Posted By: Jason Iacovino

The 2014 high school football season is about to begin locally with two games tomorrow and three more on Friday.  It's a transitional year in many ways as the state champion Owatonna Huskies undergo a roster shuffle, the Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms enter a season of destiny, the New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva Panthers face high expectations, the Triton Cobras unveil a new artificial turf field, and the Medford Tigers could be a Section favorite.

Plus, this will be the final season of football conferences as we know them.

The Owatonna Huskies and Triton Cobras will get things started Thursday night.  OHS will travel to Winona in a game that will be on Kat Kountry 105 FM.  The Huskies have consistently handled the Winhawks in recent years and this should be a good way for coach Jeff Williams to see what he has after nearly 30 seniors graduated off last year's championship squad.  Williams was more than candid with our Roy Koenig last week when he said he didn't know what to expect in terms of wins and losses in 2014 and he was just hoping the right guys would be in the right spots when the Friday night lights turned on.

Owatonna has two winnable games to start the year (Winona and Rochester Century), and then the fun begins.  The remaining six games on Owatonna's schedule figure to be challenging, even with the sad news that Faribault starting quarterback Danny Ehlers is out with an injury.  Austin and Rochester John Marshall figure to be much improved and the Huskies already know how good Mankato West is.  OHS wraps up the regular season with a tough game against Northfield, who rejoins the Big Nine along with Red Wing after a 32-year absence.

Owatonna's playoff section is small, familiar, and I would consider the Huskies to be the favorites again this year, although as I said, Austin, John Marshall, and even Rochester Mayo figure to be much improved.  You could argue this is Williams' most challenging year at Owatonna as it can be awfully tough to field a competitive team when so many pieces of a dream season are gone.  My hunch is Owatonna will very much be a factor in the conference and section again in 2014.

The Triton Cobras have a David v. Goliath type game in the first artificial turf game at the Snake Pit on Thursday.  It's interesting, I always felt like Dodge Center was the last place that needed artificial turf, given how nice the field generally is and the fact that they don't play soccer or lacrosse there.  Give Triton credit though--before long all area schools will have turf fields, so they are ahead of the times.  Plus, their opponent on Thursday, neighboring Kasson-Mantorville, has been playing on turf for a year now.

The KoMets are now a Class 4A team (Triton is still 2A) and the reality is this will be an uphill climb for longtime coach Don Henderson's squad.  But Hendy has never been afraid of a challenge, and after a season-opening loss to LaCrescent last year, the Cobras reeled off 8 straight wins before losing to the eventual state champion Chatfield Gophers in the section playoffs.  Triton returns senior quarterback Zack Otto and has several talented running backs, including senior Colton Erdmann and junior Max Henderson, which should give them a leg up in the Southern Football Alliance's White Division.

The section will again be a brutal assignment for coach Henderson, who likely misses all those years of battling Waterville-Elysian-Morristown in Sec. 2AA.  Now in Section 1, the Cobras get to look forward to Chatfield and Caledonia, who have won 6 of the last 7 Class AA State Championships since the Cobras last won the title in 2006.

The Blooming Prairie Awesome Blossoms have some unfinished business to take care of here in 2014 and the long road to TCF Bank Stadium begins this Friday at McFarlin Field when they host a resurgent Mankato Loyola squad.  The Crusaders snapped a 19-game losing streak in convincing fashion in zero week with a 23-14 win over Faribault Bethlehem Academy, a team that ended BP's season in the Sec. 1A final each of the last two years.

BP is lead by a garden full of seniors, including quarterback Jon Rumpza, linemen Scott Romeo, Zack Nirk, and Collin Wobschall, running back Jake Decker, and wide receivers Cole Sunde, Tristan Haberman, and Sam Swenson.

BP is definitely the favorite to win the Gopher Valley A and Section 1A, but their schedule is tough again this year.  After Loyola, the Blossoms head to Waterville on Sep. 5 to take on a traditional State power in their quirky backyard field.  Then BP hosts Lester Prairie-Holy Trinity in Week 3, who reached the State Tournament out of Section 4 last year.

BP's final game of the regular season will be a "Game 7" of sorts against their familiar foes to the West, New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva.  Since the two non-conference foes renewed an annual battle in 2008, the teams have split 3-3, with the Panthers winning the first three meetings and BP winning the last three.  This game is a long way down the road, but it will certainly be special for both schools as district scheduling will likely keep them away from one another in the foreseeable future starting in 2015.

Speaking of the Panthers, they had a surprisingly good season in 2014, which included a 4-1 Gopher Valley AA record with wins over Medford and Waterville and a narrow 10-7 overtime loss at Maple River that cost them the conference title.  The Panthers leaned on senior running back Dillon Parpart, who has since graduated, but they return starting quarterback Trevor Tracy, running back Nick Bartness, and tight end Spencer Tollefson.

Coach Dan Stork's team will have high expectations this year and they will be tested early as they travel to a bigger school on Friday night to open against Sibley East in Arlington, a game Brennen Toquam and I will have on Kat Kountry 105.  NRHEG's home schedule is absolutley loaded this year, with rivalry games against Waterville-Elysian-Morristown, Maple River, Medford, and Blooming Prairie.  The football field will definitely be the place to be in Pantherland on Friday nights this fall.

Section 3AA presents some problems for the Panthers with the likes of Jackson Co. Central, Luverne, Maple River, and even Martin County West, who ended the Panthers' season at 5-4 in the first round last fall.  The reality is, other than perhaps the Blooming Prairie game, coach Stork's team will not face the level of competition their section presents during the regular season.  The flip side is they have an excellent chance to beat the likes of Waterville, Medford, and hopefully Maple River this year.

Finally, the Medford Tigers are once again in the most wide-open Class AA section in our area, that being Section 2, which last year was narrowly won by top seed Pine Island over No. 6 Norwood-Young America, 29-28.

Coach Jerome Johannes has experience returning at quarterback with senior AJ Chappius and senior running back Luke Peterson and senior tight end Nick Von Ruden will provide leadership, but for the most part, the Tigers are young.

Medford opens the season at home against Mound-West Tonka on Friday night and we'll have reports from that game, along with the BP v. Loyola contest, during our broadcast of NRHEG football at Sibley East on Kat Kountry 105.

Don't forget you can also hear all our games streamed online at www.katkountry105.com and you can listen for free on your smart phone by downloading the RadioPup app.  It should be a fun season and I look forward to lots of big wins from our area high school football teams.

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Leave a comment below and follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.