Playoff pressure builds this week

Section football starts for local teams

Rosemount's Tray Ashby-Phan heads upfield after catching a pass during a regular-season game against Bloomington Kennedy. Photo by Rick Orndorf
Rosemount’s Tray Ashby-Phan heads upfield after catching a pass during a regular-season game against Bloomington Kennedy. Photo by Rick Orndorf

It’s playoff time in high school football – and time to find out which teams will play the final prep games ever at the Metrodome.

The postseason starts Tuesday and ends Nov. 29-30 when seven championship games take place at the Prep Bowl. It is the final Prep Bowl scheduled for the Metrodome, which will be torn down to make way for the new Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Apple Valley plays St. Louis Park on Tuesday night in a Class 5A, Section 3 quarterfinal. The other teams in the Sun Thisweek coverage area will play Friday in the Class 6A, Section 3 quarterfinals. Here’s a look at those games:

Class 6A, Section 3 (all games 7 p.m. Friday)

Farmington (4-4) at Rosemount (7-1)

The top-seeded Irish have been rolling, winning seven in a row after losing to Wayzata in double overtime in their season opener. They use a lot of people in their rushing attack – five players have 152 to 516 yards this season – which sets up big plays in the passing game. Junior Dimitri Williams has 15 touchdowns, eight rushing and seven receiving. Quarterback Jackson Erdmann has passed for more than 1,100 yards. Tyler Hartigan has just nine receptions this season, but it seems as if every one is a big play; he averages 27.2 yards per catch and has four touchdowns. Linebackers Craig Syzmanski and Nate Sackett are playmakers on defense, and cornerback Conner Yepsen has returned three interceptions for touchdowns.

Farmington won its first four games, after which it appeared in the Associated Press top 10 in Class 6A. The Tigers haven’t won since. Farmington can move the ball through the air, as quarterback Tyler Van Winkle has completed about 55 percent of his passes for almost 1,400 yards. He had two touchdown passes in last week’s 21-14 loss to Shakopee. Jordan DeCroock, Mac Bassett and C.J. Wynings all have more than 20 receptions. Kevin Clifton, Eli Rockett and Mason Auge are among the Tiger defense’s leading tacklers.

Burnsville (2-6) at Lakeville North (6-2)

Lakeville North won a regular-season game between these teams 41-7 on Oct. 4. The second-seeded Panthers had nine days to recover emotionally from their 36-7 loss at Rosemount on Oct. 16 in a game that decided the South Suburban Conference title. What’s less clear is whether standout defensive lineman Greg Menard can recover physically in time for the playoffs after injuring an ankle in the Rosemount game. Senior running back Jamiah Newell rushed for 1,102 yards and 11 touchdowns in eight regular-season games. Despite allowing 36 points at Rosemount, the North defense still is holding opponents to about nine points a game.

At times Burnsville has shown it can play competitively against other South Suburban teams, but scoring points and staying healthy have been issues for the Blaze. Burnsville closed the regular season with a 41-12 loss to Prior Lake last week, marking the seventh time in eight games the Blaze has been held to 17 points or fewer. Will Reger has taken on a lot of responsibility as Burnsville’s quarterback as well as a full-time defensive player. Linebacker Brett Shepley is one of the Blaze’s top defensive players.

Eagan (2-6) at Lakeville South (5-3)

South defeated Eagan 20-17 on Sept. 13, scoring the winning points on a free kick from kickoff formation late in the fourth quarter. It’s been an up-and-down season for the Cougars, who beat Wayzata in Week 2 but at other times have struggled to move the ball. Lakeville South re-tooled its offense to emphasize the run, and last week Mark Ruhl gained 196 yards and scored twice in a 28-7 victory over Bloomington Jefferson. Linebackers Josh Corcoran and A.J. Westrude are among the leaders on defense. Grant Mosser has been a two-way standout as a defensive back and receiver.

Eagan goes into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak. The Wildcats lost 28-7 at Apple Valley last week as they were unable to get into the end zone until the fourth quarter. Sam Zenner, who did not play in last week’s game, has been a breakaway threat as a running back and quarterback. T.J. Sands also has had some carries. Ian Entzion has been the quarterback when the Wildcats want to throw, with Scott Danielson being one of his top targets. Linebackers Joe Kovach and Hogan Marshall have been among the Wildcats’ statistical leader on defense all season.

Park of Cottage Grove (3-5) at Eastview (4-4)

After butting heads with rock-solid defenses from Rosemount, Lakeville North and Prior Lake during the regular season, one thing Eastview might find to its liking is a Park team that allows almost 35 points a game. The Lightning drubbed winless Bloomington Kennedy 35-0 last week, scoring all five of its touchdowns on the ground. If the Lightning has its way, it will want to keep it on the ground with running backs Will Rains and Tommy Hutsell – not only because that’s what the Lightning does best, but because it would sideline a Park offense that has the ability to score.

While Park is likely not a threat to go deep in the playoffs, its three victories in 2013 are more than the previous four seasons combined. Expect the ball to be in the air a lot when Park is on offense; the Wolfpack puts it up more than 30 times a game and has five receivers with 19 catches or more. Park’s most dangerous offensive player is Elias Arlington, who has 50 receptions for 706 yards, both team highs, and another 183 on the ground. Quarterback Brandon Alt has thrown for more than 1,700 yards.

Class 5A, Section 3 (7 p.m. Tuesday)

St. Louis Park (0-8) at Apple Valley (3-5)

The winner of Tuesday night’s quarterfinal game plays Bloomington Jefferson in the semifinals at 7 p.m. Saturday at Bloomington Stadium.

After starting the season with four consecutive losses, defending section champion Apple Valley won three of its last four. The Eagles defeated Eagan 28-7 on Oct. 16 behind 205 yards and four touchdowns from senior running back Da’Shawn Lewis, who almost doubled his previous best single-game rushing total. A.J. Hill and Davis Anderson had interceptions against Eagan.

St. Louis Park lost to Apple Valley 38-14 in last year’s Section 3 semifinals. The Orioles have had a rough 2013 season, ranking 48th of 48 Class 5A teams in the Quality Results Formula, which is used by a number of sections (including Class 5A, Section 3) to seed teams. All eight of the Orioles’ losses have been by 13 points or more.