Staff writers Jim Paulsen and David La Vaque trade insights on the third and last day of football state tournament semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium.
Mankato West (11-0) vs. Spring Lake Park (11-0) 7 p.m.
Jim says: No slight to Spring Lake Park, but I’ve had an unshakable feeling that Mankato West and Elk River are destined for a showdown in the Prep Bowl. Spring Lake Park’s Zach Ojile is undefeated at a starter at QB, but that streak ends here. West is a juggernaut right now.
Pick: Mankato West 40, Spring Lake Park 21
David says: Both teams run the ball so well, led by quarterbacks Ojile and Robert Meidl (Scarlets). But Meidl is asked to throw more often and usually succeeds. The X-factor: How will Meidl and standout running back C.J. Terry handle their two-way duties inside warmer U.S. Bank Stadium?
Pick: Mankato West 24, Spring Lake Park 21
St. Croix Lutheran (11-0) vs. Pierz (10-1) 4:30 p.m.
Jim says: Tom Elliot of the St. Cloud Times — the oracle of central Minnesota football — assures me that Pierz’s size will help make up for the Pioneers’ losses to injury. But St. Croix Lutheran is used to playing bigger teams. No team executes with more precision than the Crusaders.
Pick: St. Croix Lutheran 34, Pierz 24
David says: Cheers to Pierz. The Pioneers posted their first shutout of the season last week to go one step further in the tournament than last year. But they are banged up. And a diminished roster won’t cut it against St. Croix Lutheran.
Pick: St. Croix Lutheran 31, Pierz 20
Rochester Lourdes (11-0) vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton (11-1) 2 p.m.
Jim says: Experience counts for much at this time of year. Rochester Lourdes won the 3A title in 2014. Its 14 seniors played on that team. That included the two leading rushers, Carter Greguson and Noah Hillman, who started. Advantage, Lourdes.
Pick: Rochester Lourdes 26, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 13
David says: Sure, Rochester Lourdes eclipsed 3,000 rushing yards this season. But this stat also impresses: Only one team had a 100-yard rusher against the Eagles this fall. A team that controls things up front on both sides of the ball is a Prep Bowl-caliber team.
Pick: Rochester Lourdes 28, D-G-F 21
Minneapolis North (11-0) vs. Wabasso (11-1) 11:30 a.m.
Jim says: Minneapolis North bumbled and stumbled all over the field in the first half against Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and trailed 13-0 at halftime. But playing indoors works in the Polars’ favor. North needs to keep mistakes to a minimum. If it does, it wins.
Pick: North 36, Wabasso 28.
David says: The Polars are accustomed to having the best athletes on the field. Not this time. Wabasso running back Mitchell Fulton, who has rushed for more than 2,100 yards this season, has gone to state in wrestling and as a sprinter on the track team. Now he’s going to the Prep Bowl.
Pick: Wabasso 24, North 20
Rushford-Peterson (11-1) vs. Browerville/Eagle Valley (9-3) 9 a.m.
Jim says: There was much hand-wringing and consternation in southeastern Minnesota when Noah Carlson was left off the list of 10 Mr. Football finalists. With good reason. He’s rushed for almost 2,400 yards and 36 touchdowns.
Pick: Rushford-Peterson 28, Browerville/EV 20
David says: Beyond Carlson, the Trojans get big plays from WRs Jake Paulson and Lucas Rasmussen. Offenses throw Rasmussen’s way at their peril. He has 12 interceptions this season.
Pick: Rushford-Peterson 38, Browerville/Eagle Valley 14