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Prep Blog: Previewing Prep Bowl XXXIV

It feels weird to say it, but the final week of high school football in Minnesota this year has arrived. By Saturday night, there will be seven state champions.

Some will be new, while others will be continuing their long standing tradition of being at the top of their football class. The chance to hoist the championship trophy at the end of the season is what it's all about. It's why there are captain's practices and football camps in the summer. It's why kids go through endless drills in fall camp. When you're celebrating a state championship, it's all worth it.

The 14 teams that are left among seven classes this week are gearing up for Prep Bowl XXXIV. Among the state title games, there are defending champions in three of them. That means we'll have at least four new state champions when the clock hits zero at games Friday and Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. On top of that, five of the seven games feature at least one team with an unbeaten record. Three of those games are match-ups where both teams are undefeated. It's hard to imagine having your only loss of the season come in the Prep Bowl, but it will be the reality for three teams this week.

Here is a look at all of this week's Prep Bwol match-ups.

Class 6A: Osseo (9-3) vs. East Ridge (11-1) (Friday, 7 p.m.)

In one of the most unlikely match-ups among the biggest 32 schools in the state, Osseo will face East Ridge at 7 p.m. Friday for the Class 6A Prep Bowl title. The Raptors, after having to forfeit games in previous years due to using ineligible players, had their coach resign before the start of the season.

All East Ridge has done is win 11 straight games since losing its season opener at Lakeville North. The Raptors are on an improbable run, having knocked off Prior Lake, Wayzata and Maple Grove in their last three games. They have one of the better running backs in the Twin Cities in Dominik London, who is rushing for 186 yards and seven touchdowns in the state playoffs.

On the other side of the bracket, coach Derrin Lamker has Osseo on a roll after a midseason slide. The Orioles have won six straight games since dropping three straight in September. Osseo has won its last two state tournament games by a combined four points. The Orioles knocked off Lakeville North 24-21 and upset Totino-Grace 22-21 last week with a late two-point conversion. Prince Kruah has carried the load for Osseo, literally. He's rushing for about 225 yards per game and 10 touchdowns in the state playoffs.

It wasn't the game most thought it might be for the 6A state crown, but it should be a great match-up regardless.

Class 5A: St. Michael-Albertville (11-1) vs. St. Thomas Academy (11-1) (Saturday, 4 p.m.)

A pair of top-five teams meet in the final game of the Prep Bowl Saturday afternoon as St. Michael-Albertville faces St. Thomas Academy for the Class 5A title. The Knights knocked off previously unbeaten Mankato West 31-28 last week with a late fourth down stop. St. Michael-Albertville has won 11 straight games since losing its season opener. The Knights are led by running back Mitchell Kartes and wide receiver Isaiah Weston. St. Thomas Academy got off to a 4-0 start before losing to rival South St. Paul. The Cadets are 7-0 since and beat North St. Paul 7-0 and Moorhead 17-14 last week to reach the Prep Bowl. They're led by running backs Sean McFadden and Woody Hubbell.

Class 4A: Becker (12-0) vs. South St. Paul (11-1) (Friday, 4 p.m.)

Becker has been the No. 1-ranked team in Class 4A all season, and the Bulldogs are looking to repeat as state champions as they face South St. Paul for a state title Friday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium. Becker hasn't lost since its season opener last year at Minnetonka, a stretch of 24 straight games. The Bulldogs have beaten Benilde-St. Margaret's and Stewartville to reach the state title game. The Bulldogs are led by quarterback Andrew Stanger, who is throwing for 200 yards per game and has six touchdowns in the state tournament. South St. Paul has won 10 straight games since losing at Park Cottage Grove in Week 2. The Packers beat Fridley and Rocori to get to the state title game. They're led by quarterback Dan Pietruszewski's 154 rushing yards per game and four touchdowns in the state playoffs.

Class 3A: Pierz (12-0) vs. Jackson County Central (10-2) (Saturday, 1 p.m.)

Pierz is back in the state tournament this year after having an unbeaten season end in the state semifinals in a loss to Rochester Lourdes last year. The Pioneers are in familiar territory at 12-0, now looking to cap off a perfect season with a Prep Bowl title as they face Jackson County Central on Saturday. Pierz has beaten Albany 9-0 and Tri City United 29-6 to reach the state title game. The Huskies are in their third state tournament in four years, but it's their first shot at a state championship. Jackson County Central got to the Prep Bowl with wins over St. Croix Lutheran and Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton.

Class 2A: Pipestone (13-0) vs. Caledonia (13-0) (Friday, 1 p.m.)

The stage is set for the top two teams in Class AA to face off Friday afternoon with a state championship on the line. No. 1 Caledonia, a state semifinalist last year, is looking to cap off a perfect season as it faces No. 2-ranked an also unbeaten Pipestone Friday afternoon at TCF Bank Stadium. It's a classic battle of one team's great offense against another's stout defense. The Warriors have scored at least 34 points in every game this year and at least 43 in all but two games. The Arrows haven't allowed more than 18 points in a game this season and have posted five shutouts. When it's over one team will be celebrating a state championship and an undefeated season, while the other faces the harsh reality that their only loss came in the Prep Bowl.

Class A: Minneota (13-0) vs. Minneapolis North (12-0) (Saturday, 10 a.m.)

It's a top-five match-up in the Class A Prep Bowl Saturday morning as No. 1-ranked Minneota meets No. 4-ranked Minneapolis North for a state championship. The Vikings are looking for their second straight state championship and haven't lost a game since the 2013 Prep Bowl. They beat Goodhue 27-19 last week, their closest game of the season, to return to the Prep Bowl. The Polars are looking to cap off an undefeated season with a state championship. They have an explosive offense, led by quarterback and Gophers recruit Tyler Johnson, that has scored at least 34 points in every game this season. They've put at least 40 points in all but one of their wins.

9-Man: Underwood (13-0) vs. Grand Meadow (13-0) (Friday, 10 a.m.)

Two of the top three teams in 9-man football meet Friday morning with a state championship on the line as Underwood faces Grand Meadow in the Prep Bowl at TCF Bank Stadium. Both teams are unbeaten, and Grand Meadow is looking for its third straight state title. The Superlarks are in their fourth straight Prep Bowl and have won 35 straight games. Underwood is seeking to avenge a 20-9 loss to Grand Meadow in last year's state quarterfinals. The two teams also met in the 2013 Prep Bowl, which Grand Meadow won 28-6. The Rockets returned to the Prep Bowl with victories over Madelia and Ely.

Tune into WCCO'TV's High School Sports Rally at about 10:20 p.m. Friday as Mike Max, Frank Vascellaro and David McCoy will have all the action covered.

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