Annandale and Orono reside 40 miles apart along the Hwy. 55 corridor. A decade ago they were butting heads in the Wright County Conference.
These days they compete in different classes, conferences and districts, but they have plenty in common: Both schools' football teams are 4-0 and climbing in the polls, and each has scored more than 40 points three times.
"We have a long way to go to reach our goals this season, but if we stay healthy and keep improving, we could be a pretty good team by the end of the season," Annandale coach Matt Walter said following a 48-7 victory Friday over Milaca. Annandale is No. 6 in Class 3A.
Orono, ranked third in Class 4A, is coming off a 42-21 triumph over Delano. It's a familiar group for coach Joe McPherson.
"I'm lucky to have coached this senior class since they were in fourth grade, and I have watched how this group continues to grow each year," he said.
Both coaches said excellent offensive line play is allowing them to take advantage of talented playmakers.
"One of our key components that is working well right now is our offensive line and being able to run the ball," McPherson said. "It really sets up our pass game, where we have some dynamic receivers in Hunter Fox, George Perkins and Logan Chappell."
Annandale made a fresh start on the line this season and found a successful combination of seniors Vince Rasset and Brody Wroblewski, juniors Tommy Halverson, Weston Miller and Gavin Wang and sophomore Ben Walter.
"We knew we had some returning experience at the skill positions, but we were going to be replacing our entire offensive line," Matt Walter said. "This was a big question mark for us, especially against bigger, physical teams. Through our four games this season, our offensive line has been exceptional."
Each team also counts on stern defense. Annandale is giving up only 9.75 points per game. Orono is giving up 13.25 points per game but has allowed only one rushing touchdown.
McPherson cites three outstanding two-way players in Victor Ruhland (strong safety/receiver/running back), Gage Kracht (middle linebacker/fullback) and Brady McPherson (defensive end/tight end). Walter leans on lineman Wang, linebackers Halverson and Hudson Helget and defensive back Joe Healy.
"Our defense has been phenomenal the first four games of the season," Walter said. "Because of our defense, our offense has been getting short fields to work with. We are forcing a ton of turnovers, getting fourth-down stops and keeping teams out of the end zone."
One for Big Red
St. Croix Lutheran coach Adam Frey is a big Nebraska fan. His Crusaders have red in their team colors. When it was time to go for two Friday, he did just what former Cornhuskers coach Tom Osborne would have done.
"I had images of coach Osborne going for two in the 1984 Orange Bowl against Miami and the ensuing adage that 'Real men go for two,' " Frey said.
The Cornhuskers' failed two-point conversion pass cost them the national championship, 31-30. It worked out better for Frey.
Senior quarterback Marco Rodrigues scored on a 2-yard run with 48 seconds remaining, pulling the Crusaders (3-1) within a point of winless Winona (0-4) at Paul Giel Field. It was time to go for two and the win. Frey kept the ball in Rodrigues' hands, and Rodrigues punched it in for a 22-21 victory. He earlier scored on a 4-yard run and ran for the two-point conversion.
"Marco is a strong and fast young man," Frey said. "His biggest asset is his ability to run when he puts his mind to it.
"We didn't like the idea of playing for overtime, as our players were just about out of gas. We did like our chances of punching it in for a two-point conversion being that close to the end zone. We just wanted to take advantage of the little sliver of lightning we caught in that last drive."
* Defending Class 5A champion Elk River fell to 1-3, racking up 695 rushing yards and still losing 63-56 to Andover. Three Elk River players ran for more than 140 yards, led by senior quarterback Owen Van Drehle's 232 yards on 16 carries and three touchdowns on runs of 31, 42 and 77 yards. All seven of Elk River's touchdowns were on runs of 31 yards or longer. Andover countered with four passing touchdowns by Hudson Maynard, all in the first half, and two rushing TDs by Maynard, both in the fourth quarter. Maynard passed for 305 yards.
* Mound Westonka junior running back Ray Beiningen carried the ball 37 times for 239 yards and five touchdowns in a 37-35 victory at Providence Academy. He scored on runs of 1, 1, 8, 12 and 37 yards. Beiningen has rushed for 740 yards and 13 touchdowns on the season for the Class 4A, No. 6 White Hawks (4-0).
* St. Paul Como Park ended a 13-game losing streak, defeating Minneapolis South 40-0. The Cougars' last victory was 38-14 over Brooklyn Center in the first round of the Class 4A, Section 4 playoffs in 2021.
* Minnewaska Area ended a 14-game losing streak with an 18-12 victory over Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted in overtime. Its last victory, a 26-6 triumph over Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, came in 2021. Junior quarterback Levi Johnson threw his third touchdown pass for the win Friday.
Le Sueur-Henderson has been hit hard by injuries. The Class 2A school forfeited its game against Jackson County Central on Friday night because it did not have enough healthy players. It would have been missing nine starters.
Nine-man champs rolling
Nine-man defending state champion Mountain Iron-Buhl defeated Cass Lake-Bena 72-0. The No. 1 Rangers (4-0) have scored at least 66 points in all four games and have outscored their past three opponents 215-0.