OK, we’ll pick a champion: With no Prep Bowl, Star Tribune writers name a mythical Class 6A football winner

When the last whistle blew Friday following the final night of high school football for 2020, three undefeated teams remained standing in Class 6A: Lakeville South (8-0), Eden Prairie (7-0) and Rosemount (6-0).

The Minnesota State High School League instituted a state tournament playoff system in 1972. Winners moved on, losers’ seasons were over, ensuring that only one team, the eventual champion, could possibly finish a season undefeated.

Before that, news organizations, led by reporter Ted Peterson of what was then the Minneapolis Tribune, would name a mythical state champion based on record, ranking and conference championship. Staff writers David La Vaque and Jim Paulsen decided to revive that tradition, dormant since Moorhead’s selection in 1971, by weighing the cases for the Cougars, Eagles and Irish to name a Class 6A mythical champ.

Of course, they disagree. Let’s review résumés to start:

Lakeville South has been No. 1 all season, in both the Metro Top 10 and the Associated Press state poll. The Cougars ran the table despite missing their most heralded player, two-way lineman Riley Mahlman, for at least three games.

No contest, right? Not so fast.

Lakeville South’s opponents had a combined record of 21-33, a .389 winning percentage. Rosemount’s opponents were worse, compiling a 13-26 record over six games, a .333 winning percentage. Eden Prairie’s opponents were 26-27, a .491 winning percentage.

Player injury has always made football a battle of attrition, but COVID-19 concerns took an increased toll on rosters this fall. Who was missing for which game? Who was at full strength? The whole picture remains unknown.

Still, advantage Eden Prairie.

Lakeville South’s Power-T running game was practically unstoppable, rolling up more than 350 yards per game and averaging a Class 6A-leading 44.9 points. One could say the Cougars lacked a completeness, averaging less than 30 yards passing, but that would be splitting hairs. Why pass when it’s not needed? Eden Prairie, much more balanced, averaged 34.9 points per game, good for third in 6A, and Rosemount 32.0, fifth in 6A.

Advantage, Lakeville South.

What about defense? Both Rosemount and Eden Prairie allowed less than a touchdown per game, 3.3 points per game for Rosemount, 6.9 for Eden Prairie, and they were the top defenses in 6A. Lakeville South gave up a bit more, 15.8 points per game. Eden Prairie racked up two shutouts, but Rosemount’s defense was of the brick-wall variety. The Irish allowed only 105 yards per game and blanked four of their six opponents, not allowing a point over their final three games — and zero in the first half all season. Of course, it didn’t hurt having Jake Ratzlaff, perhaps the state’s finest player, anchoring the defense.

Advantage, Rosemount.

It all comes down to intangibles.

Lakeville South dealt with high expectations and came through with the most victories. But in the Cougars’ biggest test of the season, last Friday against fourth-ranked St. Michael-Albertville, they needed a late touchdown in the final minute to avoid an upset.

Expectations are high at Eden Prairie every year, and the Eagles mastered the toughest schedule of this power trio. They regrouped from an uncharacteristic three-loss season in 2019 and resumed their place among the elite.

Rosemount missed two games to start the season because of pandemic issues, then played three games in eight days. Its regular-season finale also was also wiped out by COVID-19. And if that’s not enough, the Irish played Friday without head coach Jeff Erdmann, who was quarantined. Still, they finished with their strongest effort of the season, routing a solid East Ridge team 42-0 on the road.

Jim says: The saying goes, “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.” And no team finished stronger and overcame more than Rosemount. So, the Irish get my vote for Class 6A champion.

David says: Having covered three Lakeville South games, I can attest to the steadiness of the offense as well as the defensive improvement. The Cougars did nothing to lose their No. 1 ranking. So, that’s how they should finish.

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