With the start of the 2017 prep football season just around the corner, Northstar Football News is breaking down the biggest games in each class each week. We will start with the biggest schools and work our way down.
Week One: Rocori v. Detroit Lakes
In the opening week of the prep football season, Rocori, Northstar Football News’ second-ranked team in Class 4A, will take on Detroit Lakes in a rematch of last season’s Section 8AAAA semifinal game. Rocori won that contest 17-0 on the strength of two fourth-quarter touchdown runs. Rocori is set to return eight starters on defense, with linebacker Jordan Pemble and defensive back Gunnar Feldhege leading the way. In what could be another strong defensive matchup, Rocori might need to lean on its offense, led by quarterback Mason Primus, in order to pick up the win.
Week Two: Academy of Holy Angels v. South St. Paul
The second week of the prep football season brings an enticing Class 4A matchup, as Northstar Football News’ fourth-ranked Holy Angels squad will travel to take on fifth-ranked South St. Paul. Both teams have made effective use of the option in recent seasons, as Holy Angels quarterback Joe Heimbold has paired nicely with running back Jack Anderson, while South St. Paul will feature a new quarterback in Cade Sexauer, but returns running backs Chase Bentson and Angel Rodriguez.
Week Three: South St. Paul v. Simley
South St. Paul began its road to the state tournament with a 31-7 win over Simley in the Section 3AAAA opener. The Packers rushed for 293 yards and three touchdowns in the contest and, with the returns of Bentson and Rodriguez, fans can expect more of the same from South St. Paul. The key to a South St. Paul win will be the effectiveness of the Packer defense, where NDSU-commit Ben Smith leads the unit.
Week Four: Winona v. Mankato West
Winona’s hopes for a perfect regular season were spoiled in week eight of the 2016 season, when Mankato West picked up a 42-39 victory over Winona. Winona has the luxury of numerous returning offensive starters, including quarterback Riley Bosteter and 6-foot-5 receivers Dakota Matthees and Logan Smith. The Winona defense, led by senior linebacker Dan Jonsgaard, will surely be put up to the test in this matchup.
Week Five: Richfield v. Academy of Holy Angels
With just four teams in Section 5AAAA last season, Richfield and Holy Angels matched up in the latest bout of the city of Richfield’s Train Tracks Battle. Richfield ran for 251 yards and four touchdowns in the contest as the Spartans picked up a 28-14 victory. A win won’t come easily for the Spartans this season, as Holy Angels returns 17 starters and 21 players that at one point filled a starting role last season. With a defense led by Anderson and Tommy Shelstad, Richfield will have to fight for every yard it can get on the ground.
Week Six: Academy of Holy Angels v. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
Holy Angels, despite earning the fourth seed and playing top-ranked Mound Westonka in the Section 5AAAA opener, cruised to a 35-24 victory to earn the right to play Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the section title game. While the Stars fell 44-29 to the Red Knights last season, Holy Angels should be confident in its chances this year. The Stars trailed by just one point at halftime and it took three second-half rushing touchdowns from Ricky Floyd for the Red Knights to advance to state. With many of the starters from that season back with an added offseason of experience under their belts, Holy Angels could pose a threat to the defending champions in this contest.
Week Seven: Hutchinson v. Rocori
Hutchinson, a team that posted an 8-0 record last season, is set to take on Rocori in week seven of the prep football season. Hutchinson will feature many new faces this season after graduating key players, including running back Isaiah Nelson. With a revamped roster Hutchinson will do its best to combat Rocori’s spread offense, while looking to do damage of its own on the ground.
Week Eight: Rocori v. Willmar
The final week of the prep football regular season features a rematch between Rocori and Willmar, the two teams vying for a spot in the state tournament in last year’s Section 8AAAA title game. Rocori’s Connor Schoborg threw for two touchdowns in the first half as the Spartans earned a 14-6 victory. With Rocori returning many players from its high-octane offense from 2016 and Willmar set to return quarterback Donald Jurek and receivers Nick Prokosch and Noah Slagter, this season’s match-up might feature a bit more offense.