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East Ridge football: Will the Raptors fly to State tonight?

East Ridge freshman quarterback Seth Green heads the passing attack for the Raptors.

Will the Raptors fly to State tonight?

The East Ridge football team plays in its first section championship game tonight, Friday, Nov. 2.

The second-seeded Raptors travel to St. Thomas Academy for the Class 5A, Section 5 Championship where a State Tournament berth will be on the line.

Kickoff is tonight at 7 p.m. in Mendota Heights.

The two programs have very different histories.

One team, East Ridge (opened in 2009), has never been to the State Tournament. St. Thomas Academy has been to State 20 times, including in 2006, 2008, 2009 and 2010. The Cadets were the state champions in 1975, in Class A. Last year, while ranked second in the state, St. Thomas was held out of State after being upset in the section championship by ninth-ranked South St. Paul 32-31 in overtime.

This season, despite starting only four seniors, East Ridge went .500 in the rough-and-tumble Suburban East Conference, playing mainly against Class 6A teams. With its playoff win over Tartan last week, the Raptors improved to 5-4 overall on the year.

The Raptors are anchored by a punishing rushing game and a big-play passing attack.

During the regular season, Nick Leach led the way for the Raptors on the ground. The 6-0, 190-pound junior tailback led the SEC in rushing with 1,056 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2012. Last week, Leach rushed for 164 yards on 26 carries and three touchdowns to help the Raptors beat Tartan 36-22 in the section semifinal.

Freshman quarterback Seth Green heads the passing attack for the Raptors. The 6-1, 175-pounder had 1,105 yards passing, 10 touchdowns and five interceptions in the regular season.

All season, Green played with poise and effectiveness not often seen with freshmen. In his first varsity playoff game Green completed 6 of 8 passes for 138 yards and rushed for two touchdowns in the win over Tartan.

Green's main target this year has been junior receiver Xavier Cole, who averaged 24.8 yards per catch and totaled 422 yards and six touchdowns during the regular season.

East Ridge also had one of the top defenses in the SEC in 2012. In its conference games, the Raptors allowed 284.3 yards per game, which was third in the conference.

Playing in the Classic Suburban Conference, St. Thomas Academy is 8-1 on the year, with its lone blemish a 20-13 loss to Mahtomedi back on Sept. 28. The Cadets - ranked fourth in Class 5A - outscored their opponents 37.1 to 10.9 on the year. St. Thomas has a balanced pass-run offense to go along with its stifling defense. The Cadets are led by senior running back Pat McFadden and senior quarterback Keegan Zimprich. St. Thomas beat Simley 29-7 in the other semifinal last week.