Eden Prairie: The Eagles pin their hopes on a sturdy offensive line making holes for tough, shifty running backs Dan Fisher and Anthony Anderson. The past two games each featured 16-play touchdown drives lasting more than seven minutes. That's classic Eden Prairie football. Shorten the game, get a lead and turn loose the defense.
Lakeville North: Coach Brian Vossen considered this Panthers defense the best he has seen. The Panthers have players at several positions who are smart, fast and strong. One South Suburban Conference coach calls quarterback Zach Creighton "a scary athlete who makes the offense go" and better than last season's talented Trey Heid. That's elite company.
David says: Coaches I spoke to during the year said the Eagles were a cut above. Two losses -- brought on mostly by injuries -- shouldn't cloud the issue. The state's best will beat a worthy Panthers team.
Pick: Eden Prairie 17,
Lakeville North 7
Jim says: This is Lakeville North's year. The Panthers are playing confidently and they are fast. It's one of the few teams that can withstand everything Eden Prairie can dish out. Pick: Lakeville North 20, Eden Prairie 10
Owatonna (12-0) vs. Totino-Grace (12-0)
Owatonna: Tough, athletic defense? Yes. Strong-armed, accurate quarterback? Colton Schock completed 24 of 38 passes for 250 yards last week. The Huskies are equipped for success, capable of finishing undefeated and bringing the program their first state title. Players said the Huskies are playing their most consistent football of the season in the state tournament.
Totino-Grace: What drives the Eagles? Try a 49-7 shellacking by Eden Prairie in the Class 5A semifinals in 2011. "They were hungrier than we were last year," coach Jeff Ferguson said. "We had to get hungrier this year." The Eagles can play a half-dozen running backs with little dropoff in production. The defense is the most physical in the state.
David says: Six state championships in the second-largest class since 2003 says it all. This is Totino-Grace's time of year and the Eagles have earned favorite status. Owatonna's ability to pass will challenge the Eagles but they will counter and do enough to win.
Pick: Totino-Grace 14,
Jim says: While Owatonna's experience and balance pose a serious threat, Totino-Grace is the epitome of championship football. The Eagles hit with authority, tackle with confidence, execute on offense and never beat themselves. Pick: Totino-Grace 21, Owatonna 14
Holy Family Catholic (10-3) vs. Hutchinson (12-0)
Holy Family Catholic: Quite a turnaround for a team that was 2-3 after a resounding 60-7 loss to Hutchinson. The Fire has won eight in a row, largely because of a renewed sense of urgency and the emergence of sophomore running back Chazz Johnson, a speedster who is a threat to score every time he touches the ball. Johnson, who played receiver in the teams' first meeting, will have far more touches this time around.
Hutchinson: The athletic Tigers have been stronger and faster than all of their opponents. They average 40 points per game and give up only 10. QB McKinley Anderson runs the offense deftly, WR Mitch Petersen can turn any short pass into a score and RB Tory Adams always picks up positive yards. "We have a whole bunch of playmakers on offense," coach Andy Rostberg said.
David says: The gaudy victory margins diminished in the state playoffs but Hutchinson remains the class of 4A. The Tigers' best-case scenario: build an early lead and remind the Fire of the last time these teams met. Pick: Hutchinson 24, Holy Family 13
Jim says: After thumping Holy Family during the regular season, it would take more chutzpah than I can muster to pick against Hutch. It won't be that lopsided again, but the Tigers will win comfortably. Pick: Hutchinson 34, Holy Family 14
Blue Earth (12-0) vs. Rochester Lourdes (13-0)
Blue Earth: The Buccaneers held their past two opponents to at or near season-low point totals. Their weakness -- giving up long pass plays -- shouldn't be an issue against run-heavy Lourdes. Blue Earth QB Kysten Zierke and the offense was as sharp as it was physically dominant in the semifinals, scoring on their first five drives (including four touchdowns).
