Star Tribune state semifinal staff picks: Nine-Man, Class 2A, Class 4A, Class 6A

Star Tribune preps writers David LaVaque (30-22) and Jim Paulsen (37-15) break down four of the state’s seven classes worth of state football tournament semifinals today. They’ll pick the remaining three classes in Friday’s paper. Three days of action takes place at U.S. Bank Stadium.

9-MAN

LeRoy-Ostrander Cardinals (10-2) vs. Kittson. Co. Central Bearcats (10-2), Thursday, 11:30 a.m.

Jim says: I’m a big believer in Section 1 football, particularly in the smaller classes. Teams from that section have won 6 of the last 7 Nine-man championships. The pick: Leroy-Ostrander 38, Kittson Central 22

David says: The Cardinals do major damage on the ground with quarterback Chase Johnson and running back Tanner Olson. They combined for 467 yards rushing last week. The pick: Leroy-Ostrander 35, Kittson Central 20

Fertile-Beltrami Falcons (12-0) vs. Hills-Beaver Creek Patriots (10-2), Friday, 9 a.m.

Jim says: A game sportswriters with deadlines love: Two teams that stay well-grounded and don’t pass much. Keeps games moving. Hills-Beaver Creek hasn’t given up double-digits in points in its last six games. The pick: Hills-Beaver Creek 30, Fertile-Beltrami 18

David says: Don’t forget Fertile-Beltrami’s four shutouts this season. The Falcons can play some darn good defense, too. Senior linebacker Tyler Stuhaug and his boys will come to battle. The pick: Fertile-Beltrami 31, Hills-Beaver Creek 20

CLASS 2A

Barnesville Trojans (9-2) vs. Chatfield Gophers (11-1), Thursday, 2 p.m.

Jim says: Chatfield QB Sam Backer ran through the Minneapolis North defense for 237 yards and six TDs in a 50-20 romp over the Polars. Chatfield has won 11 straight. Barnesville is a tourney veteran, but the Gophers make it 12 in a row. The pick: Chatfield 32, Barnesville 26

David says: Senior running back Cameron Heng, (1,181 yards, 14 touchdowns) is one of those Barnesville veterans who won’t crumble on the big stage. That experience means something. Maybe even an upset of Chatfield. The pick: Barnesville 22 Chatfield 21 

West Central Area/Ashby Knights (10-1) vs. Maple River Eagles (11-1), Friday, 11:30 a.m.

Jim says: Maple River is an old-school, run-and-play defense outfit, well-suited for postseason play. WCA/Ashby has figured out how to win tight games with 5 victories of 10 points or less. The pick: Maple River 26, West Central Area/Ashby 8

David says: Last week, Eagles’ running back Timothy Buckholtz churned out 215 yards and three touchdowns. And the defense won the turnover battle by forcing five. That’s a winning formula. The pick: Maple River 28, West Central Area/Ashby 14

CLASS 4A

Becker Bulldogs (11-0) vs. Kasson-Mantorville KoMets (8-3), Thursday, 4:30 p.m.

Jim says: Becker is ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and deservedly so. They’ve weathered a tough schedule, beat Hutchinson and shut down Holy Angels’ superstar RB Emmett Johnson. The pick: Becker 27, Kasson-Mantorville 16

David says: The KoMets best assets are their confidence and balanced offensive attack. They’ll need plenty of both, because Becker has found an answer for every opponent this season. The pick: Becker 42, Kasson-Mantorville 14

Orono Spartans (6-6) vs. Hutchinson Tigers (10-1), Friday, 4:30 p.m.

Jim says: Kudos to Orono for winning five in a row to get this far, three of those victories by a single point. The magic stops here, however. Hutchinson is simply the better team. The pick: Hutchinson 34, Orono 7

David says: Hutchinson’s lone loss this season came against Becker. Think anything is going to stop the Tigers’ redemption opportunity? Not likely. Hutchinson runs its way to the Prep Bowl. Hutchinson 28, Orono 10

CLASS 6A

Eden Prairie Eagles (10-1) vs. Maple Grove Crimson (10-1), Thursday, 7 p.m.

Jim says: This is not your classic Eden Prairie juggernaut, but the Eagles can play some defense. Maple Grove can win, but will need to stay patient, pick its spots and avoid mistakes. The pick: Maple Grove 20, Eden Prairie 17 

David says: No one roots for Goliath. Respect is another matter. And Eden Prairie has earned favored status. Coach Mike Grant’s teams are 8-0 against Matt Lombardi’s Crimson, with three of those victories coming in the playoffs. The pick: Eden Prairie 24, Maple Grove 21

St. Michael-Albertville Knights (7-4) vs. Lakeville South Cougars (11-0), Friday, 7 p.m.

Jim says: No team in Class 6A has been more consistent than top-ranked Lakeville South. The Cougars are averaging more than 50 points per game in the postseason. That dominance continues. The pick: Lakeville South 44, St. Michael-Albertville 20

David says: Beating a spirited Shakopee team last week proved Lakeville South’s postseason mettle. And two explosive touchdown runs reaffirmed senior QB Camden Dean as a playmaker, not just a game manager. The pick: Lakeville South 35, St. Michael-Albertville 14

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