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

We're less than two weeks away from determining state champions in high school football, and we know this much: There will be a new winner in Class 6A.

Last year in the Prep Bowl, Totino-Grace had a great chance to beat Eden Prairie. After scoring a late touchdown to get within a point, coach Jeff Ferguson went for two and the victory. The attempt failed. Last week in the Class 6A round of 16, Totino-Grace got its revenge. Down 13-6, Totino-Grace scored 21 straight points to dethrone Eden Prairie 27-13.

It's now state semifinal week in high school football. The winners advance to the Prep Bowl for the right to play for a state championship. In the state's seven classes, there is a chance for a repeat state champion in four of them. Mankato West is alive and unbeaten in Class 5A, Becker is alive and undefeated in Class 4A, Minneota is still standing in Class A and Grand Meadow is favored in 9-man.

And all four of those defending champions are also looking to cap off perfect seasons. As you would expect, when only four teams remain in each class there are bound to be great match-ups with talented players. Here are our four top games as teams hit the field with a state championship game berth at stake.

Class 5A: St. Thomas Academy (10-1) vs. Moorhead (11-0) (Minnetonka)

There is a classic match-up in the west Twin Cities metro of a traditional city power program against a largely unknown greater Minnesota team. No. 4-ranked St. Thomas Academy faces No. 5-ranked Moorhead Friday night at Minnetonka with a trip to the Prep Bowl on the line. It's our Featured Game for WCCO-TV's High School Sports Rally.

The Spuds are in unfamiliar territory but are building on something special. They're unbeaten at 11-0 are in their first state tournament since 2012, which was a quarterfinal loss. But Moorhead is in the semifinals after beating Andover 47-44 last week. The Spuds have won games largely up front with solid play on both the offensive and defensive line. They've allowed more than 16 points in a game just twice, one of which was last week. Moorhead ran for nearly 195 yards per game during the regular season and it's a balanced attack. Mike Duginski leads the Spuds with 95 yards per game and nine touchdowns during the regular season. Quarterback Matt Bye had four rushing touchdowns, and also passed for 137 yards per game in the regular season with seven touchdowns and just two interceptions.

St. Thomas Academy always seems to be a state tournament contender, though this is the first trip for the Cadets since a state semifinal run in 2012. The only loss for the Cadets this year came in Week 5, 28-21 to rival South St. Paul. They've won six straight and knocked off North St. Paul 7-0 in a defensive struggle last week to advance. They'll need all hands on deck to beat Moorhead. St. Thomas Academy is led by running back Sean McFadden, a 100-yard rusher per game during the regular season who also had eight touchdowns. Woody Hubbell also ran for more than 51 yards per game with eight scores in the regular season. Quarterback Andrew Tri passed for about 116 yards a game in the regular season with seven touchdowns. The Cadets have relied on big plays to get wins this season, and they'll need more of the same Friday night to advance.

The winner meets the Mankato West/St. Michael-Albertville winner next week in the Prep Bowl.

Class 6A: Maple Grove (9-2) vs. East Ridge (10-1) (Eden Prairie)

The East Ridge football program has had a heck of a season after a summer of turmoil. They forfeited past games and conference titles due to player ineligibility and had their head coach resign. All the Raptors have done this fall is go 10-1 on the football field, and now they are one win away from the Prep Bowl. No. 3-ranked East Ridge faces No. 6-ranked Maple Grove in Eden Prairie Friday night. The Raptors have won 10 straight games since a season opening loss to Lakeville North. They ran for more than 300 yards per game in the regular season, led by Dominik London's 168 yards per game and 13 scores. Otumos Payemanu also runs for more than 100 yards per game with 11 touchdowns. The Crimson have won seven straight games since losing to Eden Prairie in Week 4. That stretch includes wins over Eastview, Armstrong and Burnsville in the 6A playoffs. Maple Grove ran for more than 250 yards per game in the regular season, led by Isaac Collins' 150 yards per contest with 18 touchdowns. The winner faces the Totino-Grace/Osseo winner for the 6A Prep Bowl.

Class 4A: Becker (11-0) vs. Stewartville (11-0) (Chanhassen)

The top two teams meet in Class 4A Friday night with a trip to the Prep Bowl on the line, and one of them will suffer their first loss of the season. No. 1-ranked Becker faces No. 2-ranked Stewartville, both 11-0, at Chanhassen Friday night. It's also a rematch of last year's state semifinals, which Becker won 39-20.

The Bulldogs, led by legendary coach Dwight Lundeen, are looking for consecutive state championships and perfect seasons. They've had a balanced run game all year, and quarterback Andrew Stanger has thrown for nearly 160 yards per game with 18 touchdowns. The Tigers ran for more than 220 yards per game in the regular season, led by Jordan Johnson's 94 yards per game and 10 touchdowns. Quarterback Andrew Quandt has had an impressive season, throwing for 178 yards per game with 21 touchdowns and just four interceptions in the regular season. The winner meets the South St. Paul/Rocori winner next week in the Prep Bowl.

Saturday Class 5A: St. Michael-Albertville (10-1) vs. Mankato West (11-0) (Prior Lake)

It's a classic match-up in the south Twin Cities metro Saturday night as unbeaten and No. 1-ranked Mankato West faces No. 6-ranked St. Michael-Albertville. It's a rematch of a state semifinal from last year, where the Scarlets escaped with a 26-21 victory.

Mankato West really hasn't been tested much this season, but that will change Saturday against a St. Michael-Albertville defense that's allowed more than 20 points just four times this season. The Scarlets are running for more than 200 yards per game this year, an attack that's led by Van Neils' 121 yards per game and 12 touchdowns in the regular season. The Knights have been to the state tournament three straight years, but have yet to reach the Prep Bowl. They're led by the running back duo of Mitch Kartes and Eric Sjelin, who ran for a combined 180 yards and 15 touchdowns in the regular season. Quarterback Jacob Veire had 10 passing touchdowns in the regular season, and eight of them went to Isaiah Weston. The numbers are impressive on both sides, but St. Michael-Albertville will need its best defense of the season to knock off Mankato West.

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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