Rochester Lourdes: Simplicity is the key for the Eagles. Quarterback Mark Pagel has a great feel for the option offense, helped by running backs Griff Slightam and the Carstens twins, McKay and Kane. Lourdes doesn't throw the ball much because it doesn't need to, having rushed for nearly 4,400 yards. The experienced Lourdes defense, led by Kurt Bieniek's 109 tackles, plays its best in tough situations.
David says: Similar running styles makes this a game of who wants it more and who makes the fewest mistakes. The former is impossible to judge but last week's pristine offensive effort gives Blue Earth the edge. Pick: Blue Earth 24, Rochester Lourdes 21
Jim says: Lourdes' commitment to fundamentals and even-keel approach worked well in its come-from-behind semifinal victory over Annandale. The Eagles aren't fancy, but they are sound. Pick: Rochester Lourdes 27, Blue Earth 21
Moose Lake-Willow River (13-0) vs. Caledonia (12-0)
Moose Lake-Willow River: The Rebels have wanted this game since losing to Caledonia 27-0 in the 2011 Prep Bowl. Their desire for a rematch makes it safe to say they've left no possibilities uncovered. Senior Jake Disterhaupt leads a quartet of talented Rebels running backs who each bring something different to the offense and create matchup nightmares for defenses.
Caledonia: A victory cements both a three-peat and a place among the state's top dynasties. Caledonia suffered defensive lapses of near-historic proportions last week, giving up its most points in four years. But this is still a group with five shutouts to its credit. The passing game and special teams sparkled last week, showcasing the Warriors' great balance.
David says: Moose Lake's focus on winning the rematch is expected. But if the Rebels get desperate, they play into Caledonia's hands. The Warriors are tough enough to beat on an even keel. Pick: Caledonia 24, Moose Lake- Willow River 7
Jim says: Moose Lake has seven consecutive state tournament trips and two Prep Bowl appearances without winning a championship. It's gotta happen sometime, right? Pick: Moose Lake-Willow River 23, Caledonia 19
Bethlehem Academy (11-2) vs. Mahnomen (13-0)
Bethlehem Academy: The Cardinals' explosiveness was on display in the semifinals when they scored three touchdowns within a five-minute span of the second quarter. The output, not to mention knocking off defending champion Dawson-Boyd, gave the Cardinals confidence that their Prep
Bowl debut could end in
Mahnomen: If there was one thing missing from Mahnomen's otherwise perfect season, it was a demonstration of its ability to pull out a close game. It jumped that hurdle in the semifinals, thwarting a late rally by Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City for a 26-20 victory. It's all
about defense for the Indians, who give up less than 120 yards per game.
David says: Bethlehem Academy has been a nice story but the Prep Bowl is Mahnomen's to lose. Last week's kinks will be worked out and the defense will chew up the Cardinals' rushing offense.
Pick: Mahnomen 28, Bethlehem Academy 7
Jim says: Mahnomen has been a Prep Bowl fixture, having played in the final-day extravaganza on nine previous occasions. It has won five and last year's runner-up finish is motivation for No. 6. Pick: Mahnomen 32, Bethlehem Academy 16
Grand Meadow: The Superlarks have added a twist to the traditional formula for Nine-man success: Not only can they run the ball, but QB Trenton Bleifus is an adept thrower, having passed for more than 2,000 yards and 30 touchdowns. Grand Meadow has been remarkably consistent, having scored 40 or more points 10 times.
Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley: The No. 1-ranked Wolverines have earned their Prep Bowl spot, having defeated two ranked teams sandwiched around a victory over 2011 runner-up Wheaton/Herman-Norcross. Their semifinal victory came without injured star Logan Nordly, a 1,000-yard rusher and the team's second-leading tackler, who also will miss the Prep Bowl.
David says: A jackhammer offensive line will get the Wolverines a championship by force despite an ornery Superlarks defense. RBs Austin Maanum and Jason Montonye will lead top-ranked C-G-B. Pick: Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 38, Grand Meadow 31.
Jim says: This is a tossup. Both teams run a lot and score a lot. My choice of Grand Meadow -- more of a hunch, really -- is based on Bleifus' arm, a tough schedule and a really great nickname.
Pick: Grand Meadow 44, Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley 29.