Several football teams from the northern Twin Cities area are playing this weekend for a crack at reaching the state tournament.
Watching film of Minnetonka's first-round victory at Hopkins brought a smile to Maple Grove coach Matt Lombardi's face.
The Skippers' defense featured few down linemen and several players bobbing and weaving near the line of scrimmage to create confusion. It was a carbon copy of the "wacky look" scheme Lombardi, former defensive coordinator at Wayzata, installed before the Trojans pummeled Blaine in the 2010 state quarterfinals.
"I laughed," Lombardi said. "It was flattering."
Though he switched his focus to Maple Grove's offense this season, Lombardi never strays far from his roots. Understanding defenses, he said, helps him find weaknesses.
He will need every possible edge. Though undefeated -- Osseo later forfeited its victory against Maple Grove -- and at home, Lombardi said the Crimson "are the first 9-0 team vs. a team around .500 that is the underdog."
"It will be fun to have a home game with what I consider to be a benchmark program," he said. "They are what we're striving to become."
Now in his second year coaching the Crimson, Lombardi did not expect to be on the Metrodome's doorstep so soon.
"It's a little surprising," he said. "But I have a disease of optimism, and I could see little things happening in the offseason that told me we'd be all right."
Maple Grove, which last reached the state tournament in 2002, rocketed to prominence this fall thanks to an outstanding passing game. Quarterback Blake Skaja (1,848 yards, 17 touchdowns) and receivers Jake Wieneke (1,139 yards, 13 TDs) and Brycen Wojta (599, 5) have shredded defenses all season.
But beating Minnetonka, Lombardi said, starts with a certain mentality.
"It's going to be a physical game just like every Minnetonka game I've ever coached in," he said.
No. 7 Eden Prairie (7-2) at No. 10 Osseo (6-3)
Osseo vied for the small-school West Division title in the Northwest Suburban Conference this fall. Now it gets in the ring with a super-heavyweight in seven-time state champion Eden Prairie.
"They are arguably the best team in Minnesota in the past 10 years," Osseo coach Derrin Lamker said. "But our kids are pretty fearless and they are excited to be at home."
Beyond Xs and Os, Lamker is stressing attitude this week. Two of Osseo's three losses were forfeits. The other, a 14-7 loss to Totino-Grace, the No. 1 team in Class 5A, gives reason for optimism.
"I'll be telling our kids that Edina beat Eden Prairie, Totino-Grace beat Edina and we were right there with them," Lamker said. "That said, we are no doubt the underdogs. I don't know if you need a play a perfect game to beat Eden Prairie but you better play pretty dang good."
Eastview (6-3) at No. 4 Mounds View (8-1)
Their schools sit about 30 miles apart on opposite ends of the metro area and their conferences cross over infrequently, but Mounds View and Eastview have much in common.
"We both like to run and we play base defenses without much blitzing," Mounds View coach Jim Galvin said. "I think it's a cool matchup because our teams never see their teams."
Actually, Eastview topped Mounds View in the 2007 state quarterfinals. Drawing even in their brief postseason history, Galvin said, will require his team to overcome Eastview's size and power running game. Those same qualities helped Stillwater give Mounds View its only loss this season.
"We're not real big but we're physical," Galvin said.
And rested. Many of the Mustangs starters sat out the second half in each of the team's past three blowout victories.
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574Quick hitters
Blaine (6-3) at No. 1 Edina (8-1)
Can the Bengals solve the team that toppled Wayzata and Eden Prairie this season?
Champlin Park (6-3) at No. 2 Wayzata (7-1)
Wayzata has ended Champlin Park's season five consecutive times but many observers said the Rebels outplayed the Trojans last year.
No. 2 Spring Lake Park (9-0) at No. 1 Totino-Grace (9-0)
In all four cases in which Spring Lake Park won or shared recent North Suburban Conference titles, plus the Panthers' state tournament appearance last fall, Totino-Grace was out of the picture. The Panthers get their nemesis head on this time.
Elk River (5-5) at St. Michael-Albertville (7-3)
Elk River lost Mississippi 8 Conference games to the Knights in 2010 and 2011. A victory Friday would be sufficient payback. The Elks rushed for 514 yards last week.
Robbinsdale Cooper (8-2) at No. 1 DeLaSalle (9-0)
A cavalcade of playmakers on both teams should make this one of Friday night's finest games.
DAVID LA VAQUE