Fourteen games in the next three days at U.S. Bank Stadium will determine the Prep Bowl finalists for a return trip on Nov. 23-24. Staff writers Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque size up Thursday’s games and offer their picks.
NINE-MAN: Cromwell-WRIGHT (12-0) vs. Spring Grove (12-0), 11:30 a.m.
Jim says: Defending champion Spring Grove was nearly shocked by Russell-Tyler-Ruthton in the quarterfinals, needing a last-minute touchdown to pull out a victory. The strong shoulders of do-it-all QB Alex Folz will carry the Lions. Spring Grove 34, Cromwell-Wright 22
David says: Running backs Kannon Korpela and Cameron Cahoon have combined for more than 2,000 yards. And QB Drew Libbon has thrown for more than 1,000 yards. If they aren’t on, the defense is stout. Cromwell-Wright 28, Spring Grove 21
CLASS 2A: PAYNESVILLE (9-2) VS. CALEDONIA (11-0), 2 P.M.
Jim says: Paynesville scores quickly and often, hitting 50 points seven different times this season. But the Bulldogs lost QB Max Weidner in the quarterfinals. Against the three-time defending champs, they need all hands on deck. Caledonia 44, Paynesville 30
David says: The Warriors have won 52 consecutive games, the second-longest streak in state history. A dominating defense against a backup QB? PainPaynesville, indeed. Caledonia 35, Paynesville 0
CLASS 4A: WASECA (10-2) VS. SMB WOLFPACK (11-0), 4:30 P.m.
Jim says: It’s been a terrific postseason run for Waseca, consecutively knocking off three highly ranked teams — Hutchinson, Dassel-Cokato and Winona — to get this far. But SMB’s athletes, on the fast indoor turf, will prove to be too much. SMB 28, Waseca 21
David says: Waseca’s Joe Hagen just ran for 250 yards on snow-covered turf so let’s see what he looks like inside. Not to mention QB Hunter Rodriguez and WR Malik Willingham, the program career yardage leaders. A mature Bluejays team will be a tough out. Waseca 28, SMB 20
CLASS 6A: BLAINE (11-0) vs. EDEN PRAIRIE (9-1), 7 P.m.
Jim says: I’ve picked against Blaine three times and I’ve been wrong three times. I believe it’s folly to pick against Eden Prairie at this time of year, although this is not a typically dominant Eagles’ team. Blaine has momentum on its side. Blaine 24, Eden Prairie 21.
David says: Sure, Blaine is trending upward. And it’s true, Eden Prairie’s top guys have yet to take their place among past Eagles’ greats. Yet they’ve reached the final four. Be wary of a well-coached team that runs hard and defends well. Eden Prairie 22, Blaine 20