With playoffs kicking off today, here’s a look at the football teams in the area with the best chance of making it to the state tournament in Minnesota.
In Class 1A, it begins and ends with Mahnomen. The Indians have won 22 straight games, have the best points against average in the entire state at 3.25 and have five shutouts on the season. The defense has given up 578 total yards in the team’s last seven games.
Bob Bjorge has rushed for 536 yards and nine touchdowns and Austin Reitan has rushed for 583 yards and 11 touchdowns. Behind that duo in the backfield, Mahnomen outscored opponents 387-26. The Indians have three straight section championships, been in the state title game the last two seasons and won it last year. No reason to think they won’t be back at state again.
No reason to think Section 8AA won’t come down to Barnesville and Hawley again as it did last year in a 38-34 Nuggets’ win. Hawley was able to get the No. 1 seed in the section despite Barnesville being undefeated and the Nuggets having lost one game.
With the quarterback/receiver/running back duo of Jordan Harms and Ben Ellefson, the Hawley offense can literally do anything it wants. If it doesn’t want to be flashy with those two, the offense can just pound the ball with Dillon Omberg and Chris Buttke behind the Nuggets big offensive line.
Any coaches facing Hawley would be smart to ask Breckenridge how to beat their offense because outside of a 7-6 loss to the Cowboys, the Nuggets have outscored opponents 279-71.
Flip a coin between who wins Section 8AA between Hawley and Barnesville. The Trojans haven’t forgotten last year’s 38-34 loss to the Nuggets in the section championship. The Trojans gave up 32 second-half points when Hawley inserted then tight end Ellefson into the quarterback spot in the second half.
There will be no second-half surprises this season. Ellefson at the quarterback position happens often for the Nuggets. Barnesville goes as far as Michael Strand. Strand has rushed for 1,215 yards and 23 touchdowns on just 70 carries on the season. He also has 10 receptions, five of which went for touchdowns, for 159 yards, has two punt returns for touchdowns on his eight returns, where he averages 23.4 yards per punt return, and averages nearly 28 yards per kick return.
There’s no stopping Strand from getting the ball.
Detroit Lakes (7-1)
Speaking of heartbreakers, Detroit Lakes lost in the Class 4A quarterfinals last season in four overtimes to Princeton. Quarterback Michael Herzog and running back Jarett Nosal haven’t forgotten and have played this season hungry.
Lakers picked up the No. 1 seed in Class 4A, Section 8. The Lakers have one win in the section and that is against No. 2-seeded Thief River Falls 29-21 in Week 3. The section championship seems destined to be a rematch between the two.
Ada-Borup locked up the No. 1 seed in Class 9-man, Section 6 and have already defeated their first-round matchup Rothsay 58-12 earlier in the season. In the section semifinals, the Cougars will face either Park Christian or Norman County East-Ulen-Hitterdal, two teams they have beaten 55-33 and 64-37, respectively, this season.
That puts the Cougars in the section championship and one win away from a trip to state. Their pistol offense is explosive behind JD Kappes, Blake Fetting and Lance Ruebke.
Behind quarterback Dillon Card, the Pirates have thoughts of their first state tournament trip since 2009 as the No. 1 seed in Class 9-man, Section 4. A big problem standing in their way is Wheaton-Herman-Norcross, who has won back-to-back section championships.
Park Rapids (6-2)
Park Rapids got a No. 1 seed in Class 3A, Section 8 behind the quarterback-receiver connection of Tyler McCollum and Noah MacPherson.
Problem for the Panthers is they have scored 20 points in the last three games. That will not be enough to get by Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton or Perham in the section championship. That might not be enough to get by Roseau, who Park Rapids beat 21-6 in Week 2, or Pequot Lakes, who they beat 14-12 in Week 4, in the section semifinals.
W-H-N, behind running backs Carter Thiel and Paul Berger, is not ready to give up the section they’ve won the last two seasons to Verndale. The No. 2-seeded Warriors have a tough road with either Underwood or Brandon-Evansville in the second round.
The Warriors have won four straight, outscoring opponents 232-40 during the streak.
Breckenridge’s defense has become the star stoppers. The Cowboys stopped Hawley’s Jordan Harms and Ben Ellefson and ended the season holding Pelican Rapids running back Ryan Bruggeman to less than 70 yards a week after he rushed for 225 and six touchdowns. They have given up 13 points in their last four games, all of which they’ve won.
No. 2-seeded Breckenridge will have their hands full in round two with Otter Tail Central.
Otter Tail Central (7-1)
Otter Tail Central has given up 13 points during their seven-game winning streak. They got a tough draw with the No. 3 seed in Section 6AA and a probable matchup with Breckenridge in the second round.
The running games of OTC’s Andrew Smith and Nick Trosdahl against Breckenridge’s Parker Busse will be the difference in that game.
The Rebels play defense and run the ball behind Chad Johnson. Perfect combination for this time of year. It will be hard to get by…
The Yellowjackets play some defense of their own and run the ball behind Payton Jordahl. Hard to bet against Perham, who has been to state the last two seasons, even though D-G-F beat the Yellowjackets 21-7 earlier in the season.
Perham will have to get by the only two teams they lost to all season to get back to state, as they also lost to Park Rapids 7-0 to close the regular season. Section 8AAA is going to be fun to watch.
The Spuds were up 20-0 at halftime on Brainerd, the team with the highest QRF ranking in Class 5A. The Spuds lost that game 26-23 in overtime, but they showed the state what they could do.
Outside of a 49-28 win over Sauk Rapids-Rice and a 35-7 win over Fergus Falls, Moorhead has won by 16, 14 and 7 and lost by 11, 3 and 7. The Spuds have been in every game they’ve played. They earned a tie for ninth in the AP polls, but just a No. 4 seed in their own section.