Grand Meadow, Caledonia boys play at state this week

S. Lee Epps

The football spotlight is now on this week's state tournament after the section football championships were decided last weekend.

Section One was the only one in 9-man football in which the top seed did not make it to the championship game. In six of the eight sections, it was the top two seeds in the title tilt. And it was No. 1 versus No. 3 in Section Two.

But in the Section One title game, No.  2 seed Grand Meadow mangled No. 5 seed Houston, 35-0. It was true to form; this section 9-man championship game is hardly ever competitive. Except for Spring Grove's dramatic 36-35 win over Cleveland/Immanuel Lutheran in 2017, the average margin of victory in the other 16 games (since 2003) has been 26 points.

Grand Meadow has now won seven of those 17 section championship games by an average winning margin of 25 points. But when the Superlarks lost four times, it was by an average margin of 28 points.

Except for the nail-biter against Cleveland/Immanuel, Spring Grove lost five title games by an average margin of 20 points and won three times by an average margin of 23 points.

This year's No. 2 versus No. 5 matchup surprised few after a wide-open regular-season race. All eight of the section squads were part of the regular-season East Sub-district. A ninth sub-district member, Lyle/Pacelli, was assigned to Section Three for the postseason.

In the final regular-season game, the Larks had humbled the Hurricanes, 43-6. But since then, Houston had swamped No. 4 seed Southland, 46-18. The Rebels had been state-ranked most of the season.

Then in the semi-finals, the 'Canes clobbered state-ranked No. 2, previously undefeated and top section seed LeRoy-Ostrander by another very similar and surprisingly lopsided score, 44-18.

But again, Houston was no match for Grand Meadow, which racked up 21 points in the first quarter on the way to a 28-0 halftime lead and ultimate five-touchdown shutout.

It was the second straight section final denial for the Hurricanes, who had whipped Grand Meadow (36-14) in the 2018 semi-finals before falling in the finals to Spring Grove, 28-6.

Since becoming a 9-man program, Houston is now 2-3 in section title games, having been the 2008 state champion.

While the 'Canes closed at 7-4, the Superlarks (10-1) had lost only to LeRoy-Ostrander, 30-18, back in week three.

Grand Meadow returns to the state tournament after a two-year hiatus and for the sixth time in eight years. Prior to Spring Grove's back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018, the Superlarks won four straight state crowns (2013 through 2016) after being state runner-up in 2012.

The Larks' 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 8, task back again at Austin's Art Hass Stadium is formidable — against Section Three champion and state-ranked No. 1 Mountain Lake Area (11-0). The Wolverines' last loss was against Spring Grove in last year's state championship game. This year, they are averaging 51 points a game while giving up 11.

Final eight at state

Of the eight state-tourney teams, six were No. 1 section seeds, along with a pair of No. 2 seeds. That highly-regarded card includes state-ranked No. 1 Mountain Lake Area (11-0) versus Grand Meadow (10-1), which did receive some votes in the final state poll, and No. 5 Win-E-Mac (11-0) versus unranked Warren-Alvarado-Oslo (8-3).

In the other half of the bracket, No. 3 Renville County West (11-0) faces No. 4 Hancock (11-0) in the most highly-ranked matchup and Mountain Iron-Buhl (9-1), which received some votes in the final poll, versus unranked South Ridge (8-2).

The tournament then moves to U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis for the state semi-finals and championship game.

State-ranked No. 2 Blooming Prairie (10-0) won the Class A Section One championship game, 59-12, over Goodhue,

Class AA state-ranked No. 1 Caledonia (11-0), the four-time defending state champion, claimed a 66th straight win in the section finals, 27-7, over a good Chatfield team (8-3). It was a closer encounter than the Warriors' 41-8 romp in the teams' regular-season game. Caledonia now takes on Pipestone Area in a Friday, Nov. 8, quarterfinal at Rochester.