Since football was reinstated for the fall, teams have had to stay on their toes.
In a year full of last-minute rescheduling and late preparations, it’s only fitting that the final week of the season follows suit.
On Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz issued Emergency Executive Order 20-99 in an effort to slow down the spread of COVID-19. Youth and prep sports are among the entities that will be shut down at 11:59 p.m.Friday and will go until Dec. 18.
That altered the football landscape. The first round of section playoffs was Tuesday and was scheduled to resume Saturday and culminate with section championship games on Nov. 27-28.
Now, some sections have taken the proactive step to have the top two remaining seeds play in a section championship game Friday. In west central Minnesota, area teams will vie for championships in 2 9-Man, 2AA, 5A and 5AA.
Along with those four section title games, area teams that remained alive in the playoffs will get a season-culminating game on Friday. Those include:
In Section 8AAAA, fourth-seeded Willmar (5-2) faces third-seeded Detroit Lakes (5-1) at 6 p.m. Top-seeded Rocori (6-0) and second-seeded Grand Rapids (6-0) play for the section title at 5 p.m. in Cold Spring.
At 6 p.m. in Glenwood, fourth-seeded New London-Spicer (3-4) faces third-seeded Minnewaska (3-3) in Section 6AAA. Top-seeded Albany (7-0) and second-seeded Pierz (7-0) play for the section championship at 6 p.m. Friday in Sauk Centre.
With both teams coming off first-round upsets in Section 5A, fifth-seeded Lac qui Parle Valley (4-3) faces sixth-seeded Canby (3-4) at 6 p.m. in Madison.
Here’s a look at the area section championships:
Section 2 9-Man
Red Rock Central
at Renville County West
While Renville County West won’t get a chance to go to state for the second time in school history, it’ll get a chance to win a second straight Section 2A championship. The top-seeded Jaguars host third-seeded Red Rock Central at 7 p.m. in Danube.
The two teams will bookend each other’s season. The Jaguars and Falcons met on Week 1 on Oct. 9, with RCW leaving Lamberton a 22-8 winner.
Like the state squad in 2019, the Jaguars (5-0) are a top-10 offense in 9-Man, sitting seventh at 35.8 points per game. The defense has been more impressive statistically, sitting second in the class with 5.6 points allowed per game.
Orchestrating the offense is Brandan Hoberg, who has thrown for 552 yards, ran for a team-high 653 yards and accounted for 17 touchdowns (seven passing, 10 rushing). His favorite target has been 6-foot-3 Riley Ashburn, who has 17 grabs for 375 yards and six touchdowns.
Jaden Kolker has been a two-way threat, running for 535 yards and six touchdowns as a running back and anchoring the Jaguars’ defense with 39 total tackles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery. Hoberg has 29 tackles, two interceptions, three fumble recoveries and a sack. Tyler Amsden and Cale Bryan share the team lead with three sacks apiece.
Red Rock Central (2-2) advanced after sixth-seeded Buffalo Lake-Hector-Stewart forfeited.
Rockford at Litchfield
Both top-seeded Litchfield and second-seeded Rockford vie for their first section championships in more than 10 years when the Dragons and Rockets meet at 5 p.m. in Litchfield.
Looking to lead Litchfield (5-1) to its first section championship since 2006, quarterback Ben Alsleben has paced the fourth-best offense in Class AAA (at 39.0 points per game). Alsleben has completed 104 of 165 passes for 1,535 yards and 19 touchdowns compared to four interceptions. He also has a team-best seven rushing touchdowns. Bennett Lecher (42 receptions, 557 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Tyson Michels (34-659-9) are the top targets in the passing game.
Michels’ hands have come in handy on defense with a Dragons-best four interceptions along with 25 tackles. Logan King and Wyatt Larson share the team lead with 57 tackles.
For Rockford (5-2) to win a section championship for the first time since 2007, the Rockets will lean on running back Connor Schreckenghaust. The back has tallied 99 carries for 406 yards and eight touchdowns. Quarterback Sam Zilmer (45 of 98, 739 yards, 9 TDs, 11 INTs) and Wes Overton (18 catches, 366 yards, 4 TDs) lead the passing attack.
BOLD at Minneota
For the fifth time since 2013, BOLD and Minneotal square off with a section championship on the line. In this iteration, the second-seeded Warriors (6-1) travel to Minneota to take on the top-seeded Vikings (7-0) for a 6 p.m. game.
BOLD’s ground game has revolved around Tim Peppel and Drew Sagedahl. At fullback, Peppel has flattened would-be tacklers to the tune of 775 yards and 10 touchdowns on 95 carries, including 237 yards and four scores against Yellow Medicine East on Tuesday. Using his foot speed, Sagedahl has 286 yards and six TDs on 49 rushing attempts.
Sagedahl has also completed 40 of 77 passes for 376 yards and four TDs, with Avery Herdina (12 catches, 161 yards, 2 TDs) and Hudson Vosika (17-153-2) as the top receivers.
Looking to win a section title for the first time since 2017, Minneota is led by its ground game. Three players — Conner Sik (84-503-3), AJ Josephson (33-335-6) and Jacob Hennen (54-312-5) — have rushed for more than 300 yards for the Vikings. At QB, Hennen has completed 52 percent of his passes for 893 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. And like the run game, the passing attack is balanced with AJ Myhre (17-234-4), Joseph Rybinski (16-329-3) and Cale Sorensen (15-196-1) all options.
Minneota has beaten BOLD in section championship games in 2013 (27-17 in Section 5AA), 2015 (24-14 in 5A) and 2017 (35-22 in 5A). The Warriors got the last win in 2018 (49-7 in 5A).
Trying to lock up a fourth straight Section 5AA championship, second-seeded Paynesville will have to avenge its only regular-season loss against top-seeded Morris/Chokio-Alberta. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m. at Big Cat Stadium in Morris.
The Week 4 matchup on Oct. 30 saw the Tigers fight off a late surge in a 33-31 win. Down 33-7 through three quarters, Paynesville scored 24 fourth-quarter points.
For the Bulldogs (5-1), the offense runs through sophomore QB Chase Bayer, who has accrued 33 of 51 completions for 815 yards and nine scores along with seven touchdowns and 272 yards on 33 rushing attempts. Tanner Stanley (12 catches, 326 yards, 4 TDs) and Grant Ruchti (13-371-4) have been among the top targets. Drew Tangen (101-633-7) and Blake Hiltner (99 carries, 599 yards, 2 TDs) have split duties in the ground game.
On the other side, Morris/CA (5-1) has its own dynamic quarterback in Zach Bruns, who has thrown for 1,066 yards and 16 touchdowns with three picks while completing 52 of 82 passes. He also has 495 yards and seven TDs in the running game. Kenny Soderberg has excelled as Bruns’ top target, hauling in 23 catches for 593 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Bulldogs are the top-scoring team in Class AA at 47.3 points per game. The Tigers, looking to win their first section title since 2016, is fifth at 41.5 points per game.