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Friday night, re-lit: Woodbury teams begin 'second season' tonight

Woodbury High School's John McNiff and East Ridge High School's Marcus London return to the field tonight as their respective teams begin Section 4-6A playoffs.

Minnesota’s second football season begins tonight for Woodbury’s two public schools.

Woodbury and East Ridge high schools kick off the Section 4-6A tournament with games against familiar opponents.

Here’s what fans can look forward to in each game.

Woodbury Royals

Regular season record: 2-6 (2-6 Suburban East Conference)

Friday’s opponent: Roseville (6-2; 6-2 SEC)

Game: 7 p.m. Friday at Roseville Area High School

Woodbury offensive leaders

Quarterback Brady Mundahl (10): 72-154 for 989 yards, nine touchdowns, eight interceptions

John McNiff (12): 105 carries for 680 yards and six touchdowns

Donnell Rodgers (11): 65 carries for 454 yards and five touchdowns

Reid Peters (12): 30 receptions for 413 yards and three touchdowns

Ben Donnelly (11): 13 receptions for 252 yards

What to expect: Look for a closer match-up than Week 4, when Roseville had its way at home with Woodbury – 48-7.

The Sept. 20 game against the Raiders marked the official end of the season’s first half, which brought a slow start to Woodbury’s offense. During that four-game stretch, the Royals scored just 57 points. Since then, the Woodbury offense has come alive and scored 119 points in the season’s second half.

Section stunners: Taking down a heavily favored section opponent wouldn’t be new territory for the Royals. Woodbury proved giant killers last year when the team marched into Cretin-Derham Hall’s home turf and pulled off an upset victory in Round 1 of section play.

Ground game: When Woodbury has been at its best this year, the team has utilized a deceptive single-wing offense that keeps defenses off balance and has established a powerful running game. Senior John McNiff is the team’s leading rusher and is joined in the SEC’s leading rushers by teammate Donnell Rodgers, a fellow running back. Also in the mix are Landon Crossley and Nick Yan, who are plugged in occasionally to add another dimension of misdirection that defenses must deal with.

Tall task: If the Royals are to pull off an upset, they’ll have to find a way to contain Jacques Perra, the explosive senior quarterback for Roseville. Perra finished as the SEC’s leading passer – and it wasn’t even close. He passed for 2,130 yards (eclipsing the second-leading passer by about 400 yards) and 25 touchdowns (10 more than the second-place passer). Adding to the challenge is Perra’s accuracy; he completed about 60 percent of his passes and tossed just two interceptions. Perra’s favorite target during the regular season was Jesper Horstad, who led the SEC with 948 yards receiving and 14 touchdowns – 10 more than any other receiver in the conference.

East Ridge Raptors

Regular season record: 7-1 (7-1 Suburban East Conference)

Friday’s opponent: Forest Lake (0-8; 0-8 SEC)

Game: 7 p.m. Friday at East Ridge High School 

East Ridge offensive leaders

Quarterback Seth Green (10): 77-123, 1,124 yards, 11 touchdowns, five interceptions

Dominik London (9): 92 carries for 671 yards and six touchdowns

Nick Leach (12): 62 carries for 667 yards and 11 touchdowns (out for season with injury)

Kjetil Cline (10): 21 receptions for 400 yards and four touchdowns

Xavier Cole (12): 20 receptions for 357 yards and five touchdowns

What to expect: It probably won’t be close. Stranger things have happened, but when East Ridge traveled to Forest Lake roughly three weeks ago, the Rangers amassed just 57 yards of total offense against the Raptors’ stout defense. In fact, Forest Lake, which finished the regular season 0-8, never got past the 50-yard line against the Raptors, making only three first downs in all. East Ridge had the No. 1 defense in the Suburban East Conference, holding opponents to 208.9 yards per game and the No. 2 offense in the league, averaging 398 yards a game. Forest Lake was last in both categories, averaging 157 yards of offense and allowing 400.9 yards per game. The Raptors outscored opponents 38-12 this season. Forest Lake was outscored 40-7 on the year.

Top dogs: If not for a last-minute letdown against Cretin-Derham Hall, East Ridge would be entering the playoffs undefeated. However, at 7-1, East Ridge is the No. 1 seed in the Class 6A, Section 4 tournament. The Raptors are ranked third in the most-recent coaches poll and are sixth in the QRF rankings. Realistically, things won’t get interesting for East Ridge until the second round, when Section 4 crosses over with Section 3. Looking into the crystal ball, it’s likely the Raptors will face the winner of Section 3’s 4-5 seed matchup between Eastview and rival Park, respectively in the second round of the playoffs.

In the trenches: As it has all year, East Ridge will ride on the back of its impressive offensive and defensive lines. The Raptors have experienced, beefy front lines and regularly control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Senior center J.C. Hassenauer is the state’s top-ranked offensive lineman and the No. 1-ranked center in the country. He’s out for the Forest Lake game with a knee injury, but is week-to-week after that. Senior captain Matt Kelly is Mr. Consistent, a team leader and can play multiple positions on the offensive line. Hassenauer and Kelly also play defense in certain situations. Senior defensive tackles Marcus London and John Hunter and sophomore defensive end Jo Jo Garcia wreak havoc on opposing offenses.

Elite eight: With the new 32-team “Super Section” format, teams reach the elite eight – the state tournament – with just two wins. In the state tournament, the top five teams are seeded, with the last three selected by a random draw. First round games are played on big stages at the Metrodome and the University of Minnesota’s TCF Bank Stadium.  East Ridge, which opened in 2009, hasn’t played in a state tournament in its short history.