It looks like a challenging night to be a spectator as I peer out the window from the Times’ newsroom. It’s raining and it’s not particularly warm.
I’m heading over to Husky Stadium to watch a doubleheader, St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Milaca in Section 5-3A and St. Cloud Tech vs. Alexandria in 8-5A. Both games should be decent. The Cathedral game kicks off at 6:15 p.m. and the Tech game follows.
The long road to the Metrodome and the Prep Bowl officially begins tonight and I’m not sure that anyone in the area is a sure-fire favorite to get there. But my guess is someone will (are you listening Becker, Holdingford, Annandale and Pierz?).
I’m also willing to type it out that there will be at least one surprise playoff run in the area (could it be Apollo or Rocori or Albany?). I could be wrong, but that’s the fun of this. It’s just one blowhard’s opinion.
Here’s a look at tonight’s prep football games with a predicted winner. Take them for what they are worth. You can print it out and train the puppy, though that’s a waste of your printer’s ink.
* Sauk Rapids (1-7) at St. Cloud Apollo (3-5) — Apollo gets its first home playoff game since 2005 it on a three-game winning streak. The streak started with a 9-6 win at Sauk Rapids. Sauk Rapids had a really tough night and Apollo, which had played a number of teams close, finally won one. Since then, the Eagles have been able to establish a running game, relying on Derek Alexander and Kyle Rosenthal. They mix it in with a passing game led by sophomore Ben Alvord, who appears to be a really good one. They have receivers who can catch and a very good defense that gives everyone trouble. Sauk Rapids, meanwhile, has been all about its defense. When the Storm have played well, their defense has been the reason. Their lone win at Rocori included an interception return for a touchdown and that’s likely what Sauk Rapids is going to need to win tonight. I’m looking forward to talking to Times sports writer Frank Rajkowski about the game when he gets back from it. I think conditions and the defenses are going to make this low-scoring. I’m taking Apollo to win 14-13.
* Alexandria (1-7) vs. Tech (3-5), 8:15 p.m. at Husky Stadium — Tech beat Alex 28-13 in Week 1, but that was a long, long time ago. Alex has improved and Tech is hurting. Running back Jacob Peterson, the area’s leading rusher and Tech’s all-time yardage leader, is out for the season with a broken leg. That’s a great equalizer, but I think Tech has enough talent and depth to hold off Alex, especially in St. Cloud. Tech wins 20-18.
* Little Falls (3-5) at Thief River Falls (4-4) — Little Falls has put together a decent offense led by gigantic running back Jalen Wuchko (he’s about 225 pounds), quarterback Spencer Fenske and wide receiver Collin Eckman. It helped the Flyers post a 54-36 win over Milaca last week. Wuchko ran for 336 yards and six touchdowns. The Prowlers, meanwhile, have two impressive losses on their resume. Top-seeded Detroit Lakes (8-0) beat TRF 24-6 in Week 3. The Prowlers also lost 20-19 to Perham on Oct. 5. Perham is a state-ranked Class 2A team. I’m going to go with the home team in what should be a close game. Thief River Falls wins 30-24.
* Milaca (0-8) vs. Cathedral (3-5), 6:15 p.m. at Husky Stadium — Cathedral beat Milaca 42-18 during the regular season, but both teams are different. Milaca has some offensive weapons in Brian Kiel, Mike Garber and Jonah Gahm, but has struggled defensively. Cathedral, meanwhile, has an amazing number of key people injured. The Crusaders do, however, have their offensive line intact and quarterback Jeff Fasching. The junior left-hander has thrown 18 TDs this season with only four interceptions. I think Cathedral can win this one, 36-24.
* Sauk Centre (2-6) at Litchfield (3-5) — Litchfield, a member of the rugged Wright County Conference, is going to play smash-mouth football here. Sauk Centre, a member of the West Central Conference, relies on the arm of quarterback Patrick Knoblauch. He has several nice targets, including Nick Adams. The key will be if Sauk Centre can slow down the Dragons. I’m guessing not. Take Litchfield, 28-14.
* Melrose (5-3) at Albany (4-4) — These are traditional rivals who didn’t play each other in the regular season for the first time in anyone’s memory. (You might have to go back to pre-World War II). Melrose was an independent this season and played one of the area’s strangest schedules, facing a Wisconsin team in Chaska and playing International Falls to the north and Plainview-Elgin-Millville and Martin County West (of Lamberton) from the south. They’ve had a good season and have good weapons in quarterback Isaac Sawyer and running backs Trevor Sawyer and Seth Noll. Albany has been spotty. The Huskies have been up and down and it’s pretty hard to determine which team will show up, though playing arch-rival Melrose should help with emotional preparedness. Quarterback Scott Litchy is a talent and the leader of this team. Take the home team to win. Albany prevails, 23-21.
* Spectrum (3-5) at Kimball (4-4) — Kimball beat Spectrum, which is located in Elk River, 49-0 to open the season. There is no reason to think the Cubs, with their fine passing game, can’t do it again. Cameron Hunt has had another strong season at quarterback. Preston Peglow, Tim Konz and Mathias Hennen are all dangerous receivers and have had good seasons. Troy Filzen gets just another yards at running back to keep the defenses honest. All of them will be too much for Spectrum. Take Kimball, 35-7.
* Eden Valley-Watkins (2-6) at Paynesville (4-4) — This should be one of the better matchups of the evening. EVW passes the ball well. Nick Pauly has had a strong season in his first year as starting varsity quarterback. Paynesville has a great running attack, led by Nathan Meyer and Anthony Johnson. The two schools are close to each other and EVW traditionally has had the upper hand. But Paynesville is defending section champion and knocked EVW out of the playoffs last year after the Eagles had won seven straight section titles. I’m taking Paynesville 32-28.
* Wadena-Deer Creek (2-6) at Holdingford (7-1) — Holdingford has had a great season, winning the Central Minnesota Conference title and looking like one of the favorites in this section. The Huskers aren’t flashy, just sound. They are also very good. Take Holdingford to win, 30-14.
* Breckenridge (2-6) at Pierz (7-1) — There are four 7-1 teams in 6-2A. Besides Holdingford and Pierz, Crosby-Ironton and Upsala/Swanville Area also are 7-1. All of them are good and capable of winning the section. Pierz has the winning tradition and perhaps the best running back in the area in Josh Lanners. Nathan Athmann also has had a big year running the ball and Pierz is always tough defensively. The Pioneers should be too much for the Cowboys. Take Pierz to win 28-6.
* Pine River-Backus (5-3) at Royalton (6-2) — This the No. 5 seed at the No. 4 seed and it should be that close. Royalton has demonstrated it can run the ball well with a multi-faceted ground game that features Tony Gadacz, Cade Stang and Brady Moulzolf. I think the Royals can play the ball-control game here and use it to edge Pine River-Backus. Royalton wins, 21-20.
How I’m doing:
I went 12-5 picking winners last Wednesday and am 91-33 (73.3 percent) for the season. I was 9-8 against my made-up point spreads that are just really a semi-educated guess and am 74-50 (59.6 percent) for the year. Vegas-ready, I am not.
Last Wednesday, I was wrong on the following games:
* Minnewaska beat Paynesville, 14-6. I talked to Paynesville coach Max Meagher on Monday and he said his team did everything BUT win, out-gaining the Lakers about 350-150.
* Rocori beat Tech 26-13.
* Apollo had a big upset at Fergus Falls, 27-20.
* New London-Spicer beat Albany, 20-7.
* Sartell had a big road win at Bemidji, 25-24.
That’s it for now. I’ll post picks for Saturday’s games later this week. There should be some really good ones in the area.