PREP FOOTBALL PICKS

Top seed among Star Tribune football prognosticators? Jim Paulsen and it’s not even close. He is 40-8, a full 10 games better than David La Vaque (30-18). But hey, underdogs lurk when the state tournament is upon us. Here are the matchups involving metro area teams. Winners advance to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Class 6A

Thursday

 

Lakeville North (9-1) vs. Totino-Grace (10-0) at Edina Community Center, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: Remember 2014 when Lakeville North — a state championship-caliber team with a defense for the ages — was shockingly eliminated by Totino-Grace in the semifinals? Panthers’ coach Brian Vossen remembers. He’ll have his team ready.

 

Pick: Lakeville North 24, Totino-Grace 20

 

David says: Coach Jeff Ferguson and the Totino-Grace staff always bring something special to the postseason. A talented player in a new position. A key play. Well-prepared defense. Expect one, or a combination of those factors, to produce a victory.

 

Pick: Totino-Grace 20, Lakeville North 14

Minnetonka (8-2) vs. Blaine (8-2) at Park Center, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: This is not the Blaine team that started the season. RB Chase Harper and QB Connor Melton are difference-makers who bring big-play ability to the offense.

 

Pick: Blaine 27, Minnetonka 14

 

David says: This marks the first time in Dave Nelson’s 15 seasons coaching Minnetonka that he goes up against Blaine, which he coached to four Prep Bowls from 1988-2001. Expect Minnetonka players to bring a little something extra.

 

Pick: Minnetonka 21, Blaine 20

Friday

 

Maple Grove (8-2) vs. Eden Prairie (9-1) at Chanhassen, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: When Maple Grove gets out to a fast start, the Crimson can compete with anyone. It’s one of only two teams to score in double figures on Eden Prairie all season. Maple Grove lost 28-15 after falling behind 14-0.

 

Pick: Eden Prairie 22, Maple Grove 12

 

David says: Maple Grove QB Brad Davison has convinced me. He is both skilled and unflappable enough to better the efforts of a fine Eden Prairie defense.

 

Pick: Maple Grove 14, Eden Prairie 10

Champlin Park (7-3) vs. Rosemount (9-1) at Woodbury, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: Champlin Park QB Chad Costello has been terrific in postseason relief of injured starter Bennett Otto. Costello is 24 of 34 for 309 yards and four touchdowns in the postseason. But is the Rebels’ defense up to the task?

 

Pick: Rosemount 34, Champlin Park 27

 

David says: Top seed Rosemount boasts a solid offensive line but a thin backfield. Contain run-first QB Cody Hogan — never an easy task — and No. 3 seed Champlin Park pulls the upset.

 

Pick: Champlin Park 24, Rosemount 14

Class 5A

Friday

 

Andover (5-6) vs. Spring Lake Park (10-0) at Centennial, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: Andover’s three-game postseason winning streak comes to an end here at the hands of a punishing Spring Lake Park rushing attack.

 

Pick: Spring Lake Park 30, Andover 16

 

David says: Spring Lake Park senior QB Zach Ojile is 22-0 as a starter. He’s the program’s career leader with 3,610 rushing yards. He won’t be denied after missing this game with an injury last year.

 

Pick: Spring Lake Park 28, Andover 14

Saturday

 

Apple Valley (7-3) vs. Owatonna (7-2) at Lakeville North, 6 p.m.

 

Jim says: Great stat from Jon Weisbrod of the Owatonna People’s Press: Since losing to Faribault on Sept. 16, Owatonna is 7-0 and has trailed for a total of just 12:41 of game time.

Pick: Owatonna 38, Apple Valley 27

 

David says: Apple Valley senior QB Noah Sanders can sling the ball. But he’ll surprise the Huskies with an ability to run hard and well.

 

Pick: Apple Valley 30, Owatonna 21

Mahtomedi (10-0) vs. Mankato West (10-0) at Farmington, 6 p.m.

 

Jim says: Big-game experience pays off for Mankato West, making its 11th state tournament appearance since 1999.

 

Pick: Mankato West 38, Mahtomedi 24

 

David says: Steady helpings of running backs Jalen Frye and T.J. Tumbleson tip the scale in Mahtomedi’s favor.

 

Pick: Mahtomedi 35, Mankato West 31

Alexandria (9-1) vs. Elk River (10-0) at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud, 8 p.m.

 

Jim says: Alexandria lost by seven to St. Cloud Tech, which lost by 24 to St. Michael-Albertville, which lost 56-0 to Elk River last week. The Elks win this one by 87 points, right? Not quite, but I don’t see Alex staying close to Elk River’s juggernaut.

 

Pick: Elk River 48, Alexandria 16

 

David says: The Cardinals’ playmakers better act fast because Elk River’s ground game piles up points while bleeding the clock.

 

Pick: Elk River 42, Alexandria 21

Class 4A

Friday

 

South St. Paul (10-0) vs. Winona (9-1) at East Ridge, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: Winona makes its first state tourney trip in 29 years. South St. Paul was a Prep Bowl finalist last year. Edge, Packers.

 

Pick: South St. Paul 28, Winona 14

 

David says: This “neutral site” is about 10 miles from South St. Paul. Unlikely the Packers drop what essentially is a home game.

 

Pick: South St. Paul 35, Winona 20

Fridley (8-2) vs. Marshall (10-0) at Burnsville, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: Marshall made a believer out of me with a comeback victory at Hutchinson last week.

 

Pick: Marshall 41, Fridley 20

 

David says: Marshall RB Jefferson Lee V gashed Hutch for 143 yards rushing on 16 carries. That’s 8.9 yards per touch.

 

Pick: Marshall 31, Fridley 23

Cloquet (7-3) vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (7-3) at Chisago Lakes, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: Benilde-SM’s RB Ricky Floyd has 431 yards rushing in two playoff games.

 

Pick: Benilde-St. Margaret’s 37, Cloquet 17

 

David says: Red Knights look like a final four team.

 

Pick: Benilde-St. Margaret’s 27, Cloquet 14

Rocori, Cold Spring (8-3) vs. Orono (7-4) at Husky Stadium in St. Cloud, 8 p.m.

 

Jim says: Orono is on four-game winning streak, but this is like a home game for Rocori.

 

Pick: Rocori 20, Orono 10

 

David says: Playing just four games this year, the Spartans’ 6-9 WR Jarvis Thomas has 13 catches for 402 yards and threeTDs. Nice X-factor.

 

Pick: Orono 31, Rocori 28

Class 3A

Saturday

 

St. Croix Lutheran (10-0) vs. Belle Plaine (9-2) at Lakeville North, 3 p.m.

 

Jim says: No. 1 St. Croix Lutheran has scored at least 34 points in every game this season.

 

Pick: St. Croix Lutheran 40, Belle Plaine 28

 

David says: Whether at QB or LB, senior Isaac Tietz makes the Crusaders go.

 

Pick: St. Croix Lutheran 35, Belle Plaine 20

Class 1A

Friday

 

Minneapolis North (10-0) vs. Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton (8-3) at Richfield, 7 p.m.

 

Jim says: JWP hasn’t experienced the type of athleticism North can bring.

 

Pick: North 32, JWP 22

 

David says: The Polars ran up 86 points in the section playoffs, proof they can dominate outside the metro, too.

 

Pick: North 38, JWP 24