Playoffs are here
1 The week of Minnesota Educator Academy (MEA) typically means high school football concludes its regular season on Wednesday, followed by a four-day vacation. That routine, like so many others, was disrupted by the more condensed 2015 schedule. Now, it’s playoff time. Section quarterfinal games from Nine-Man to Class 5A take place Tuesday and Wednesday. Semifinals are Saturday. The Class 6A section quarterfinals kick off Friday. It all leads to the Prep Bowl championship games on Nov. 13 and 14 — almost two weeks before Thanksgiving.
2 Already tops among big schools with four consecutive state titles, top-ranked Eden Prairie is poised to equal Minnesota’s ultimate measure of football success. A fifth consecutive title would tie the Eagles with Stephen-Argyle, which won five consecutive Nine-Man titles from 2003 to ’07. Eden Prairie (8-0) defeated three of the tournament’s No. 2 seeds — Maple Grove, Totino-Grace and Wayzata — earlier this season while running its winning streak to 38 games.
Heads of the classes
3 Like Eden Prairie, defending state champions Mankato West (Class 5A) and Becker (4A) have what it takes to repeat, though the road looks less certain. Mankato West is third in the QRF (Quality Results Formula) rating system behind fellow undefeated teams Moorhead and No. 1 Spring Lake Park. The top-ranked Panthers reached the state semifinals last season, their best showing since 1997. For Becker, getting out of Section 6 will be difficult enough. The Bulldogs are the No. 2 seed behind Orono. The teams met in the section final last year, a 39-16 Becker victory.
4 Two Class 5A programs, Andover and Apple Valley, played their entire schedule against Class 6A teams and hope the experience translates into deep playoff runs. Andover, which faced opponents such as Edina, Osseo and Totino-Grace, started the season 0-4, then won four consecutive games to reach .500. Apple Valley (3-5) tangled with the likes of Burnsville, Lakeville North and Rosemount.
Proof is in the playoffs
5 Long-suffering Mound Westonka (8-0) and Park of Cottage Grove (6-2), along with the first-year SMB Wolfpack co-op (8-0) celebrated strong regular-season records. The teams benefited, in part, from new district-based scheduling that created better competitive balance for some programs. Can these teams keep their dream seasons going? Mound Westonka, top seed in the four-team Class 4A, Section 5, needs only two victories to reach the state tournament. In Class 5A, Section 3, Park must overcome dark horse Apple Valley and top-ranked St. Thomas Academy. Junior quarterback Brandon Alt, a Star Tribune preseason all-metro team choice who sat out the regular season because of undisclosed reasons, will return for the playoffs. His team excelled with junior Brendan Beaulieu under center, producing more than 1,450 yards of total offense and 17 touchdowns. While SMB (St. Paul Academy/Minnehaha Academy/Blake) is the No. 1 seed in Class 5A, Section 4, the Wolfpack did not play a team above Class 4A all season.
DAVID LA VAQUE