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Doug Wolter: You can’t know what happens until it happens

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The top-ranked Minnesota Class AA football team in the final Associated Press poll did not make the state playoffs. This could mean that the team that’s going in its place is exceptionally powerful, or it could mean that the team in the No. 1 spot was overrated.

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You just never know until the playoffs play out. That’s the beauty of high school football.

It conjures up a memory. Back in 1981, the Heron Lake-Okabena girls basketball team (coached by the Daily Globe’s own Les Knutson) completed an undefeated season by winning a state championship — and never cracked the state girls basketball poll.

Mistakes happen.

Now back to football:

The Caledonia Warriors (top-ranked at the time) finished 13-0 by winning the 2012 state Class AA football crown with a 25-22 victory over Moose Lake/Willow River. It was Caledonia’s third consecutive state title. So who could argue that the 2013 Warriors would be ranked No. 1 in their class when they carried a 10-0 record into their Nov. 1 Section 1 championship game against Chatfield?

Lo and behold, Caledonia’s coronation turned out to be premature. Chatfield won the game, 13-10, in overtime.

So here’s what we’ve got for the 2013 state tournament:

Southwest Minnesota’s entry into the Class AA free-for-all, Jackson County Central, is 10-1 and ranked No. 7 in the final Class AA poll. The Huskies open the tournament at 7 p.m. Friday at Rochester Community and Technical College against …. (drum roll) …. Chatfield.

For what it’s worth, Chatfield holds down the No. 9 spot in the final poll. Moose Lake/Willow River (No. 2) opens with Minneota/Lincoln HI (No. 4) on Friday while Pine Island (unranked) plays Maple Lake (also unranked). In the other quarterfinal game, Holdingford (No. 5) goes against Hawley (No. 8).

Minneota/Lincoln HI was the No. 2 seed in Section 5 when it defeated top-seeded Paynesville Area (No. 6 in the final AP poll) 23-8 to qualify for state. Chatfield was seeded third in its section, though it handled itself impressively with victories over St. Charles 61-20, Triton 35-3 and, of course, top-ranked Caledonia.

Wait, there’s more

Two other teams from the area are alive and kicking in the high school football playoffs. One of them, Mountain Lake Area, has already slain a giant.

The Wolverines defeated top-seeded, undefeated and the state’s top-ranked 9-Man team, Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley, 30-24 in overtime on Friday to win the Section 3 title. Next on the Wolverines’ list is Grand Meadow (Saturday at noon at Southwest State University in Marshall).

The Grand Meadow Superlarks (for what it’s worth) did not make the final AP 9-Man poll. MLA is ranked No. 4.

Give Grand Meadow some credit for its unique nickname. The Larks should also be commended for their season. They are 10-1 with only a 47-36 loss to Lanesboro on Oct. 5 marring their quest for perfection. They covered that Lanesboro loss in the section playoffs, however, with a 35-6 triumph over the same team. Then they beat Spring Grove (ranked No. 9 in the final AP poll) 31-14.

Panthers peaking

In Class A, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton qualifies as an underdog. So does T-M-B’s first-round state tournament opponent, Bethlehem Academy.

While the Panthers, third-seeded for the Section 3 tournament, defeated No. 2 United South Central 20-14 in the semifinals and top-ranked Adrian 35-14 in the final, the Behlehem Academy Cardinals — third-seeded in Section 1 — knocked off the state’s No. 2-ranked team, Blooming Prairie, 28-20 in the section finals.

Both teams enter the state tournament with 8-3 records.

There are more similarities to reckon with. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton lost to Adrian during the regular season (in Week Two), 27-13, only to turn the tables in the section tourney. Bethlehem Academy lost to Blooming Prairie in the final game of the regular season, 24-7, only to turn the tables when it really counted.

Another interesting fact: Both the Panthers and the Cardinals played United South Central this year. T-M-B beat USC in the Section 3A semifinals 20-14 while the Cardinals lost to USC 24-21 in overtime in an Oct. 4 regular season game.

Tracy-Milroy-Balaton and Bethlehem Academy contend at 1 p.m. Saturday at Rochester Community and Technical College.

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Doug Wolter
Doug Wolter is the Daily Globe sports editor. He served as sports reporter, then sports editor, news editor and finally managing editor at the Daily Globe for 22 years before leaving for seven years to work as night news editor at the Mankato Free Press in Mankato. Doug now lives in Worthington with his wife, Sandy. They have three children and six grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He self-publishes short stories in his spare time. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" are being distributed through a national publisher.
(507) 376-7328
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