MINNEAPOLIS — Minneapolis North scores points in bunches. The Polars average 41.1 points per game, a number they’ve exceeded six times this season, including twice in the playoffs.
Slowing them down isn’t easy.
“They’re fast,” Paynesville head coach Max Meagher said. “They’re real fast.”
Paynesville’s not too shabby on the offensive end, either.
The Bulldogs score 38.5 points per game in their spread, no-huddle offense, meaning their contest with North may keep the scoreboard operator at U.S. Bank Stadium busier than usual.
The teams meet at 2 p.m. Thursday in the state Class AA semifinals.
The semifinals are a place Paynesville (10-1) has reached for the third straight year, the last two each ending in losses to eventual-state-champion Caledonia. Caledonia has the nation’s longest winning streak at 66 games heading into its semifinal game with Barnesville.
North (11-0) is in its fifth straight state playoff appearance, winning a state Class A title in 2016 and taking second in ‘15. The Polars moved up to Class AA in ‘17.
Meagher readily admits the Bulldogs have their work cut out for them. But he also said that Paynesville should not feel inferior to anyone at this point.
“They (the Polars) might be the best team we’ve seen this season,” said Meagher, noting that Pierz, the top-rated team in Class AAA, would be a likely candidate as well. Pierz beat Paynesville 32-28 on Sept. 6.
“Certainly, Minneapolis North is a very good football program. But we’re excited about the opportunity. We’ve never played Minneapolis North before. We’ll give it everything we have. Our kids play really hard. We’re excited to be where we are at. I’m really proud of our team and we’re also really excited about earning the opportunity to play four more quarters.”
North is coached by Charles Adams, a 1999 North graduate. His team is led by junior running back Terrance Kamara. Kamara (5-foot-9, 160 pounds) has rushed for more than 2,000 yards and 29 touchdowns, Meagher said.
Quarterback Zach Yeager (6-0, 190, Jr.) is an accomplished passer with a strong arm whose primary target is Mario Sanders (5-9, 150, So.). Meagher expects the two to try to hook up for long gains.
They’re a young team, with six seniors. The best senior is Quientrail Jameson-Travis (6-4, 280), one of the top linemen in the state in Class AA. Jameson-Travis has been selected to play in the Minnesota Football Coaches Association All-Star Game, as has Paynesville’s Spence Evans (6-3, 280, Sr.). That might be a potential line matchup to watch.
Paynesville, meanwhile, might be the healthiest it has been in the playoffs.
“Actually, I think we came out healthier after the Moose Lake game than we were going into it,” Meagher said.
Running back/linebacker Daltin Christinsen has overcome a shoulder injury and was a key player in the Bulldogs’ 56-8 quarterfinal win over Moose Lake/Willow River. In that game, Paynesville forced seven turnovers.
Senior left tackle Dylan Messick (6-5, 255), who missed six games, is back and playing well, Meagher said.
Quarterback/defensive back Grady Fuchs was a game-time decision to play after a lower-body injury suffered before the Moose Lake/Willow River game. He played well in the quarterfinals and is a baseball recruit for St. Cloud Technical & Community College after leading Paynesville to the state baseball tournament last June.
“Grady is as tough as they come,” Meagher said. “Pick a fight with the Paynesville Bulldogs and don’t wake him.”
To prepare for U.S. Bank Stadium, the Bulldogs practiced indoors at St. John’s University. He told his players to dress as warmly as possible in order to prepare for what will be warm conditions indoors after playing outside in bad weather the past few weeks.
Meagher is optimistic.
“We’ve got a shot,” he said. “We’ve earned this opportunity to play four more quarters.”
State AA semifinals
(At U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneapolis)
Paynesville (10-1) vs. Minneapolis North (11-0), 2 p.m. Thursday
Barnesville (12-0) vs. Caledonia (12-0), 11:30 a.m. Friday