Jalen Suggs was absolutely masterful for St. Paul Academy/Minnehaha Academy/Blake Friday in its 44-18 Class AAAA state championship victory over Willmar at U.S. Bank Stadium.
It wasn’t just his passing ability or his running skills, it was also his defensive prowess that helped lead the Wolfpack to their first state championship. Suggs is truly a generational talent who you’ll likely see on a basketball court though Friday’s performance made you wonder what it’d be like if he chose football at the next level. Fortunately for SMB fans Suggs is just a junior and could likely return to the football field again next season.
Suggs completed 9 of 11 passes for 216 yards with three touchdowns. He ran for 73 yards, including a dazzling 23-yard touchdown run in the second quarter where he showcased his footwork, working across the field and finishing with a spin move into the end zone following a quick cutback.
He also intercepted two passes, returning one 97-yards for a touchdown. This all came in a season where he missed the first three games of the season because of a knee injury he suffered in AAU basketball in the summer.
The big plays came at important times, making Suggs’ performance even more impressive. He found Kaden Johnson for a 76-yard touchdown pass on a third-and-23 with the Wolfpack (13-0) up 31-18 at the time. The touchdown made it 37-18 and solidified the impact of Suggs.
Suggs added a third touchdown pass, a 29-yard connection to Tony Avila-Tovalin with 1 minute, 18 seconds left to put an exclamation mark on his day.
Early on, SMB benefited from a short field. A Cardinals punt attempt on their first possession went awry and led to the Wolfpack taking over at the Willmar 23-yard line. Five plays later Siegel Howard ran in from 4 yards out to give SMB a 7-0 lead following the extra point kick.
The Wolfpack started their second possession at the Cardinals’ 27-yard line after Craig McDonald’s punt return and a 15-yard penalty. Six plays later Theo Crosby hit a 19-yard field goal for a 10-0 SMB lead.
Ethan Roux returned the ensuing kickoff 90 yards to cut the deficit to 10-6 but Suggs’ sensational run made it an 11-point game early in the second quarter.
Drey Dirksen found Ty Roelofs for a 15-yard touchdown to make it a five-point game with 9:21 to play in the first half. But Suggs found Johnson for a 6-yard touchdown pass to make it a 12-point lead following the extra point kick.
Willmar had two chances to score near the Wolfpack end zone but came up empty both times. A tipped pass resulted in a dropped pass in the end zone and the Cardinals failed to convert a fourth-and-1 from the SMB 3-yard line.
Suggs finished 6-for-6 in the first half with 108 yards before hitting the accelerator in the second half.
BEYOND THE BOX SCORE
Willmar came into the game averaging better than 46 points per game but the Wolfpack defense held the Cardinals to a season-low 18 points while putting Dirksen under constant pressure.
Dirksen, who threw for 2,217 yards, the most in Class 4A, finished with just 147 yards on 10 of 19 passing. Dirksen had two touchdown passes and four interceptions. He did run for a team-high 105 yards on 17 carries.
Both teams appeared in their first Prep Bowls. Willmar last appeared in the state tournament in 1988 and finished runner-up in 1973. Blake played in two state tournament in 1991 and 1992, St. Paul Academy appeared in the 1979 and 1982 state tournament.