Posted On: 08/29/18 3:49 AM

(Cover Photo: Sam Thiel/Marshall Independent)

1. Minneota
2017 Record: 14-0, won Prep Bowl
Returning Starters: 15 (7 O, 8 D)

The Vikings are having to replace a few core seniors – most notably four-year starting quarterback Alex Pohlen —  that lost just one game in four seasons on varsity, but there is plenty of talent for a repeat state championship.

Thomas Hennen will be the playmaker at multiple positions across the field. Hennen caught 45 passes for 833 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior, while also posting 32 tackles and two interceptions at defensive back. Cole Sanow will be the primary ball carrier after rushing for more than 1,000 yards with an yards-per-carry average of eight. Three offensive linemen starters are back too, making the Minneota ground game a force once again.

Linebacker Shawn Buysse, the team’s leading tackler in 2017, and end Cole VanOverbeke will lead a defense that did not allow more than 22 points in a single game last season.

2. BOLD
2017 Record: 10-1, lost in Section Finals
Returning Starters: 15 (8 O, 7 D)

BOLD was probably one of the five best teams in Class A both of the past two years, but failed to qualify for state because of tough section opponents. That situation could arise again this season with the Warriors paired with No. 1 Minneota in Section 5A.

Steve Solem returns a host of starters on both side of the ball, just like last fall. Quarterback Jordan Sagedahl already has two seasons of varsity experience entering his junior season, as does fellow junior Gavin Vosika. Both players earned All-District honors in 2017.

Veteran lineman Riley Weis paces the Warriors in the trenches. The 6-foot-2, 290-pound Weis is a four-year starter. He’ll be joined by seniors Cade Morse and Jake Evenson up front. Can BOLD reverse the trend from its past two section finals and get to state?

3. Mahnomen/Waubun
2017 Record: N/A
Returning Starters: N/A

What do you get when you add one of the top 9-Man programs in the last five years to a small-school powerhouse? A potential Class A State Champion.

Mahnomen and Waubun are combined for athletics for the first time, and the inaugural football season could be a special one. Both the Indians and Bombers would have been favorites to make it to state in their respective sections. Now together, they will be northern Minnesota’s best chance at ending its title drought.

Having Jon Starkey running the option offense only heightens the chances. Starkey is entering his third season under center with an overall record of 20-4, rushing for over 1,000 yards in both his sophomore and junior seasons. If John Clark Jr. wants to change it up, he’s also got Parker Syverson to run the offense. Syverson was Waubun’s signal caller last season. Both players rushed for more than 100 yards in the Thunderbirds Week 0 win over Ada-Borup/Norman County West.

Izaiah Asher is another weapon at Clark’s disposal.  Asher also eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark last season, while also being Mahnomen’s best defensive back. He posted eight tackles to lead the team in Week 0.

4. Goodhue
2017 Record: 11-1, lost in State Quarterfinals
Returning Starters: 9 (4 O, 5 D)

The Wildcats will have a tough road back to state, dealing with the likes of Rushford-Peterson and Blooming Prairie in Section 1. Tony Poncelet’s squad is still the one to beat in southeast Minnesota, though, because of its overall team speed.

They will need to replace Mason Huemann’s production on both sides of the ball. Huemann was the Mid Southeast East subdistrict Player of the Year, rushing for 1,760 yards and 23 touchdowns. At linebacker, he led the team with 118 stops.

Kelby O’Reilly is a candidate to lead the defense after an All-District season on the line.  The 175-pound junior posted 80 tackles, including nine for loss. Offensively, Kaleb O’Reilly and Bjorn Otterness are the two ball carriers expected to shoulder the load in the Wildcats backfield.

5. Ada-Borup/NCW
2017 Record: 12-1, lost in State Semifinals
Returning Starters: 8 (3 O, 5 D)

The Cougars had a magical first season as a athletic co-op, running their way to U.S. Bank Stadium and the state semifinals. A majority of different players will take the reins this season, but Paul Tinjum could still have a contender in November.

Junior lineman Mason Miller is a name to learn. An All-District player last season, Miller is being recruited by multiple Division I schools, including North Dakota State, North Dakota. Minnesota and Wisconsin have also been interested in the 6-foot-7, 245-pounder.

Quarterback Jared Brainard will likely be asked to do more in his second year leading the offense, especially without running back Zach Pelzman. Brainard started slowly against Mahnomen-Waubun, however, throwing for just 112 yards and rushing for only 39. Two seniors return in the secondary, including Brett Fetting, who led the team in tackles in the Week 0 loss.