As Minnesotans boil in the low-90s heat, it doesn’t feel like football weather, but believe it or not, the fall season is right around the corner.
Shorts, t-shirts and sandals will be replaced by long pants, boots and parkas. The omnipresent smell of freshly-cut grass and grilling meat will soon fade and people will spend their Fridays squeezing into metal bleachers under the bright lights.
In just five short days, high school teams from across the state will start two-a-days before most partake in scrimmages on Saturday, Aug. 24. From there, things quickly shift into gear and the seven-and-a-half week race to the playoffs commences for most on Friday, Aug. 30. Some, like NRHEG, kick off the day before on Aug. 29.
The football regular season befalls in the blink of an eye, or the blow of whistle. It doesn’t take long for teams transform from hopeful and energetic to, well, something else. It’s a slog, yet a sprint at the same time. It many cases, football is a battle of attrition. If you’re healthy, you have a chance. If you’re not, you don’t. As the season looms in the near future, everyone fits in the first category, and that’s what makes this time of your so exciting.
There’s no telling how things will pan out, but below are a few key matchups from Steele County teams in 2019:
Week 1, Aug. 30
Blooming Prairie at Rushford-Peterson: In a battle between two of southern Minnesota’s steadiest small-school football programs, the Awesome Blossoms look to win their third consecutive game against the Trojans. The teams have squared off seven times since 2014 with each having eliminated the other at least once in the postseason during the span. In 2016, R-P finished second in Class A while Blooming Prairie made it to the state semifinals in 2018. Both teams are accustomed to winning — combining for an 88-23 record over the last five years — and neither would feel comfortable starting 0-1. Last season, the Blossoms won, 47-14, in Week 8. Expect another great matchup that will have section and district-title implications on the line.
Week 2, Sept. 8
Owatonna at Northfield: In the latest version of this burgeoning rivalry, the two-time defending state champion Huskies will look to maintain their recent supremacy over the Raiders. Owatonna has won five consecutive games in the series and has eliminated Northfield from the postseason twice in the last three years. OHS returns a large batch of players from last season — including four starting offensive lineman — while the Raiders will be a bit more inexperienced. Still, Northfield always seems to be jockeying for position atop the district and section standings and is well-coached. The NHS program has endured exactly one losing season in the last five years when they finished 5-6 and finished a game shy of the state tournament.
Week 4, Sept. 20
Blooming Prairie at Goodhue: This will be a much-anticipated rematch of last season’s Section 1-A title game that was won by the Awesome Blossoms, 21-18, in Rochester. Similar to Week 1 opponent, Rushford-Peterson, Blooming Prairie has clashed with the Wildcats in a number of high-profile games in recent history as the teams have squared off three times in the postseason since 2014.
Medford at Bethlehem Academy: This will be an interesting game for a number of reasons. Being that it is smack in the middle of the season, injuries could play a huge part in how this one turns out. Medford, which finished 2-7 last season and lost three games by 10 or fewer points, possesses strong high-end talent, but doesn’t have a ton of depth. If the Tigers are healthy and playing well, they are more than capable of stealing a game on the road against the defending Section 2-A champions. If not, it could be a long night for the Tigers. Either way, it’s always fun when teams battle their geographic rival as these schools sit just nine miles apart.
Week 6, Oct. 4
Mankato West at Owatonna: After taking a couple years off, Mankato West is finally back on the Owatonna’s schedule, and it couldn’t come at a better time. Both vaunted programs bring major talent to the table in the senior class and have legitimate state-title aspirations. Though the Scarlets have struggled against OHS at the sub-varsity level over the last couple of years, which includes a 56-6 loss in 2016 as freshman, their top athletes from the Class of 2020 have been playing varsity for the last two seasons. Quarterback Jack Foster is headed to Division I Brown University and has an abundance of weapons returning, highlighted by classmate Spencer Spaude at receiver. Both teams could easily be undefeated when they square off in this early-October showdown at the OHS stadium. Circle this one on your calendar, it’s going to be a barn-burner.
Week 8, Oct. 16
Medford at Blooming Prairie: The intra-county matchup is back on track after a two-year hiatus. In what is always one of the toughest games of the season on a short week, the Wednesday showdown is basically an intriguing postseason tune-up for both teams. Situated just 20 miles apart, there is some familiarity between the programs that compete in different MSHSL classifications — Medford in AA and Blooming Prairie in A. The teams have met on-and-off over the last 10 years with the Awesome Blooming owning an 8-0 record against the Tigers since 2007. The last win for Medford, though, was a big one, eliminating the Blossoms, 36-28, in the Section 1-A semifinal in 2006.