Nov. 14—MINNEAPOLIS — Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
is stepping onto unfamiliar ground come Saturday.
The Jaguars football team is at state for the second time and is playing at U.S. Bank Stadium for the first time since merging school districts in 1995. It is on the verge of playing in the Prep Bowl for the first time since Belgrade made it to the Metrodome in the 1982 Class C championship.
"Don't let the game get bigger than you," BBE head coach Chris Moscho said. "They know what success is and now we just got to go and do it."
Standing in the way is a team that's plenty familiar with success at U.S. Bank Stadium: the Minneota Vikings.
Since the state tournament began play at U.S. Bank Stadium, Minneota has made the Class A championship game three times, winning it all in 2017 and '22. It's Minneota's 17th trip to state.
The Jaguars and Vikings kick off at 11:30 a.m. Saturday.
"I think it does give us a little bit of an advantage," said Vikings head coach Chad Johnston. "Obviously, (BBE) should have the drive to want to be able to knock off Minneota and be the first-ever state champions for your program. For this group (at Minneota), this would be their third year in the Bank.
"Hopefully the experience is to our advantage and they don't get caught up playing in the Bank. They stay focused on what we're trying to do and win a football game."
While the bright lights of U.S. Bank Stadium are unfamiliar, the state stage is nothing new for this crop of BBE boys athletes. Along with the football team in 2021, the Jaguar boys have made state in basketball (2022), wrestling ('21, '22, '23), baseball ('23) and golf ('23) since then.
"A lot of guys on this team have had success in other sports or have been to state tournaments," Moscho said. "We've been fortunate."
Minneota (12-0) brings Class A's stingiest defense to U.S. Bank Stadium. The Vikings are giving up just 7.8 points per game and are one of two teams in Class A that give up less than 10 points/game. The other team is Mahnomen/Waubun, which is playing in the other Class A semifinal game Saturday against Springfield.
In the quarterfinals, Minneota held Braham to 42 yards of offense in a 55-0 win. Now, the Vikings are tasked with slowing down a BBE offense that's third in Class A at 40.5 points/game. The Vikings will be without one of its leading tacklers in linebacker/offensive lineman Eli Gruenes. He's out for the rest of the season with an injury, according to Johnston.
"We had about 60 percent of last year's defense back and that's something to build off of," Johnston said. "We haven't given much up in the run game. Where we've been exposed a little bit is in the passing game, and some of that is good quarterbacks and good receivers being in the right spot and making good catches. That's going to happen in the game of football."
BBE quarterback Luke Dingmann's status is uncertain for Saturday following an injury in the
Jaguars' 28-6 quarterfinal win against Mayer Lutheran
. Junior Luke Illies moved from receiver to QB in the second half against Mayer Lutheran and the Jaguars (11-0) have faith he can orchestrate the offense.
"He's a phenomenal athlete and we have all the confidence in Luke Illies," Moscho said. "It's a little change of pace for us and you take out a receiver and put him at quarterback."
Regarding Minneota's defense on film, Moscho sees a unit that doesn't have a soft spot.
"They're pretty solid all the way around," Moscho said. "We just gotta take what we can get and hopefully sustain a few drives. Turnovers are going to be big for us and I think special teams are going to be big for us."
Along with a stifling defense, Minneota features Class A's highest scoring offense at 50.2 points/game. Running back Ryan Meagher is the main cog with 1,839 rushing yards and 31 touchdowns on 185 carries. Destin Fier has added 727 yards and 11 rushing touchdowns on 55 carries.
"They got some big boys up front that'll lead the way and (Meagher's) a solid back," Moscho said. "We're not going to shoe-string tackle him. When you have a chance to tackle him, it's all hands on deck. We got to flow fast and make sure we tackle because he looks like he can rip one at any time. ... They're a ground-and-pound type of team but they run a lot of sets and have a lot of moving parts."
What Minneota lacks for size up front, Johnston said the offensive line makes up for with discipline and sticking to the basics.
"We're not huge up front but we're quicker than most teams and we're trying to use that to our advantage and we've been able to do it," Johnston said. "We've definitely played teams this year that are bigger than us. ... Despite being undersized, our group up front has done a pretty good job of controlling the line of scrimmage throughout the season."
* Springfield (11-1) vs. Mahnomen/Waubun (11-0), 9 a.m.
* Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (11-0) vs. Minneota (12-0), 11:30 a.m.
9-Player: Kingsland vs. Fertile-Beltrami, 10:30 a.m.
9-Player: Nevis vs. Ottertail Central, 1 p.m.
AAAA: Byron vs. Rocori, 4 p.m.
6A: Centennial vs. Lakeville South
AA: Jackson County Central vs. Barnesville, 9 a.m.
AA: Cannon Falls vs. Eden Valley-Watkins, 11:30 a.m.
AAAAA: St. Thomas Academy vs. Alexandria, 2 p.m.
AAAA: Hutchinson vs. North Branch, 4:30 p.m.
6A: Eden Prairie vs. Edina, 7:30 p.m.
A: Springfield vs. Mahnomen/Waubun, 9 a.m.
A: Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa vs. Minneota, 11:30 a.m.
AAA: Stewartville vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, 2 p.m.
AAA: Dassel-Cokato vs. Annandale, 4:30 p.m.
AAAAA: Chanhassen vs. Andover, 7 p.m.