The massive lead staff writer Jim Paulsen (51-11) built over David La Vaque (38-24) means the only real drama remains on the field. And what a field. The state semifinals bring the first high school football games to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Class 6A: Totino-Grace (11-0) vs. Blaine (9-2) 7 p.m.
Jim says: Blaine gave Totino-Grace fits during the regular season, outplaying the Eagles for much of the game but ultimately being done in by turnovers and critical mistakes in a 21-14 loss. Normally, I’d think Blaine could build on the confidence gained in that game, but the Totino-Grace team I saw rout Lakeville North looked close to unbeatable.
Pick: Totino-Grace 33, Blaine 21
David says: Totino-Grace lost in the semifinals last season to Osseo, making the previous week’s huge upset of Eden Prairie a footnote rather than a huge step toward a historic title. In fairness, Totino-Grace lost key linebacker Charlie Waters to an injury in practice before playing Osseo. You get the feeling even that wouldn’t stop these Eagles.
Pick: Totino-Grace 28, Blaine 10
Class 4A: Marshall (11-0) vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (8-3) 4:30 p.m.
Jim says: For years Marshall put up gaudy records in the Southwest Conference — made up largely of Class 2A and 3A teams — only to get exposed in the postseason by teams from stronger leagues. This is not one of those Marshall teams. These Tigers, led by future Gophers’ lineman Blaise Andries, RB Jefferson Lee V and QB Trey Lance, have a legitimate bite.
Pick: Marshall 41, Benilde-St. Margaret’s 26
David says: Benilde-St. Margaret’s played well against Class 5A semifinalist Spring Lake Park. Running back Ricky Floyd carried 26 times for 171 yards and had two scores as the Red Knights rallied from a 13-0 deficit before ultimately falling 19-13 in overtime. That toughness and resiliency will carry them to the Prep Bowl.
Pick: Benilde-St. Margaret’s 35, Marshall 28
Class 2A: Maple River (10-2) vs. Eden Valley-Watkins (10-1) 2 p.m.
Jim says: Both teams have experienced, balanced offenses led by veteran quarterbacks — Jeff Lewis for Maple River, Reese Jansen for Eden Valley-Watkins — and stubborn defenses. Eden Valley-Watkins’ offense is more explosive, however, and that matters on the fast U.S. Bank Stadium turf.
Pick: Eden Valley-Watkins 24, Maple River 14
David says: More explosive offense, maybe. But not necessarily more effective. Maple River’s versatile offense can run and throw the ball and set school records for points scored and yards gained. Lewis has thrown for more than 1,200 yards while Lincoln Arndt has rushed for more than 1,400 yards.
Pick: Maple River 27, Eden Valley-Watkins 21
Nine-Man: Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran (12-0) vs. Cromwell-Wright (12-0) 11:30 a.m.
Jim says: Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran QB Carter Kopet threw for 2,334 yards and 48 (yes, 48) touchdowns. He’s a magician in the pocket, able to escape pressure and still find receivers. The Clippers will need all of his tricks; Cromwell has allowed just 23 total points in its past nine games.
Pick: Cromwell-Wright 30, Cleveland 20
David says: A passing team finally moves indoors and you’re forecasting a loss? A more likely scenario: Kopet comes out slinging, Cromwell-Wright gives up its first points in the first quarter this season, and the Cardinals’ three-headed running attack fails to keep pace.
Pick: Cleveland 35, Cromwell-Wright 29