Posted On: 08/30/18 3:53 AM

(Cover Photo: Jillian Gandsey/Grand Forks Herald)

1. Cromwell
2017 Record: 11-1, lost in State Quarterfinals

A strong senior class and a veteran quarterback have the Cardinals believing they can win their first title since 2010. Drew Libbon leads the Red-and-White in his second year as varsity starter under center. He’ll have to shoulder more of the load without the versatile Nic Johnson causing matchup nightmares around the field for opposing teams.

Cameron Cahoon should help replace Johnson’s production out of the backfield. He’ll also start on the other side of the ball, but the unit’s leader will be Kannon Korpela. Korpela paced the Cromwell defense last fall, notching 141 tackles with four interceptions and four fumble recoveries in an All-District campaign.

2. Spring Grove
2017 Record: 14-0, won Prep Bowl

One year after ending Grand Meadow’s reign in both Section 1 and the entire class, quarterback Alex Folz leads the Lions in the quest for a 9-Man repeat. Folz amassed 3,884 total yards (rushing and receiving), with 54 combined touchdowns. He also recorded 100 tackles and three interceptions on defense.

The 5-foot-10, 200-pound senior will need some help to keep his squad at the top. Leading receiver Noah Elton returns, but the next three pass catchers, as well as running back Cullen Patterson, all graduated. It’s a similar story on defense, where Folz and Elton are joined by Ethan Matzke, who led the Lions with 10.5 sacks and four forced fumbles.

3. Stephen Argyle
2017 Record: 11-2, lost in State Semifinals

Stephen-Argyle returns talented players at multiple skill positions, but need replacements in the trenches to repeat its run to U.S. Bank Stadium.

Quarterback Hunter Yutrzenka and running back Joston Hoeper will be dynamic in the Storm backfield. Hoeper rushed for 720 yards and 10 touchdowns as the number two option in 2017, while Yutrzenka threw for 1,060 yards and 14 touchdowns in the run-heavy attack. Both players will also be integral in the Storm defense, along with senior linebacker Ashten Safranski. Fellow senior Zach Gerszewski is the only starter back on the offensive and defensive lines, however.

4. Verndale
2017 Record: 11-1, lost in State Quarterfinals

Mike Mahlen should have another contender this season in Verndale, although the Pirates will have a much different look to them without quarterback Mack Jones and current North Dakota State Bison Sam Moore.

The team might have to rely on its defense even more this fall without Jones and their top receiver Luke Weinger. Linebacker Matthew Steege and Jarret Kveton both return after strong junior seasons, while Craig Orlando anchors the defensive front.

Orlando will also be a receiving threat at tight end on the other side of the ball. Kveton or Brayden Vertina should be the feature back in the offense, which will be directed by either senior Tate Bounds or sophomore Zach Brownlow.

5. Russell-Tyler-Ruthton
2017 Record: 10-3, lost in State Semifinals

Twin brothers Cooper and Carter Hansen lead a Knights squad that could take it a step or two further than their state semifinal appearance last season.

Cooper had a solid junior campaign under center in 2017, throwing for almost 1,700 yards and 21 touchdowns. He’ll look to improve on a disappointing 51 percent completion percentage and 11 interceptions.

Carter was on the receiving end on 27 passes for 443 yards and eight scores.  He also led the team with five interceptions to go with 62 stops on defense. Can R-T-R find enough replacements for senior leaders Westin Kirk and Jake Fischer to get back to state?