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: Faribault v. Owatonna
The first week of the prep football season will prove to be an exciting one for fans of the rivalry between Faribault and Owatonna. Faribault got the better end of the matchup last season, as Kade Hart and Felipe Ramirez combined for 270 rushing yards and two touchdowns in a 21-10 victory over the Huskies. After scoring just 10 points in last year’s bout, expect Owatonna quarterback Abe Havelka to look for receivers Alex Raichle and Noah Budach early and often to take this early-season rivalry game.
Week Two: Mankato East v. Mankato West
Another week, another early rivalry game for prep fans. While Mankato West will have a lot of new faces this time around, including a new head coach in former offensive coordinator J.J. Helget, the Scarlets have enough talented young players to earn a victory for the second consecutive season. Senior defensive end Ryan Hannegrefs will be a player to watch for Mankato East as the Cougars look to knock off their inter-city rival.
Week Three: Robbinsdale Cooper v. Spring Lake Park
Robbinsdale Cooper, Northstar Football News’ fourth-ranked Class AAAAA team to begin the season, lost two games in 2016, with both losses coming to the Panthers. While Cooper lost key offensive lineman to graduation, namely Eric Abojei, the Hawks return a majority of their offensive skill players including wide receiver Phoenix Sproles and quarterback Cameron King. With Spring Lake Park also serving as a section opponent, the Hawks will look to pick up and early-season win and gain momentum toward making a state tournament appearance.
Week Four: Park of Cottage Grove v. Apple Valley
Apple Valley was able to qualify for an appearance in the Class AAAAA state tournament with a 42-35 victory over Park of Cottage Grove in the Section 3AAAAA title game. Park of Cottage Grove led 35-28 before Apple Valley’s Mario Lewis and Noah Sanders, who scored with 49 seconds left, rushed for touchdowns in the fourth quarter to seal the victory. The Eagles will look much different this season, but, with the returns of receivers Luke Martens and Nathan Macho, Apple Valley will look to continue its strong play over its section rival.
Week Five: Robbinsdale Armstrong v. Robbinsdale Cooper
While Armstrong is a Class 6A team, the matchup between these two teams last season gave prep fans one of the greatest games the state had to offer in 2016. Armstrong got off to a 14-0 start to the game before Cooper trimmed that lead to 14-10 in the third quarter. Then, with 20 seconds left, King connected with Sproles on a 41-yard touchdown pass to give the Hawks the victory. With many offensive starters returning, Cooper will look to once again get the best of its city rival.
Week Six: Elk River v. Rogers
While Rogers was able to post a 6-2 record last season, it, like every other team that played Elk River, struggled against the Elks. Elk River cruised to a 49-7 victory last season, and, while the Elk River offense isn’t expected to be as strong as it was last season, head coach Steve Hamilton will find a way to keep his team among the best in the state. With a strong defense led by safety Mitch Stroh, look for the Elks to play a closer game that’s focused on defense this time around.
Week Seven: Owatonna v. Northfield
Owatonna, Northstar Football News’ top-ranked Class AAAAA team to begin the season, earned a berth in the state tournament with a 38-20 victory over Northfield last season. This year, with Owatonna set to be among the best teams in the state, the Huskies will look to once again get the best of Northfield. While running back Mitchell Stanchina (107 yards and two touchdowns against Owatonna in the section final last season) returns, Owatonna’s offensive depth and skill at the linebacker and defensive secondary units should give the Huskies an advantage in this late-season bout.
Week Eight: Irondale v. Robbinsdale Cooper
Irondale, Northstar Football News’ sleeper pick for Class AAAAA, is set to be much-improved this fall. Irondale will take on many quality opponents this fall, but no team is set to be as tough as Robbinsdale Cooper. Even with Cooper set to feature a strong defense, Irondale could give the Hawks a fright, as the Knights return many key starters on both sides of the ball. With quarterback Brendan White leading the way on offense and Ronney Trass and Eric Ososki returning on defense, Irondale is set to give Cooper one of its toughest games of the season.