Jason’s Blog: Blooming Prairie Football Exits Section 1A
*Note: This is the first in a three-part series analyzing area football changes for next fall. Part 2 will focus on New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Medford. Part 3 will focus on Owatonna and Triton.
In the midst of our long, busy winter sports season that has now come to end for all area teams except the Owatonna Adaptive Floor Hockey squad, which is competing at state this week, we have sort of forgotten about how different high school football will be next fall.
It took a few years for "district scheduling" to become a reality for Minnesota high school football, but it's here now. I have been a fairly outspoken critic of the reform for quite a while, citing my love for conference championships, scheduling autonomy and keeping rivalries alive.
While I still regard district scheduling as a classic example of fixing something that isn't broken for most teams, it is here to stay (for now) and doesn't signal the end of the world. And now that the Minnesota State High School League has released its competitive section assignments for all sports for the next two school years, we can examine how the new districts relate to new playoff section alignments.
The most dramatic changes for next season will affect Blooming Prairie, which is coming off 10 straight Gopher Conference championships and a state tournament appearance last fall.
BP will no longer be in Section 1A for the first time since 2002, when the Awesome Blossoms were in Section 2AA and hosted two playoff games, losing the second to Triton.
BP's tenure in Section 1A featured two eras: 1) The 2003-08 era, in which talented quarterbacks Kraig Olson, Spencer Ohm and Austin Moe could not get over the southeastern Minnesota power wall set up by the likes of Rushford-Peterson and Goodhue; and 2) The 2009-14 era in which BP, led by quarterbacks Luc Zellmer and John Rumpza, went to state three different seasons -- beating Goodhue, Southland and Rushford-Peterson in 2009, 2011 and 2014, respectively.
It was a fun rollercoaster ride for the Blossoms in Section 1A. I'm not going to debate which of these teams from 2003-14 were the best (many of the quarterbacks mentioned above are good friends of mine, and let's face it, after you graduate from high school you always think your class was the best). I will say that it was a combination of a talent drop-off by Goodhue and Rushford-Peterson and a ramped up BP defense that is most responsible for the Blossoms getting over the hump in recent seasons.
There simply was no end to the amount of talent BP had on the offensive side of the ball during the Section 1A era, and it's unfortunate that many of these guys never had the chance to play at state because we know Rushford-Peterson or Goodhue hoisted the Class A trophy three times from 2004-07 (Goodhue won it all in 2003 as well, but they were in Section 4A that year -- the Wildcats beat Medford, who was the Section 1A champion, that season in the Prep Bowl).
The most gratifying season in Section 1A for BP probably was last year. The Awesome Blossoms, voted the No. 2 seed by the coaches despite finishing the regular season a perfect 8-0, trounced top-seed Rushford-Peterson 36-21 to advance to state for the third time in six seasons.
Starting next fall, BP moves to Section 2A, which has been traditionally dominated by New Ulm Cathedral. The Greyhounds have won Section 2A six times since 2003, cashing one in for a state title in 2010, and they also lost three straight section title games to Sleepy Eye-St. Mary's from 2011-13.
Sleepy Eye-St. Mary's moves to Section 3A next fall, so the conventional wisdom is the front-runners in the new seven-team section would be BP and New Ulm Cathedral. Interestingly, the Blossoms have beat the Greyhounds twice since 2009, most recently in a Week 8 game at New Ulm in 2012, when BP blew out New Ulm Cathedral 49-26.
Of course it's tough to gauge how good the two teams will be next year given they both are coming off state appearances where they lost a bunch of players to graduation, particularly Rumpza, who was a Mr. Football finalist and a Division II recruit. But I'm a big believer that coaches can rebuild in a hurry in high school, and BP and New Ulm Cathedral have two of the best.
Many of the other teams in Section 2A are also in BP's subdistrict, including St. Clair, Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton, United South Central and Bethlehem Academy. These teams will appear on BP's schedule as they did last year, and in the case of B.A., it's a great rivalry that has been continuous for many decades.
The non-section opponents for BP in 2015 are Mankato Loyola, who moves up to Class AA for the playoffs, Kenyon-Wanamingo, Medford and Rushford-Peterson. The battle with the Trojans will certainly be interesting even as they are no longer in BP's playoff section.
All-in-all, BP will have plenty of games against area teams, even with New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva being left off the schedule, and the regular season should more than prepare BP for the Section 2A playoffs.
I will miss BP battling it out with the traditional southeastern Minnesota powers in Section 1A, and I will really miss having the section title game at a neutral site (ss of last year, Section 2A gave the home field advantage to the high seed for all of its games), but this is a change I can live with. Coach Chad Gimbel told me in an email that he thinks Section 2A will settle on using the QRF for seeding, which I believe is a fairer method than a coaches vote.
Gimbel said BP's switch to Section 2A is based on the Minnesota State High School League starting from the southwest corner of the state and working east when dividing the teams, whereas in years previous they started from the southeast. Obviously, BP has been on the border between Sections 1 and 2 forever and has switched back and forth in multiple sports (BP will remain in Section 1 in basketball next year).
It will be fun to see if the Blossoms can win a section title out west next year after having won three in six seasons in the southeast corner.
Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays at 3:50 p.m. on KRFO-AM 1390 and the free RadioPup app. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.