Schultz Column: Making the case
This area has some very good football teams and that makes some people think that few have a chance of actually making it to the state tournament. I'm here to say those people are wrong. What's wrong with bringing a little optimism into the world? We said goodbye to seven teams on Tuesday but that leaves 12 teams still in the running to make it to the state tournament. That's more than half full. Some of those 12 teams are more likely to make it to the eight team pool than others but there's a case to be made for each team.
So, yes, I'm saying there's a chance.
Case for: There are a lot of good football teams in the area but every year BOLD seems to find its way near the top of the pile and this year isn't any different. The Warriors (9-0) are the only undefeated team in the area to this point and I'd guess are most people's top choice to head to the big dance in a couple of weeks. They are coming off an 81-0 win over Lakeview in the Section 5A opener on Tuesday where senior Austin Einerson ran the ball five times for 100 yards and sophomore running back Gavin Vosika caught two passes, both touchdowns, for 67 yards. This team can confuse defenses in a variety of ways and the defense is just as good.
Case against: Section 5A is probably the toughest in all of Class A for two reasons: Minneota and Dawson-Boyd. The Vikings have a history far greater than their NFL counterparts and look to be in top form this year, averaging 59.2 points per game on offense and only 9.1 points against. The Blackjacks are no slouch either with an 8-1 record. BOLD may be good but they won't have an easy section final match (if they get there).
Case for: The Blackjacks, otherwise known as BOLD-lite, could be a top seed in just about any other section in Class A but are relegated to the three seed in Section 5A. Don't think that means they have no chance, though. Dawson-Boyd's talent at the skill positions matches up with BOLD and Minneota quite evenly with a hard-nosed running attack from multiple athletes. Bentley Boike garnered headlines on Tuesday with his 30-carry, 397-yard performance, scoring four touchdowns in his team's 56-14 win over Ortonville. Yeah, that happened. Colton Husby is his partner in the backfield and is just as tough to stop.
Case against: Minneota is good, okay? They defeated Yellow Medicine East on Tuesday 80-6 and already won against the Blackjacks earlier this season 48-21. The two teams will face off at 3 p.m. Saturday in Minneota.
Lac qui Parle Valley
Case for: The Eagles are 5-4 this year and guaranteed at least a .500 record for the first time since 2010. You know what else happened that year? They beat BOLD. If they want a shot at the state tournament they'll have to do so again on Saturday. Two of the team's four losses this season came by a total of four points and the other two losses were to Dawson-Boyd and Minneota. When this defense is at its best it can shut down the opposing run game.
Case against: See BOLD.
Case for: Paynesville is the top seed in a loaded Section 5AA tournament so, by technicality, they are the favorites and rightfully so. The Bulldogs only have two losses on the season to the oft-mentioned BOLD and undefeated Pierz. Those losses weren't pretty but head coach Max Meagher has quite the offense on his hands. Junior quarterback Max Weidner has always been able to run the ball effectively but has also shown a quality air attack when needed and junior running back Zach Schroeder is a force. Both can reach triple-digit yardage in any game as the Bulldogs average 41 points per game.
Case against: Following a bye on Tuesday, the Bulldogs take on Eden Valley-Watkins who upset Sauk Centre in a four-five match. These teams met in week six and the Eagles led 30-8 at one point before Paynesville ran away with a 50-30 victory. Despite the win, it's clear the Eagles have somewhat of a game plan for Section 5AA's top seed.
Case for: Minnewaska is the two seed in Section 5AA and there certainly was a case for a first round bye for the Lakers. Minnewaska's defense is one of the best in Class AA, holding opponents to 13.2 points per game. What's better for the Lakers is the offensive improvement. Senior quarterback Matthew Gruber ran for four touchdowns in Tuesday's win over Benson and senior running back Ryan Christianson is a powerful north-south back that can take over games. On top of all of that, Saturday's match is against sixth-seed Holdingford instead of ACGC following an upset Tuesday.
Case against: It wasn't all that long ago that the Huskers were in the state tournament themselves so the Lakers can't just look past them. Should the Lakers win, though, they'll draw Paynesville or Eden Valley-Watkins, both teams with offenses ready to challenge Minnewaska's defense.
