picks for three of Friday’s season-opening football games.
WACONIA AT BENILDE-ST. MARGARET’S, 7 PM
Jim says: No Eric Wilson, no Ricky Floyd? Big losses, sure, but there’s plenty of talent left with the defending Class 4A champion Red Knights. Liam Ford gave a remarkable effort in place of Floyd in the 2016 Prep Bowl. And the linebacking corps of Braeden Fitzgerald, Ikenna Ujuagu, John Whitmore and John Landry stacks up with any in the metro. Pick: Benilde-St. Margaret’s 26, Waconia 20
David says: New Waconia coach Corey Shea spent the past six seasons as the Gustavus Adolphus defensive coordinator. So expect some energy on that side of the ball. And a few key offensive players return. Still, going on the road against the defending champs is a tough proposition. Waconia has better days ahead. Pick: Benilde-St. Margaret’s 28, Waconia 14
FARMINGTON AT WOODBURY, 7 PM
Jim says: Farmington has made steady progress under third-year coach Adam Fischer but will need to depend on its defense while new offensive personnel catches up. Woodbury is in the same boat, but the Royals have a pair of big-time players in DE David Alston and LB Artavias Taylor who could be difference-makers. Pick: Woodbury 20, Farmington 12
David says: Woodbury, the fashionable favorite a year ago, fell hard. All involved learned important lessons, and another 0-3 season start isn’t likely. Opening up at home against a strong opponent, the Royals will bring focus and an edge in talent. Pick: Woodbury 27, Farmington 21
PROVIDENCE ACADEMY AT ST. CROIX LUTHERAN, 7 PM
Jim says: St. Croix Lutheran is easily the least-heralded elite program in the metro. The disciplined Crusaders have made six consecutive Class 3A state tournaments, winning titles in 2011 and 2013. St. Croix’s base offense is a precision veer, but it has big, tall weapons as receiving targets in WR Garett Maag and TE Stephen Kletscher. Pick: St. Croix Lutheran 35, Providence Academy 15.
David says: Providence boasts a solid one-two punch in running backs Taylor Meissner and Jackson Sonderby. But who will open the holes? The Lions must replace seven offensive linemen. If you can’t stop St. Croix Lutheran — and many teams cannot — then you must make it a track meet. Not sure that is the Lions’ strength. Pick: St. Croix Lutheran 31, Providence Academy 21