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Prep Blog: State Quarterfinals, Previewing 'The Big 4'

You know we're in the heart of the fall season when it's the end of October and we've already seen our first snow fall. It wasn't significant Wednesday, but at least a few flakes fell around most of the state.

Between that and the state football tournament taking shape, it's a great time of the year to be a prep sports fan. The state quarterfinals started Thursday night and continue through Saturday on turf fields at neutral sites across the state. There is one goal for every team: Survive and advance.

Some programs are expecting wins in the quarterfinals. For others, it's one step in the journey to getting to the Prep Bowl at TCF Bank Stadium. This week, there are 56 teams left across the state among seven classes. After action concludes Saturday, that number will be cut in half.

The state playoffs are the best time of the year in football. Great teams who deserve to be there are squaring off, games are very close and tend to come down to just a few big plays. Here are Friday's top match-ups in state quarterfinal action.

Featured Game

Class 6A: Maple Grove (8-2) vs. Burnsville (9-1) (Hopkins, 7 p.m.)

It's always makes for an exciting match-up when two top teams meet for a chance to advance to the state semifinals. That's the case Friday night in the Class 6A field as No. 2-ranked Burnsville faces No. 6-ranked Maple Grove at Hopkins High School. It's our Featured Game for WCCO-TV's High School Sports Rally.

The Blaze are the feel-good story among big schools for the 2015 season. They won just four games all of last year and just two in 2013. But Burnsville has won seven straight games since a Week 3 loss to Lakeville North. The Blaze have several talented athletes, but they're winning with defense. Burnsville has allowed single digits in points in seven of its nine victories. That includes playoff wins over Forest Lake and Edina. On offense, they're led by dual threat quarterback Kamal Martin, a Gophers commit. He had seven passing touchdowns and five rushing scores in the regular season. Steph Olson Jr. leads the Burnsville rushing attack, which averages about 230 yards per game, with about 75 yards per game and nine touchdowns in the regular season.

Maple Grove has established itself as a top program in Minnesota after winning 10 games last year and coming up just short in a loss to Eden Prairie in last year's 6A semifinals. The Crimson are 8-2 this season and have won eight of their last nine games since a season-opening 22-15 loss at Osseo. Maple Grove features a talented quarterback in Brad Davison, but the team's success comes in its run game that averaged 255 yards per game in the regular season. Isaac Collins is one of the better running backs in the metro as he averaged nearly 150 yards per game with 18 touchdowns in the regular season.

It'll be a great game between two talented teams that can both run the football. The team that does that and plays the best defense will move on. The winner faces the East Ridge/Wayzata winner in the 6A State Semifinals.

Class 6A: Eden Prairie (10-0) vs. Totino-Grace (8-2) (Osseo, 7 p.m.)

A rematch of last year's 6A Prep Bowl takes place Friday night at Osseo High School as unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Eden Prairie faces No. 7-ranked Totino-Grace. The two teams met in the regular season opener, with Eden Prairie prevailing 38-20. In last year's Prep Bowl, Totino-Grace had Eden Prairie on the ropes and had a chance to win at the end of regulation, but a two-point conversion failed and Eden Prairie escaped with a 28-27 victory. Eden Prairie is led by Nebraska commit J.D. Spielman, who has 14 rushing touchdowns on the season and is a threat to score every time he gets the ball. Totino-Grace is led by the rushing duo of Gayflor Flomo and Ivan Burlak, who combined for more than 200 yard rushing and 16 touchdowns in the regular season. Regardless of the outcome, there will be an Eagles team in the state semifinals.

Class 4A: Fridley (8-2) vs. South St. Paul (9-1) (Macalester, 7 p.m.)

Fridley is a great story in Class 4A this year as it enters the state quarterfinals Friday night, facing perennial power South St. Paul at Macalester College. The Tigers won just three games last season, but they've won six of their past seven games after a Week 3 loss to St. Paul Central. Fridley knocked off St. Paul Highland Park to reach the Class 4A state playoffs. The Tigers are led by running back Prince Okolie's 171 yards per game and 10 touchdowns in the regular season. Quarterback Noah Couwenhoven throws for about 140 yards per game and had 10 passing touchdowns in the regular season. South St. Paul runs for more than 300 yards per game and is led by quarterback Dan Pietruszewski, who rushes for more than 100 yards per game and had a combined 24 touchdowns in the regular season.

Class 2A: Blue Earth (7-4) vs. Caledonia (11-0) (RCTC, 8 p.m.)

The No. 1-ranked team in Class AA puts its perfect season on the line Friday night as Caledonia faces Blue Earth at Rochester Community & Technical College. The Warriors were 12-0 last year before falling to BOLD in the state semifinals. Blue Earth was a state tournament team last year before losing to Glencoe-Silver Lake in the quarterfinals. Since a 1-3 start, the Buccaneers have won six of their past seven games. Caledonia is led by quarterback Owen King's 149 passing yards per game and 21 touchdowns in the regular season to go with just three interceptions.

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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