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Prep football: Four area teams take shot at state

Tribune photo by Rand Middleton Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa running back Austin Kollman evades Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City’s Cody Berghuis to score the go-ahead touchdown in a Section 4A semifinal game on Saturday in Belgrade. The Jaguars play Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity today in the 4A title game.

The Dawson-Boyd football team has the advantage of not having to get by undefeated Minneota/Lincoln HI as the Blackjacks, the 2011 Prep Bowl champions and semifinalists last year, try to earn a third straight trip to the Class A Minnesota State Tournament.

Minneota moved up to Class AA this season and out of Section 5A, the title for which Dawson-Boyd will defend against Wabasso at 2:30 p.m. Friday at Southwest Minnesota State in Marshall.

Another Tribune-area team, Paynesville, get to tussle with powerful Minneota for the 5AA championship and a state tournament berth at 7 p.m. Friday at Big Cat Stadium on the University of Minnesota, Morris campus.

In Section 6AAA, New London-Spicer gets another crack at Annandale, the team that knocked the Wildcats out of the state tournament last season in the quarterfinals. The rematch is at 8 p.m. Friday at St. Cloud State.

In Section 4A, BBE takes on an old nemesis, Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity, for the championship and the Jaguars’ state tournament berth at 7 p.m. Friday at Sauk Centre.

Before the towns combined, Belgrade made the Class C state tournament in 1982 and 1983, and was the runner-up in ’82.

Before this season, Dawson-Boyd (9-1) had won two of its last three games against Minneota, with both wins coming in section finals. But this seemed like a good season for the Vikings to exit.

The Blackjacks’ lone loss was a 27-6 Camden Conference setback against Minneota earlier this fall, and the Vikings made quick work of the other Camden contenders, blanking 7-2 Adrian 35-0 and whipping 5-3 Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 41-14.

But even with Minneota’s departure, Dawson-Boyd players and coaches don’t believe their path back to state is any easier.

“Our section has been the best (Class A) section in the state for a very long time, in my opinion,” said Blackjacks quarterback Joey Lee. “Canby and MACCRAY are teams that may not have good records because they play in a good conference. But they’re still dang good football teams. People don’t always give them credit but when they see them play they know they’re tough teams.”

Wabasso (9-1) will be up to the task against the Blackjacks on Friday. It’s been awhile, but the Rabbits won the last meeting between the two teams, 65-12, in the 2006 playoffs.

On Saturday, Canby put the Blackjacks against the ropes, taking a 20-7 halftime lead, before Dawson-Boyd rallied in the second half.

“It took everything we’ve got in the second half to get away with a W (against Canby),” said Blackjacks head coach Cory Larson. “Wabasso is a quality team. People are thinking because there’s no Minneota that this will be an easy ride. Absolutely not. Canby is good, Wabasso is excellent. They’re one of the top teams in the state.”

The Blackjacks have lacked quick starts in three of their last four games. In their final regular-season games, they trailed TMB 19-14 at halftime before coming out with a 21-19 win. They fell behind Adrian 14-6 at the break before powering up in the second half and winning 34-20. Then came the Canby scare in Saturday’s semifinals game.

“It’s kind of been our story in a few games this year,” Larson said. “I think we’ve come to think things are going to be easy. We made mental mistakes that gave them good looks early on, and in the second half, we didn’t do that.”

Paynesville (10-0) vs. Minneota/Lincoln HI (10-0)

This game shapes up as the marquee, heavyweight matchup in the area between the No. 1-seed Bulldogs and the No. 2-seed Vikings.

While Minneota is new to the section this season, comparisons can be made.

The Vikings average 49 points per game while giving up just 8 per game. Paynesville scores more than 44 per game and gives up 14.5 per game.

Paynesville would seem to have the edge playing in the mostly Class AA West Central Conference, and a 20-18 win over BOLD marked the only game in which the Bulldogs were held to fewer than 32 points. They’ve scored between 40 and 70 points in six of their 10 games, and they won on the road against BOLD and at home against another Class A power, ACGC. Both teams were in the Class A state tournament last year.

But Minneota handed Class A power Dawson-Boyd its only loss, 27-6, earlier this season and the Vikings clubbed Adrian and TMB – teams that had a combined record of 12-5 – by a combined score of 76-14.

The most telling comparison might have come last two weeks, when the Vikings destroyed Class AA Benson 44-0 and then ended BOLD’s season, 27-17, in the section semifinals.

New London-Spicer (7-2) vs. Annandale (7-3)

The Wildcats vs. the Cardinals is an interesting rematch.

Last year, NLS suffered through a four-game losing streak and almost appeared DOA with the playoffs about to commence. Then, the Wildcats ripped Albany 20-7 in the regular-season finale and tore through their playoff field, capped by a two touchdown victory over previously undefeated Morris/Chokio-Alberta in the section championship game.

Annandale ended the Wildcats’ late-season surge with a 20-17 win over the Wildcats in the state quarterfinals at SCSU.

NLS apparently weathered a brief hiccup in a 33-16 non-conference loss at home to St. Peter in the regular-season finale. With a bye week to prepare, the top-seed Wildcats blasted Litchfield 39-18 last week to set up a re-rematch with the Cardinals: NLS won a 42-38 Wright County Conference track meet at Annandale on Oct. 4.

Given the offensive talent on both rosters, Friday’s final score might be similar. Deciding which team will likely come out on top may require a coin flip.

BBE (9-1) vs. Lester Prairie/Holy Trinity (7-3)

Any BBE doubters at this point have to be bowing to the Jags.

BBE suffered its only loss to 10-0 Holdingford, 27-18, in the third game of the season and rebounded to win seven straight.

The Jaguars defeated 7-3 Pierz, knocked off 6-4 Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted, and squeezed out a 20-19 overtime victory against 6-4 Maple Lake.

In the playoffs, BBE dealt with a lightning-delayed game and ousted Pierz on a Tuesday, then clipped ACGC, a 7-3 team that played in last season’s state quarterfinals, 26-22 in last week’s section semifinals.

LPHT, the section’s No. 5 seed, is taking a strange trip through its season, matching somewhat its strange history against BBE the last four years.

For example: BBE blistered LPHT 42-29 in this season’s opener. The next week, LPHT defeated 2012 Class A state runner-up Bethlehem Academy, a 7-3 team that knocked off Dawson-Boyd in last year’s state semifinals and is playing Blooming Prairie on Friday for a trip to the 2013 state tournament.

The Bulldogs entered this postseason as 4A’s No. 5 seed. They edged No. 4-seed Mayer Lutheran 30-29 in overtime in the first round, but then, somehow, throttled section No. 1 seed Minneapolis North 54-26 in last week’s second round to set up the BBE rematch.

Want more crazy?

Last year, BBE lost to LPHT 34-0 to kick off the season, followed that with two more losses to start 0-3, but then turned around and won six of seven, beating the Bulldogs 15-3 in the section semis. The Jags lost 6-0 to ACGC in the section championship game.

In 2011, BBE lost to LPHT 8-0 in the season opener, then advanced to the section semis where the Jags lost 22-21 to the Bulldogs.

In 2010 and 2009, the teams didn’t play during the regular season, but BBE won two playoff games against the Bulldogs.

Friday’s game might be a No. 1 vs. No. 5, but if you believe it will be that cut-and-dried, think again.

Tom Larson

Tom Larson is the sports editor of the West Central Tribune.

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