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Prep football playoffs: Have-nots are gone, now only the "haves" remain

JACKSON — There have been no official accusations of “bullying” levied against southwest Minnesota high school football coaches this year, such as what occurred in Texas recently when Aledo High School defeated Fort Worth Western Hills 91-0.

That might be considered almost surprising, given the number of blowouts that occur here as they do everywhere else.

Consider, for instance, some of the area scores last Tuesday in the first round of section playoff competition: In 9-man action, Edgerton/Ellsworth beat Fulda 62-8, Mountain Lake Area beat Hancock 70-8 and Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley beat Renville County West 52-13. In Class A, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton beat Red Rock Central 40-8 and St. Clair beat Murray County Central 55-0. In Class AA, Maple River beat Windom Area 49-0, Martin County West beat New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva 40-14 and Jackson County Central beat St. James 56-0. In Class AAA, Blue Earth Area beat Worthington 41-7.

There were 12 Minnesota playoff games on Tuesday between area teams. Of those, only three could be considered competitive contests.

Such is life in the Minnesota high school football ranks, where the determination to be inclusive pits the haves against the have-nots routinely in the first round. There will be fewer one-sided games in the second round today, but the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) playoff system continues to have its critics.

Tom Schuller, head coach of the Jackson County Central Huskies, believes too many teams make the playoffs under existing rules. He understands first-hand how difficult it can be for coaches, players and parents under those circumstances, but he has little sympathy for the parent who complained in Texas.

“We seem to live in a green ribbon society where everybody thinks they get a ribbon for everything. Fact of the matter is, there are always going to be people who are better than you are,” he said.

But if you assume Schuller dismisses the possibility of upsets, you’d be wrong. On Friday, he recalled the high school football season of 2001 when JCC won a state championship. On the way there, the top-seeded Huskies’ closest game of the playoff season occurred against an eighth-seeded Le Sueur-Henderson opponent. The Huskies actually trailed in that game with less than four minutes to go.

“For every one of those, there’s fifty 50 to 6 games,” he suggested.

JCC figures to have plenty on its hands today in a 3 p.m. contest in Jackson. Coming to town is fourth-seeded Martin County West, one of three teams in Section 3AA (JCC and Maple River are the other two) with 8-1 records. Schuller describes Martin County West as a very good team with an “extremely explosive offense” capable of stretching any defense with its mixture of run and pass.

The Mavericks are also based in Sherburn which, because of their proximity to Jackson on Interstate 90, makes today’s showdown something of a rivalry game. Ironically, Schuller says he can’t remember a time Jackson has played MCW in football since he’s been with the team — and that goes back to 1987. He expects a big, energized crowd.

Here are the other area semifinal matchups today (all 3 p.m. starts): In Section 3 9-Man, Edgerton/Ellsworth (third-seeded) at Mountain Lake Area (2) and Hills-Beaver Creek (5) at Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley (1); in Section 3 Class A, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton (3) at United South Central (2) and St. Clair (4) at Adrian (1); in Section 3 Class AA, Luverne (3) at Maple River (2); In Section 3 Class AAA, Sibley East (6) at Fairmont (2) and Blue Earth Area (4) at Belle Plaine (1).

Many eyes will be on the Edgerton/Ellsworth vs. Mountain Lake Area game. In a regular season matchup between the two schools at a time when the teams were undefeated and tied for the No. 3 spot in the state Associated Press 9-Man poll, MLA earned a 48-18 victory on E/E’s home turf. Unbeaten Mountain Lake Area has enjoyed a Texas-sized season thus far, rolling to one-sided victories virtually every time out.

St. Clair’s game with Adrian is interesting for many reasons, not the least of which is Adrian’s late-season story. The Dragons won their first six games, then lost their next two — to outstanding rivals from Dawson-Boyd (34-20) and Minneota/Lincoln HI (35-0). While St. Clair shut out Murray County Central on Tuesday, the Dragons had a first-round bye. What they’ve learned in defeat, with an extra week to digest it, could be revealed this afternoon.

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 seven grandchildren. Doug, retired after a lengthy career in fast-pitch softball, enjoys reading, strumming his acoustic guitar and hanging around his grandchildren. He also writes books on fiction. Two of his stories, "The Genuine One" and "The Old Man in Section 129" have been distributed through a national publisher.

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