Football Preview: Magic host Knights with M8 championship on the line

Four years ago, when the ‘new era’ began under Coach Jason Telecky, the Magic set out to turn into a program that competed for conference and section championships.

This year, they’ve became that program.

And tonight they get their first opportunity to become a champion.

Monticello hosts St. Michael-Albertville at the Monticello Middle School field at 7 p.m. with the Mississippi 8 championship and Section 6AAAAA top seed on the line. Monticello, who enters the game with a 6-1 record, will earn a share of the conference championship (along with the winner of the Rogers vs. Cambridge battle) with a victory tonight. STMA (5-2) is out of the conference championship race, but a win will earn them the top seed and a bye in the section they share with Monticello. If the Magic win, they will have a strong shot at earning the top seed in the section. They are currently 3.5 points behind STMA in the QRF rankings, which are used to seed teams in Section 6AAAAA. Rogers is 4.3  points behind the Magic, despite their victory over them. If Monticello wins, they will likely stay in front of Rogers and surpass STMA. But, as Monticello learned after last season’s seeding debacle, it’s hard to guarantee anything with the QRF points system.

Section aside, the Magic are playing for their first conference championship since 1987. Tonight, they’ll try to erase a quarter century of despair. But to accomplish it, they’ll need to be at their best, which they haven’t been in recent weeks.

STMA was picked to be the top team in the Mississippi 8 before the season began, and at times they’ve very much looked the part. They cruised past Duluth East and Big Lake. They beat Rogers by two touchdowns, the same Royals team that bounced back and beat the Magic the next week. And in the last two weeks they’ve used a strong running attack to handle two quality Central Lake Conference opponents in a 31-20 win over Brainerd and a 42-0 blowout of a Fergus Falls team that entered the game 5-1.

But on the flip side, the Knights have looked rather ordinary in a couple of games. In the season opener, Cambridge shut them down to earn an 8-0 win. After the Knights appeared to have recovered and started rolling, Buffalo shocked them in Week 5 with a 15-13 victory.

In big games and in recent games, the Knights seem to be at their best running the ball. They enter tonight’s game averaging 183 yards per game on the ground. Meanwhile, their defense allows under 70 yards to opposing rushing attacks. The Knights leading rusher is Chris Kartes, who is averaging just under 100 yards per game. The junior is coming off a Fergus Falls game where he carried the ball 19 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns.

STMA’s second biggest weapon is their quarterback, Cole Krutzig. Krutzig is an athletic quarterback who is throwing for just over 100 yards per game, while rushing for 43 yards per contest and 5 yards per carry.

Monticello will try to counter the Knights attack with some offensive balance of their own. But as it has for the last two years, it will all start with the ground attack. Monticello will likely look to establish some push on the line of scrimmage and gain some ground running inside to open up other options later in the game.

One positive for the Magic is that Jake Olson will be as close to full strength as he has been since injuring his ankle in the first half of the Rogers game. Olson played at Rocori last week, but was less than one hundred percent. The junior enters the game as Monticello’s leading rusher, averaging 86 yards per contest. Birk Olson and Will Bauman are next at 62 and 57 yards per game.

The Magic enter the game with a scoring margin of 101 points, outscoring their opponents 161-60 through seven games. The Knights have outscored their opponents 200-76.

A radio broadcast of tonight’s game will be available on BOB 106.1. Check back to the Monticello Times website for a game story and section seeding update tomorrow afternoon.