Sep. 7—Mankato West football coach J.J. Helget likes to play quality opponents, getting a good test for his football team as it navigates a regular season.
But he also knows what has been working. After last week's 42-0 victory over Northfield, he said that the former schedule has allowed the Scarlets to reach the state championship game the last two seasons.
"Sometimes it's nice to be able to pull your starters early and reward some of the younger kids for working hard," Helget said. "You might win big, but did that game help your team get better?
"I think, ideally, you'd like to play two or three really tough games, and a couple games that might also be close. But we'll play whoever, whenever."
The Scarlets play their first road game Friday at Andover, a traditionally good team that features a high-powered passing attack, as part of a revamped scheduling process that attempts to match the top teams in each class more often. Then comes section games against Waconia, Chaska and Chanhassen that will determine playoff seeding.
"(The Andover game) will have very little bearing on our season," Helget said. "They're a very good football team, and so are we. I think it's one of those 'coin flip' games."
The Scarlets had a business-like win over Northfield in the opener, dominating on defense while trying to work on some aspects of the passing game.
Andover defeated St. Thomas Academy 55-29 in the opener. Andover was 7-3 last season and lost a playoff game 51-49 to Elk River, which defeated West in the state championship game.
Helget said that playing Andover will be similar to facing Rochester Mayo in the regular season, when the Scarlets overcame a good challenge to win 28-24.
"When you get tested, you see your weaknesses and what you need to work on," Helget said. "These kind of games help you get better."
Senior NaKiye Mercado had a big game in St. Peter's 52-0 win over Albert Lea last week. He scored twice on offense and twice on defense as the Saints rolled.
"It was a good first win," coach Brain Odland said. "Our first couple of drives, we made some mistakes and got a little rattled. But once we settled down, things got rolling pretty well."
Mercado, an outside linebacker and running back, scored on interceptions to stop Albert Lea's first drive of each half. He also had two short touchdown runs, finishing with 115 yards rushing in the game.
"He's been playing consistently since he was a sophomore," Odland said. "We'll be relying on him heavily this season."
Mercado is one of 23 seniors on the team, the most in Odland's time at St. Peter.
Games to watch
Mankato East plays at Apple Valley on Friday.
The Cougars opened the season with a 20-7 victory over St. Louis Park last week at Wolverton Field. Apple Valley won its opener 29-7 at Rochester John Marshall.
Follow Chad Courrier on Twitter @ChadCourrier.