There are few events more exciting to high school sports fans than the two-day football extravaganza that is the MSHSL Prep Bowl.

When one of Steele County’s four area teams are part of the fun — like Owatonna in 2013, 2017 and 2018 and Blooming Prairie this season — it's even more thrilling for local fans than years when the county doesn't have a representative in Minneapolis.

This is a natural response to basically having a “dog in the fight.” Even if fans know nothing about, say, Pierz and Dassel-Cokato, they can appreciate what both programs have endured over the previous three months in their respective journeys to the ultimate stage at U.S. Bank Stadium.

This year is also unique in the fact that Blooming Prairie and BOLD are the opening course of what will be a seven-game football feast played inside one of the swankiest stadiums in the entire country.

So, after absorbing what promises to be a thrilling showdown between the two best teams in Class A at 10 a.m. on Friday, BP fans will have the opportunity to sit back, relax and take-in the remaining games without having to bear the nervous tension that comes with anticipation of an upcoming contest like supporters of Chaska and St. Thomas Academy that will have to sit through six games over a 48-hour period before that can finally relax and watch their favorite team battle it out on Saturday evening.

Below is a quick breakdown of the six other Prep Bowl contests that will commence roughly 20 minutes after the Blossoms and Warriors duke it out.

Class 2A: Caledonia (13-0) vs. Minneapolis North (12-0), 1 p.m.

Caledonia’s well-documented winning streak has understandably dominated the pregame narrative. The Warriors haven’t lost since Nov. 15, 2014 when they fell to BOLD in the Class AA state semifinals at Eden Prairie High School.

Since then, Caledonia has strung-together 66 consecutive victories and currently owns the longest current winning streak in the entire nation.

This year’s Warriors are cut from the same cloth as each of the previous high-achieving teams, deploying a scholarship-level quarterback — in this case Noah King — and a cadre of lethal weapons on the outside, spearheaded by Eli King, Cole Kronebusch and Donnie Lakey.

Noah King has thrown at least one touchdown in each of Caledonia’s 13 games and has racked up 2,284 passing yards and 37 touchdowns against just six interceptions. He’s also added a back-breaking 734 yards and 14 touchdowns on the ground. His younger brother, Eli, leads the team with 898 receiving yards and 19 TDs.

Defensively, Caledonia is disciplined and boasts a rare level of depth that allows them to rotate in a number of capable bodies in the trenches. During the regular season, the Warriors yielded eight or fewer points seven times and surrendered no more than 15 in any single game.

Playing in its second season as a Class AA program, Minneapolis North, is making its third appearance in the Prep Bowl, all of which have come in the last four seasons.

Terrance Kamara is without a doubt the team’s most dynamic player and is one of the most explosive players in the entire state. Since being held to 95 yards in Week 1, the junior has reached triple-digits in each of the following 11 games and has accumulated 2,223 yards and 33 touchdowns. If the Polars stand any chance of dethroning the mighty Warriors, he’s going to have to run crazy, which is never an easy task against the Warriors stifling defense.

OPP PREDICTION: Caledonia 48, Minneapolis North 15

Class 4A: SMB (12-0) vs. Rocori (10-2), 4 p.m.

Rocori made a huge statement in the state semifinals when the Spartans dismantled previously undefeated Winona, 48-24, in a game that really wasn’t even as close as the sizable 24-point margin might already suggest.

SMB, though, is a completely different animal than the Winhawks. Possessing as much high-level Division I talent as any team in the state in all seven Classes, the Wolfpack is coming off a game in which they defeated No. 1-ranked Hutchinson, 22-16. Though they have seen their share of relatively close encounters this season, the defending state champs are standing tall and have not lost since the 2017 season.

Outside linebacker, Kaden Johnson, is a 4-star recruit and holds offers from a slew of major programs, including LSU, Minnesota, Nebraska, Michigan State, Iowa and Wisconsin, just to name a few. Jalen Suggs is the engine that drives SMB's high-octane offense, and if not for his desire to play college basketball, would have his pick of SEC, Big Ten and ACC programs to play quarterback prospect. One of his favorite targets is senior Terry Lockett, who is listed as a 3-star “athlete” according to 247sports.com and has received offers nine Power 5 programs.

Rocori obviously can’t match SMB’s high-profile talent, but won’t enter the game as the overwhelming underdog, either. The Spartans have been on a roll in the postseason, beating its four opponents by an average margin of 32-9. As a run-first quarterback, Jack Steil is the proverbial straw that stirs the stick for the Spartans, entering the final game having combined for almost 2,000 total offensive yards (1,042 passing, 829 rushing). He’s also scored 20 touchdowns.

OPP PREDICTION: SMB 28, Rocori 14

Class 6A: Champlin Park (10-1) vs. Wayzata (12-0), 7 p.m.

In the nightcap of Day 1 at the Bank, the big boys will duke it out in prime time.

As the only undefeated team in the state’s largest classification, Wayzata will look to capture its first state championship since 2010. Champlin Park, meanwhile, has been to a pair of title games — the most recent appearance coming in 2002 — but came up short in both games.

