The Tigers football team is back in the state tournament, and a lot has happened since their last section title in 2014. For one thing, the Metrodome is gone and U.S. Bank Stadium is now home to semifinal and championship games.
Before Hutchinson players can begin making plans for the Bank, however, a tall task lies ahead in the state quarterfinal. Hutchinson plays the 10-0 Fridley Tigers at 6 p.m. Friday at Hopkins High School, and coach Andy Rostberg is expecting a battle. Fridley was ranked No. 4 in the final coaches poll of the year, and it was No. 2 in the minnesota-scores.net QRF rating, right behind Hutchinson.
“I would say we’re going to see a high-powered offense. … They’ve been averaging well into the 40s (points) in the regular season,” Rostberg. “They put a lot of athletes on the field.”
Leading the way for Fridley is its senior quarterback, Kaleb Blaha. Through the regular season and section tournament, Blaha has completed 66.9 percent of his passes for 1,401 yards and 20 touchdowns, while giving up just five interceptions. On the ground he’s also rushed for 785 yards and 19 touchdowns on 91 carries.
“Watching on film, he can single-handedly dismantle defenses with his scrambling and his throwing,” Rostberg said.
Blaha has several targets he throws to, but when he’s handing the ball off it’s more often than not to Michael Ude, the team’s top running back. Ude has racked up 745 yards and seven touchdowns on 128 carries.
Along with its offense, Fridley’s defense has been just as dangerous as it’s outscored opponents 424-67.
“Again, they put a lot of athletes on the field and they can really run,” Rostberg said. “They don’t have many positions, even in their defensive line, where the kids can’t run and come after you.”
Don’t expect to see much different from the Hutchinson Tigers. They threw eight passes during the section tournament compared to 88 runs, and they’d like to keep it that way at state. As Rostberg said earlier this season, if the Tigers can throw when they want to throw, they’re doing well. It’s when they’re forced to throw that things aren’t going well.
While state is usually when teams face their toughest competition of the season, the truth is that Hutchinson has been playing top-tier teams all year. The proof can be seen in the Class 4A state bracket where two of Hutchinson’s North Central White District rivals — Rocori and Delano — are playing in another state quarterfinal. Becker also nearly qualified for state but lost to Delano in the section final. That means four teams from Hutchinson’s district were playing for section titles last week, and three of them won.
Rostberg and the Hutch Tigers are hoping that tough competition throughout the year has prepared them for a deep run to U.S. Bank Stadium.
“We’re hoping that helps us, our strength of schedule and playing three 5A schools along with some of the best 4A schools in the state,” Rostberg said. “We’re hoping that has seasoned us and helped us prepare for this style of game.
“We’ve been in a lot of tough situations during the year, and hopefully that’s helped us.”