1AAAAA football preview: JM, Northfield are in the finals after all

The preseason prognosticators were right. Rochester John Marshall and Northfield will indeed meet Saturday night with a trip to state on the line.

10-20 emmanual tettteh-jada trajan grimsrud sj.jpg
John Marshall's Emmanual Tetteh-Jada celebrates after tackling Mayo quarterback Trajan Grimsrud on Tuesday in the Section 1AAAAA semifinals. Tetteh-Jada is a big part of an excellent JM defense. The Rockets face Northfield for the section title Saturday.

The preseason prognosticators were right. Rochester John Marshall and Northfield will indeed meet Saturday night with a trip to state on the line.

But the truth is, seven weeks into this football season, most of those who picked JM and Northfield to land in the Section One, Class AAAAA championship game would have wanted a do-over.

JM was lurking just above .500 at 4-3 and coming off a frustrating loss to Mayo. And Northfield? It was becoming even more of an afterthought. The Raiders were 2-5 and had just lost 20-17 in overtime to a Century team whose only prior win had been against winless New Prague.

But here they are, playing for a title at 7 p.m. Saturday at JM's John Drews Field. And playing much more like the teams they were projected to be.

No. 3 seed JM enters 7-3, No. 4 Northfield 5-5. Both scored impressive upset wins in the section semifinals. JM rode 228 yards rushing and a final-minute 78-yard touchdown sprint by Cazz Martin to a 28-21 win over Mayo.


It put JM in the section championship for the first time since 2004.

Northfield played lights-out defense and got five field goals from Isaac Stadler — including a 48-yarder — in beating top-seed Owatonna 15-3.

"I'm not surprised that Northfield is in the finals," JM second-year head coach Kevin Kirkeby said. "They have a tough defense, a tough offense, and they're hard-nosed kids. They've also finally gotten everyone healthy."

Their second meeting

Northfield long-time coach Bubba Sullivan has similar respect for JM. The teams met once already this season, the Rockets escaping with a defensive-minded 6-0 win in Rochester.

It's that JM defense that Sullivan has the most regard for. But he's also wary of a Rockets running game that JM rides almost exclusively.

JM's defense allows 14 points per game, while its offensive manages 28. The latter has done it by grinding and sprinting to a season-total 2,368 ground yards. But through the air? Just 521 yards and a wobbly completion percentage of .333.

JM is also likely down to one quarterback (junior Jared Juth) now, after rotating two down the stretch of the season. Run-first QB Jordan Velez injured his knee in the section semifinal game against Mayo. That will likely keep him out this week and maybe beyond, if JM were to win.


But the Rockets have caught Sullivan's attention.

"JM's defense is really, really good," he said. "They are fast and physical. And their run game is impressive. They have a ton of speed."

Northfield, like JM, is big and strong and also does better running than passing. But 6-foot-8 Luke Harris has now settled in as the starter at quarterback and has been solid. He entered the Owatonna game with 816 yards passing. Josh Chlan leads the rushers with over 800 yards.

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