The Rebels, who are a one-point loss to Centennial in Week 3 away from being undefeated themselves, dethroned defending state champion Lakeville North in the state semifinals and feature a balanced offense and rock-solid defense. No team has scored more than three touchdowns against CP while the other side of the ball has done their part by mixing in the pass with dangerous 6-foot-4 quarterback Jaice Miller (1,528 yards, 16 TDs; 648 rushing yards, 8 TDs) and worhorse tailback Shawn Shipman (993 rushing yards, 9 TD).

Wayzata survived a number of close calls during the regular season to keep its perfect record in-tact before turning on the burners in the playoffs, ringing up almost 40 points per game in its tournament games. Christian Vasser is one of the most productive tailbacks in Class 6A and is coming off back-to-back 200-plus yard performances. For the season, he has 1,887 yards and 21 touchdowns.

OPP PREDICTION: Wayzata 27, Champlin Park 21

SATURDAY

9-Man: Hancock (13-0) vs. Mountain Lake Area (13-0), 10 a.m.

In the opening showdown of the final day of the 2019 Prep Bowl, a pair of undefeated teams will battle for supremacy in the state’s smallest classification.

Hancock finished the season as the top-rated team based on the QRF and No. 4 in the Associated Press while Mountain Lake Area ended No. 1 in the AP and No. 8 in the QRF, so neither team enters as the overwhelming favorite. Basically, something’s gotta give as these two undefeated challengers match wits on the skinny field.

Mountain Lake is coming off a 45-6 thrashing of Win-E-Mac in the state semifinals in a game that the Wolverines finished with a formidable 499-226 advantage in total yards. Mountain Lake gashed the Win-E-Mac defense on the ground and racked up 365 rushing yards, 283 of which came the from the combination of Abe Stoesz and Mace Herrig.

Hancock was equally as devastating in its semifinal game against Mountain Iron-Buhl, hanging 65 points on the board and piling up 514 total yards (299 rushing, 227 passing).

OPP PREDICTION: Hancock 49, Mountain Lake Area 30

Class 3A: Dassel-Cokato (10-3) vs. Pierz (13-0), 1 p.m.

Having never lost in its three previous state championship games (2004, 2015, 2017), the Pioneers will look to capture their third Prep Bowl championship in five years against a Chargers team that has never been to the state championship game and was seeded third in its section after a 5-3 regular season.

Pierz entered the season as one of the preseason favorites to reach the Prep Bowl, and didn’t disappoint, largely dismantling its eight regular season opponents before putting up 51 points per game in its first four playoff contests. In the state semifinals, though, the Pioneers were pushed to the absolute brink against Jackson County Central and needed a 48-yard touchdown pass with 1 minute, 19 seconds left in the fourth quarter to survive and advance.

Dassel-Cokato lost its three regular season games by an average margin of five points, meaning the Chargers were the most dangerous No. 3 section seed in Class 3A. After blowing out Rockford and Litchfield in the first two postseason games, D-C has won its last three contests by no more than 12 points.

OPP PREDICTION: Pierz 25, Dassel-Cokato 12

Class 5A: Chaska (11-1) vs. St. Thomas Academy (11-1), 4 p.m.

In the annual conclusion to the two-day Prep Bowl frenzy, the state’s second-largest division will feature an awesome matchup between a pair of defensive stalwarts.

The predetermined bracket that is the Class 5A state tournament appears to have materialized a showdown that few would argue actually features the two best teams in its classification and has given the fans an exciting showdown to look forward to with a ton of intrigue.

There’s just so much to unpack.

First, St. Thomas will look capture its first state championship after coming up short in its four previous appearances in the Prep Bowl. The Cadets have finished runner-up in two different classifications in the last 20 years, including a second-place finish in Class 5A last season.

Secondly, the revenge factor looms large here as the Cadets look to get back against a Chaska team that humbled them in Week 8 with a 20-0 shutout in a game that STA gained just four first downs.

Aside from a 32-14 loss to Robbinsdale Armstrong in Week 4, Chaska has largely overwhelmed its 11 other opponents, leaning on a downright nasty defense and ball-control offense. Excluding the one defeat, the Hawks have allowed just 5.8 points per game and have posted five shutouts.

St. Thomas has produced eerily similar numbers on defense and subscribes to the same ball-control principals as the Hawks. The Cadets have yielded just 6.1 points in its 12 total contests and 5.3 points in their 11 victories. STA has also pitched six shutouts, highlighted by a 21-0 victory over two-time defending state champion Owatonna in the state quarterfinals.

Offensively, the ground-heavy Cadets are maddeningly one-dimensional. Everyone knows the power-run game is coming, but only the Hawks have proven capable of shutting it down. With as many male students to pull from as most Class 6A schools, STA boasts serious depth up front and attacks with a pair of fast-twitch tailbacks in Danny McFadden and Love Adebayo.

Though a tad more balanced, the Hawks are most comfortable grinding it out on the ground. Matthew Kuntz (1,101 yards, 11TDs) and Stevo Klotz (725 yards, 13 TDs) are the team’s two most productive running backs while Grif Wurtz can at least keep STA honest through the air (1,286 passing yards), but has thrown 13 interceptions.

OPP PREDICTION: Chaska 14, St. Thomas Academy 13

Reach sports editor Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on Twitter.com @OPPJonW

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