By Chad Courrier
---- — BELLE PLAINE — With a good group of players returning this season, Belle Plaine football coach Justin Johnston knew he'd have a good team.
But undefeated? Ranked No. 1 in Class AAA? Minnesota River Conference champions?
"They've exceeded my expectations," Johnston said.
Belle Plaine (7-0) takes on Tri-City United (6-1) in the regular-season finale tonight at Montgomery. The Tigers have already clinched a share of the conference championship but would prefer not to share it with TCU. The Tigers have won only three MRC titles in the last 15 years, with other championships in 1998 and 2009.
Belle Plaine moved up to No. 1 in The Associated Press' Class AAA poll three weeks ago, and while that doesn't guarantee anything, it's been something for the communtiy to celebrate.
"It's been really exciting for the kids," Johnston said. "They take a lot of pride in that."
The Tigers' success has started with sohomore quarterback Luke Narveson. He started the final three games of last season, and so far this season, he's completed 78 of 146 passes for 1,526 yards with 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. He's also Belle Plaine's leading rusher with 403 yards and seven scores.
Receiver Derek Dahlke is the leading receiver with 41 catches for 565 yards and two scores. Right tackle Gavin Dauwalter, at 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, is the short-yardage tailback, having scored eight touchdowns in 16 carries.
"This is the game we've had our eye on the last couple weeks," Johnston said. "The kids have done a nice job of staying focused. It should be a fun one."
Belle Plaine may need to win to hold on to the No. 1 seed in Section 3AAA.
Pound the rock
Spencer Davies split out and come in motion through the backfield. The direct snap went to the quarterback, who handed it quickly to Davies for a sweep.
It's a simple play that was working well for Cleveland last week in a 45-20 victory over Randolph. The Clippers rushed 52 times for 373 yards, about 150 more than they average, with Davies gaining 178 yards on 20 carries.
"Sweep left, sweep right," Cleveland coach Rich Kern said. "When he hits the corner, he has a pretty good burst of speed. They couldn't stop him so we kept pounding it at them."
The Clippers close the regular seaosn tonight with a home game against Edgerton-Ellsworth. Last season, Cleveland lost 64-6.
Kern said it looks like Cleveland could earn the fourth seed and a home game in the Section 2 playoffs, which begin Tuesday.
Potential No. 1s
Nicollet is certain to be the No. 1 seed in the Section 2, nine-man playoffs. The Raiders (7-0), who finish the regular season at home against winless Alden-Conger, have a two-game lead in the section with victories over nearly all of the section teams.
In Section 2A, undefeated Sleepy Eye St. Mary's will be the top seed, with New Ulm Cathedral likely second.
The top seed in Section 3AA is still undecided. Jackson County Central and Maple River are tied at 6-1, with JCC having an advantage in strength of schedule. JCC plays at Worthingon (3-4) tonight, while Maple River plays at Medford (5-2).
In Class 2AAAA, Hutchinson and Waseca are both undefeated. Hutchinson, the defending state champion, plays at Mound Westonka (1-6) tonight. Waseca plays at Fridley (4-3).
It doesn't appear that Mankato West (6-1) can catch Chaska for the top seed in Section 2AAAAA. Chaska (7-0) plays at home against New Prague. West is at Rochester Mayo (5-2).