By Matthew Davis
Storied football programs Totino-Grace and Cretin-Derham Hall meeting for the first time Thursday kicked off a slate of quality matchups in the area this season.
Totino-Grace, the defending Class 6A champions, will have its share of challenges this fall. All but two teams had winning records last year.
The Eagles hit the road again next Friday for a clash with Centennial. The Cougars gave the Eagles one of their closer regular season game last year, a 21-0 win.
Mounds View comes to Totino-Grace the following week Sept. 15. Players on both sides haven’t forgotten the tight 2014 playoff win by the Eagles, 21-19.
Irondale, which opened with Spring Lake Park Thursday, has a slew of winnable contests ahead. The Knights face North St. Paul Sept. 8 followed by Forest Lake, Coon Rapids, Park Center, Henry Sibley and St. Louis Park in the coming six weeks. Those opponents combined for nine wins in 2016.
Similar to Irondale, Columbia Heights opens with a tough opponent in Breck Friday at 7 p.m. The Hylanders could get a challenge in St. Paul Como Park too on Sept. 16. Last year, the score remained 8-6 through three quarters before the Hylanders pulled away to win 22-6.
Fridely, which opens 7:30 p.m. Friday at Minneapolis Southwest, gets a big test next Friday with St. Paul Highland Park visiting. The Tigers and Scots have met for the last two Class 4A Section 4 championships.
It doesn’t get easy anytime soon for Fridley with SMB Sept. 15. The co-op of St. Paul Academy, Minnehaha Academy and Blake hasn’t lost a regular season contest in its two-year existence.
Fridley then takes on St. Croix Lutheran, a Class 3A state tournament team last year, in a Sept. 22 matchup. The Tigers also have a Sept. 29 rematch with St. Paul Central, a team the Tigers edged 19-13 last year.
Totino-Grace closes the month with a visit to 2015 Class 5A champion St. Michael-Albertville Sept. 29. The Knights moved up to Class 6A this year, so these two could meet again in November. The two football powers last met in 2005 for the Class 4A playoffs, a 27-7 win by the Eagles.
Columbia Heights will also see a recent state champion. The Hylanders face defending Class A champion Minneapolis North Sept. 30.
Totino-Grace’s last two games of the regular season bring good pre-playoff tests with 2016 Class 6A state semifinalists Blaine and Champlin Park. The Eagles will meet the Bengals Oct. 13 for the first time since their state semifinal thriller last year, a 21-20 victory.
The Rebels visit for the season finale Oct. 18. While the Eagles won their last meeting 42-21, the Rebels return a lot of key players from a team that reeled of three-straight postseason wins in 2016.
Irondale will get a big measuring stick in its finale at Robbinsdale Cooper Oct. 18. The Hawks have been considered contenders in Class 5A, but the Northstar Football News picked the Knights as a sleeper.
Columbia Heights will meet long-lost conference foe St. Anthony Village Oct. 13. They last met in 2005 as part of the Metro Alliance conference. Both schools moved to the Tri-Metro Conference in the following years but never met on the gridiron.
Fridley, which won’t meet Columbia Heights in the regular season, will see a new co-op in Academy Force Oct. 13. The co-op draws from the academies New Life, Mounds Park, St. Croix Preparatory, Bethany, Twin Cities and Liberty Classical.
Fridley closes the regular season with Providence Academy Oct. 18. The Lions have won six or more games each of the past three seasons.
Editor’s note: Thursday’s games took place after press deadlines. Check focus.mnsun.com for results.