Case for: Camden Arndt is a tough running back for the Tigers and one of the few athletes who gives his team a chance simply by being on the field. Keep in mind, it was just last year when the Tigers were the only local team to make it to state and that was in Class AAA. Now in Class AA, Morris/CA is looking to take it to top-seeded Pillager who made a state appearance of their own last season.
Case against: Pillager didn't make it far in last year's state tournament, dropping the opening game to Barnesville, but the Huskies (7-2) are still a major threat. Morris/CA graduated a lot of talent last season and have really struggled at times to slow any team down.
Case for: NLS didn't have it's best game going in Tuesday's Section 6AAA opener against St. Cloud Cathedral but still took the win and that's something they've been able to do all year. Adjusting is key during the playoffs and head coach Dan Essler has the team that can make moves on the fly. Sam Stageberg is a quick running back that's always a second away from breaking a big run and junior quarterback Brandon Adelman is one of the area's best throwers. Combined with junior wide receiver Kelly Bennetts, the Wildcats have big play ability at any point of the game.
Case against: Simple math is not in the Wildcats' favor. NLS is winless in its last five meetings against Albany, including in the last two playoffs. Even if they get past Albany, the likely opponent in the Section 6AAA finals is Pierz, a team-embodiment of a woodchipper.
Renville County West
Case for: The Jaguars pulled off a nice upset win against Sleepy Eye St. Mary's on Tuesday and are looking to carry that momentum into Saturday's matchup with top-seeded Red Rock Central. Sophomore quarterback Jack Howard is raw but has the ability to keep up with most teams in the air or on the ground. The Jaguars also have one of the best well-kept secrets in the area in Jaime Castillo. He only has 28 carries on the season but has made the most of it, tallying 327 yards and seven touchdowns for an average of 11.7 yards per carry.
Case against: Red Rock Central is undefeated and averages 37.2 points per game, holding opponents to 8.4 points per game. Their nickname is the Falcons but their run game is more like if literal rocks were thrown at you repeatedly. Oh, and they defeated RCW 35-0 to end the season.
Case for: This Mustang offense is the real deal. Zach Reuber is the one who tends to get the most carries and yards but head coach Dan Krause provides a variety of looks with Brock Luthens and Bradlee Wulkan logging big numbers as well. Fresh off a year where the Mustangs only won one game, Krause has his team believing in bigger things with a 6-3 record, the first winning record of the decade for BLHS.
Case against: Russell-Tyler-Ruthton provides a big challenge for the Mustangs with a dynamic offense and powerful defense. RTR is coming off a 60-0 tournament-opening romp over MACCRAY and is hoping to end BLHS' magical run.
Case for: The Owls have had one of the best quarterback and wide receiver combos in the area this year with Kaleb Koehl and Noah Kannegeisser. The two seniors get major yardage nearly every game and guide an Owl offense that has averaged 32.7 points per game.
Case against: Hancock is set for a date with top-seeded Verndale on Saturday and I'd bet the Owls would call to cancel if given the choice. Verndale is ranked No. 2 in the state, according to QRF, and averages 50.4 points per game on offense and 12 points per game on defense. These two teams met earlier this year and Verndale took the 61-18 win.
Case for: The Jaguars won the Mid State (Sub 3) District this year for the team's first conference/district championship since 1988 thanks to an 8-1 record. BBE lost the first game of the season to ACGC but has since won eight in a row thanks to a tough run game led by Isaiah Gilbert and Adam Jaeger. Nearly everybody in the stadium knows the ball is going to be run but the question is who will run it and for how far. In the last eight games, the answer for the Jaguars is very far.
Case against: BBE takes on Upsala/Swanville on Saturday in a rematch of the regular season finale. The Jaguars won 14-6 but it USA kept things close from start to finish so they must have confidence heading into the weekend. On the other side of the bracket, Mayer Lutheran (8-1) also awaits.
Case for: The Fighting Saints proved their namesake Tuesday with an upset as the six seed over Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, the three seed. The Saints rallied from 7-0 to take a 26-7 victory and that's the type of game they've played all season. With an impressive run game and unforgiving defense, KMS can never be counted out.
Case against: Mayer Lutheran finished one game short of the state tournament last year thanks to Minneapolis North and has every intention of reversing fortune this year. Averaging 33.9 points per game on offense, the Crusaders are looking to do just that against the Saints on Saturday.