Section 2A football has been shaken up for 2019 and 2020.
It grows from six to eight teams. Alden-Conger/Glenville-Emmons, Bethlehem Academy and United South Central are the only holdovers.
Joining the fray are three teams either moving up or down a class. Waterville-Elysian-Morristown and Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop move down from AA while Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran jumps up from 9-man. Minnesota Valley Lutheran and New Ulm Cathedral switch from Section 3A.
Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton and Randolph all exit the section.
There will be no first-round playoff byes this year as all eight teams will begin in the quarterfinals.
Here’s a quick look at each team in Section 2A. Teams are listed in alphabetical order. Athletes grade levels are for 2019 unless noted.
A-C/G-E bounced back from an 0-3 start to win five straight in the regular season. The Knights didn’t play a particularly challenging schedule and were downed 52-12 in round one of the playoffs by Randolph.
A-C/G-E scored the second most points per game in the conference (25.3) and also allowed second most (29.4). The Knights weren’t afraid to throw it a bit last year but do have to replace graduated quarterback Ryan Hansen. A-C/G-E can also run it, too, as 2018 senior Adam Skov showed in a 248-yard effort against Madelia. Eight seniors in total graduated.
Former assistant coach of four years Casey Soost takes over as head coach.
After a 3-7 campaign in 2018, the Cardinals are looking to bounce back from their first sub-.500 season since 2011. BA benefits from dropping a recently tough United South Central team from the schedule, but it adds Blooming Prairie, which beat USC in the state quarterfinals, as well as section finalist Goodhue.
One of the biggest keys for any football team is continuity at the quarterback position. Jack Jandro is back for his senior season and could take more responsibility slinging it.
BA will still be a run-first team per usual and will lean on rising senior Josh Oathoudt who earned carries last year as now-graduated workhorses Jack Clark and Luke Wobschall battled injury. BA has some size on its lines, but it will have some growing pains after Faribault Daily News all-area performer Zach Van Thomme as well as starters Teddy Allen and Kyle Kohl all graduate.
Last season was a bit tumultuous with head coach Dennis Glenzinski resigning mid-season. With a full season at his disposal, interim turned full-time coach and former coordinator Jim Beckmann can put his imprint on this team.
The Clippers make the big leap from 9-man to Class A, 11-man football. They had a decent season in 2018, going 5-4 and dropping in round one of sections.
C/IL was hoping for more, but sophomore starting quarterback Alex McCabe missed most of the year due to an off-field injury. McCabe will be back but without team offensive MVP running back, Danny. Team defensive MVP, defensive back Bryce Novak, also graduated.
Nine players graduated from a program which had solid numbers for its enrollment size. It’s been very successful at the 9-man level and will try to keep it going against A and AA teams.
Erik Hermanson returns as head coach.
Things are looking up for the Thunderbirds. Not only was a 26-game losing streak snapped in 2018, but G-F-W managed a 5-5 campaign against AA and AAA foes. It started off 1-4 before winning four straight, including a playoff game, before running into a strong Redwood Valley team in round two.
The Thunderbirds could score, finishing second in Section 3AA in scoring at 28.4 per contest. The defense allowed 25.8.
They lose just six players from last year’s roster. Back is senior running back Jancarlo Munoz who ran for 1,079 yards and 15 touchdowns last year as a junior. G-F-W doesn’t throw the ball often, but will have the luxury of returning senior quarterback Evan Martin.
Pat Hentges returns as head coach.
Minnesota Valley Lutheran
MVL is a former Section 2 team returning to old climes. The Chargers finished 4-6 last year with a trip to round two of the playoffs. They didn’t score a point until game three and were winless until game four.
MVL moves on from dual-threat quarterback Matt Munsen who threw for over 200 and rushed for over 100 in a 38-32 playoff win over Cedar Mountain/Comfrey. In the backfield, senior running back Carlos Ramirez is a capable 100-yard rusher.
The Chargers played a tough schedule last year with state tournament team USC and powers like Mayer Lutheran and St. Clair/Loyola in the mix. MVL will face a brand new batch of teams that, on paper, could be better matchups.
Only four players graduate from 2018. Head coach Jim Buboltz returns to the sidelines. He earned his 100th win last season.
New Ulm Cathedral
The Greyhounds bounced back from a 1-3 start in 2018 to run the table in the regular season and advance to the Section 3A semifinals. It beat defending section champ Wabasso twice in the process. Its loss came to Springfield, an eventual state semifinalist.
The program has won seven or more games seven times this decade.
NUC will have to restock after graduating 12 players. That includes 1,000-plus yard rusher Zach Helget and backup Elliott Schoo. The Greyhounds limited their pass attempts in the single digits per game as then-freshman Sam Knowles got his feet wet in the offense.
NUC averaged a section-best 30.5 points per game while allowing 20.2.
New head coach Eric Kaufman replaces Corey Kneeshaw. Kaufman was a former head coach at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg.
United South Central
The Rebels had a dream season in 2018, going 8-0 in the regular season and plowing through two section playoff games to get to state with a veteran laden squad. A 42-0 loss in the snow to Blooming Prairie in the quarterfinals stung, but it was still a historic season for USC.
The Rebels prefer to keep it on the ground. They’ll lean on a 1,146-yard rusher from 2018, senior Zach Niebuhr. USC graduated eight players including leading tackler and lineman Jacob Stevermer. The Rebels will be new at quarterback but project to have a veteran offensive line. The defense will try to replicate a section best 14.5 points allowed per game.
Brandon Neseth returns as head coach.
The Buccaneers have been a recent power in Class AA and now get to be a big fish in a small pond. WEM went 9-2 last year and made a run to the Section 2AA title game. The Bucs graduated nine seniors but do return 1,000-plus yard rusher Brant Melchert (45 tackles on defense). The next leading rusher and one of the top defensive backs, Tanner Ranslow, and much of the offensive and defensive lines will refresh. WEM will be experienced under center with third year starter Grant McBroom (1,587 yards). WEM projects to own of the section’s better passing attacks. The Bucs are led by second-year head coach Mike Richards.