(Cover Photo: Robert Williams/Detroit Lakes Tribune)
It will be a three-team race in the East subdistrict with last year’s champion Goodhue trying to fend off Rushford-Peterson and Blooming Prairie for the crown.
The Wildcats will have to replace the likes of Mason Huemann and Ryan Schoenfelder, but should the most team speed in the league. Kelby O’Reilly and Kodee O’Reilly will lead the defense at linebacker, while Bjorn Otterness gets a chance to take over the feature running back spot.
Blooming Prairie welcomes back 15 starters from 2017, led by quarterback Seth Peterson. Peterson enters his third season as varsity starter having already thrown for more than 4,000 yards in his career. Four starting receivers return for Chad Gimbel’s offense, including the dynamic Tim Wolf (33 rec, 457 yards, 5 TD).
Seniors Landon Skalet and Ethan Sense are back to pace Rushford-Peterson. Skalet helped guide the offense to the Class A Prep Bowl in 2016, and both players earned All-District honors last season.
Two private schools — Mayer Lutheran and Faribault Bethlehem Academy – will fight it out for supremacy in the West subdistrict. The Crusaders have 14 starters back from last season’s state tournament team, most notably quarterback Baden Noennig. Noennig will be a three-year starter for the program, throwing for 1,819 yards and 23 touchdowns last season. He’s also one of the few small-school quarterbacks to be ranked in NFN’s QB rankings. Senior Caleb Winter leads Dean Aurich’s defense after an All-District season with 93 tackles and five sacks.
The Cardinals did it with defense last season, allowing only two teams to score more than 14 points in a game. A lot of the key players from that unit have graduated, but junior Josh Oathoudt and senior Zach Thomme are two holdovers. Standout running back Jack Clark also returns, which should help the BA offense play keep away from its opponents.
Switching districts was the best thing that could have happened to the Warroad program. The Warriors moved from playing the likes of Hawley, Barnesville and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton in the Midwest district to playing smaller schools in 2017. A 7-1 regular season and East subdistrict championship was the result. With running back Spencer Musgrove and leading tackler Max Gausen both back for their senior seasons, it should be another subdistrict title for the Warriors.
The favorites in the West subdistrict have already battled in Week 0. The game was tied at 14 at half time, but Mahnomen/Waubun scored all 16 of the second half points to win 30-14 over Ada-Borup/Norman County West.
It was Jon Starkey and Parker Syverson leading the day for the Thunderbirds in the win, which will likely be a winning formula all season long. The duo combined to rush for 254 yards and two touchdowns, with Starkey also throwing a touchdown pass.
Even with the season-opening defeat, the Cougars have a chance to claw back to the top of the subdistrict. Quarterback Jared Brainard is back after leading the team to the Class A state semifinals, and lineman Mason Miller is a bonafide Division-I prospect entering his junior season.
Murray County Central will try and overtake a young Wabasso squad for the East subdistrict title this fall. The Rebels return one of the top players in the district in Justin Benda. Benda is a standout in all three phases for MCC, excelling at receiver. The Rebels should also have a replacement for Zach Aanenson in Ethan Swanson, which will be key to their rushing attack.
The Rabbits have just two returning starters, both on the offensive line and both potential college football players. Tristian Kuehn and Carl Swedzinski will be as good as any linemen in the subdistrict, but there could be some growing pains for coach Joe Kemp as this team finds replacements for one of the most accomplished senior classes in program history.
Minneota faces only one significant threat to repeating as West subdistrict champions, and it’s Cory Larson’s Dawson-Boyd squad. The Vikings had all they could handle in the first three quarters of last season’s matchup, before scoring 21 fourth-quarter points to turn a six-point game into a 48-21 win.
Minneota returns a majority of starters on both sides of the ball, headlined by Thomas Hennen and Cole Sanow. Both players will play major playmaking roles offensively, especially while new quarterback Jacob Hennen gets comfortable on varsity.
The Blackjacks have 11 starters back from last year’s 8-2 team. Seniors Bentley Boike (RB/DE) and Colton Husby (RB/LB) will be the top performers again this season, but a young offensive line will need to grow to overtake Minneota.