Hey, it's Tiny Joe Nelson here for your Class 4A football playoff preview. Remember: The top two seeds receive a first-round bye in every section except Section 6, where only the top seed receives a bye. With that, let's dive into what's happening in each section this year:
Faribault and Kasson-Mantorville received the top two seeds, as voted on by the coaches. They’ll be the prohibitive favorites to advance to the state tournament. Byron is the third-seed and will play Red Wing. The other quarterfinal game is between Waseca and Albert Lea. The Blue Jays crushed Albert Lea 42-7 in week one.
Hutchinson (8-0) and Glencoe-Silver Lake (7-1) are the top seeds in what I believe is one of the strongest sections in the state. The undefeated Marshall Tigers received the 3-seed. The top three teams are very good, but a 3-seed for an undefeated team? I don’t like it. No disrespect to GSL, but Marshall should be the 2-seed. They are the victim of a points system that doesn’t give as many points for beating 3A and 2A schools. Marshall is a good team in the middle of nowhere, which forces them to play smaller schools. They have two Division 1 caliber offensive linemen and they’ll be tough to beat. I like the playoff points system, but it’s not perfect – and this is a prime example of why.
The top seeds and corresponding first-round byes go to Minneapolis Washburn and the Academy of Holy Angels. St. Paul Highland Park will play St. Paul Academy/Mounds Park Academy in the 3/6 game. The 4/5 quarterfinal game is between Holy Family Catholic and Richfield. Holy Family has won three in a row, including two impressive wins over Delano and New London-Spicer. The Fire is playing well, but I like Holy Angels by a hair over Washburn. The best running back in Minnesota -- Jeffrey Jones of Washburn -- is worth the price of a playoff ticket.
South St. Paul and Hill-Murray, both from the Classic Suburban Conference, are the top two seeds. St. Paul Harding, St. Paul Johnson, New Life Academy and St. Paul Como Park round out seeds 3-6. South St. Paul and Hill-Murray should meet in the section final. If they do it will be interested to see what the Pioneers do against the Packers. South St. Paul was just overrun by St. Thomas Academy’s ground game. Hill-Murray, behind stud senior QB Zach LaValle likes to throw the ball. Will that work against South St. Paul’s athletic defense? I can’t wait.
Becker looks like the team to beat. They’re the one seed, but don’t discount a balanced group of teams rounding out the 2-6 seeds. Orono is the two seed, but they could run into third-seeded Delano in the semifinals. It would create a great rematch of a game that Delano won, 21-20 in week five. Zimmerman -- the 4 seed -- is also talented. Even Big Lake can pull an upset. They shutout last year’s 4A champion Rocori and played a tight game one of the best teams in the Mississippi 8 Conference, Monticello.
I love the top two teams in this section. DeLaSalle might have the best QB/RB combo with Reid Travis and Chris Williams. Robbinsdale Cooper has a few division one-bound athletes that can play both sides of the ball. If they can get to the section final there’s no doubt it will take 40+ points to win. St. Croix Lutheran is the 3-seed and gave DeLaSalle some trouble back in week two. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Fridley, Park of Cottage Grove and Blake probably don’t have enough defensive firepower to slow down either team. However, if Benilde can get out of the first round they have the ability to light up the scoreboard.
Hermantown and Cloquet have the top seeds, and if they meet in the section final it should be a great rematch of a week 7 meeting the Hawks won 28-14. I also like the long road test Hermantown had this week against Henry Sibley. They lost, but they played a team from a very good conference. Princeton, at 4-4, has played top teams like Becker in the Granite Ridge Conference – so I know they’ve been tested and will be ready.
This section features an undefeated Detroit Lakes team, the defending 4A champs from Rocori and a Fergus Falls team that looked great early but has lost two in a row. I think Detroit Lakes will earn a trip to the state tournament. The only game they’ve had a wink of trouble was against 2A power Perham, and they still won by 8 points.
That's it for Class 4A.
Check back Friday for a Class 5A preview, and Saturday for the 6A preview.