Yet another chapter in the never-ending book that is the Maple Grove-Randolph rivalry will be written when the two teams meet at 6 p.m. Friday at Ralph Wilson Stadium to vie for the Section 6 Class D championship.
The way both squads have been playing of late, the latest chapter figures to be a real page-turner.
Maple Grove, 9-0 and the top-ranked Class D team in the state, has been strong all season but particularly over the last six weeks, when it has won each of its games by at least 21 points and posted four shutouts. The Red Dragons, the defending sectional champions, have outscored their opponents 196-30 during that stretch for an average margin of victory of about four touchdowns.
Senior Oliver Simpson has rushed for 1,466 yards and scored 18 touchdowns for top-ranked Maple Grove. See additional photos at cu.post-journal.com.
P-J photo by Scott Kindberg
Randolph, 7-2 and ranked 15th in the state, is on a six-game winning streak, with its last loss coming at the hands of Maple Grove in Week Three. After getting outscored 74-51 during a 1-2 start, the Cardinals have outscored their opponents 251-46 during their winning streak for an average margin of victory of more than 34 points.
''I feel like we're playing good so I'm looking forward to it as much as (Randolph is) looking forward to it,'' Maple Grove Curt Fischer said following his team's 36-15 victory over Portville in last weekend's semifinals. ''I think we both take pride that we're the two best teams and we deserve to be there. It's going to be a great game.''
Whenever the rivals meet a great game is usually on tap.
For an example one need look no further back than the last time the Red Dragons and Cardinals met in the sectional finals.
In 2009, Maple Grove was the defending state champions and ranked fourth in the state when it squared off with Randolph, ranked sixth in the state. The Cardinals took a 21-7 lead into the fourth quarter, but the Red Dragons rallied with a pair of touchdowns. But a bad snap on the potential game-tying extra point caused Chris Secky's kick to miss to the right and Randolph held on for a 21-20 victory.
A few weeks later, the Cardinals went on to win the state championship.
Maple Grove and Randolph met in the sectional championship twice prior to that 2009 game, with the Red Dragons winning both times, 17-7 in 1996 and 22-13 in 1997.
So Maple Grove holds a 2-1 edge in championship games entering Friday night's contest, and it holds a 6-4 advantage overall in the sectional playoffs.
Remarkably, this will be the fifth time in the last six years that one of the teams will have its season come to an end at the hands of the other, with last year being the lone exception. A year ago, the Cardinals lost in the semifinals to Frewsburg, which went on to lose to Maple Grove in the finals.
In the Week Three meeting earlier this season, Maple Grove ran out to a 27-0 halftime lead and held off Randolph's second-half comeback attempt for a 27-14 victory. Aaron Germain opened the game with an 80-yard return of the opening kickoff for a touchdown 11 seconds into the game and Germain added touchdown passes to Oliver Simpson and Jason Seiberg to go along with a Simpson rushing score as the Red Dragons built their lead.
Randolph running back Jordan Dowiasz opened the second half with an 86-yard kickoff return for touchdown and Dowiasz caught a 6-yard pass from quarterback Mitchell Maycock for the Cardinals' other score. But the Cardinals came up empty on two other red zone trips, first with a lost fumble and then when they got stopped short on fourth-and-goal from the 1.
The Red Dragons have relied more on their ground game this year than they have in recent years, and with good reason. Simpson, their feature back, is a good runner both inside and outside, as evidenced by his 459 rushing yards and six touchdowns in their two playoff games. For the season, Simpson has 1,466 rushing yards and 18 touchdowns.
Quarterback Germain has completed 29 of 69 passes for 544 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception. The senior has added 268 yards and five touchdowns on the ground. His main targets in the passing game are Dalton Bolles and Derek Johnson.
Randolph is led by the running of Dowiasz, who had 17 carries for 169 yards and four touchdowns in a 35-14 win over Silver Creek in last weekend's semifinals. Chris Doubek and Jared Pitchford also routinely carry the ball for the Cardinals, while Maycock has shown the ability to throw the ball when called on to do so. The junior connected on 5 of 7 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown last weekend. End Nate Beaver is among his top targets.
''It should be fun,'' Randolph coach Pat Slater said last week. ''That's what you come to play for when the season starts. Let's get to The Ralph and let's go play.''