During Thanksgiving week in a normal Minnesota high school football season, 14 teams would be preparing for Prep Bowl championships in seven classes.
In a fall that was anything but normal because of COVID-19, 36 teams ended up being named section champions, including some without playing a postseason game.
In Class 6A, comprising the state’s largest schools, six champions emerged from four sections.
In the other six classes, 30 teams received section championship trophies, leaving 18 sections without champions.
After a shortened regular season that saw teams around the state increasingly having to adjust their schedule because of COVID — sometimes finding an opponent 24 hours or less before gametime — the playoffs were even more chaotic.
At least 74 teams — about 20% of the teams statewide — were missing from the start of the playoffs, in which teams could play as many as three games starting Nov. 17.
The next day Gov. Tim Walz announced that youth and high school sports would pause for four weeks beginning at 11:59 p.m. on Nov. 20, causing another scheduling scramble.
Each of the seven classes had the opportunity to determine how their section tournaments would conclude, according to the Minnesota State High School League. Section tournaments are the responsibility of the league’s eight administrative regions.
Sections representatives hurried to move up second-round games scheduled for Nov. 21. Some sections decided to make the section tournament a one-day event, in which the championship was a contest between the top two seeds.
Play in Class 6A, which normally has 31 teams, started with only 25 teams. Of the four pods of teams, two had only five teams, one had seven and the other had eight.
Nine first-round games between 6A teams were played on Nov. 17 and the winners advanced to second round. Only six second-round games were played, with some teams leaving their bracket to play after COVID knocked out scheduled matchups. The six winners were section champions.
Bob Madison, the league’s football liaison, wrote in an e-mail to the Star Tribune's David La Vaque that “in the 6A bracket, the second round is considered a section championship. This hasn’t changed.”
In Class 5A, four of eight possible section champions were named. Andover, the top seed in Section 7, was named the section champion without playing a game.
In Section 1, Owatonna earned its fifth consecutive section championship with a 30-28 victory over Rochester Mayo. The section also held third- and fifth-place games on the same day.
Six section champions were named in each of Class 2A, 3A and 4A.
In Class 4A, Section 7 started with only four teams. Hermantown, the top seed, defeated fourth-seeded Duluth Denfeld 42-22 in a semifinal on Nov. 17 and No. 3 seed North Branch defeated No. 2 seed Cloquet, 40-36, in the other semifinal on Nov. 19. Unable to play a championship game on Nov. 25, Hermantown was declared section champion and North Branch the runner-up.
In Class 2A, Caledonia, which has won five consecutive Class 2A state titles and has a 71-game winning streak — the longest active streak in the nation — was named the section champion. Caledonia, which was 3-0 in the regular season, did not play a postseason game.
There were five section champions in Class 1A and three in Nine-Man.
Each of the eight sections had at least one champion. Three 2019 state champions were among the section champions.
The 2020 section champions:
• Blaine, Centennial, Eden Prairie, Lakeville South, Rosemount, Shakopee
• 1: Owatonna
• 3: St. Thomas Academy
• 6: Rogers
• 7: Andover
• 1: Kasson-Mantorville
• 4: Fridley
• 5: Holy Angels
• 6: Becker
• 7: Hermantown
• 8: Rocori*
• 1: Waseca
• 2: Litchfield
• 3: Luverne
• 4: Cannon Falls
• 5: Annandale
• 6: Albany
• 1: Caledonia*
• 2: Blue Earth Area
• 3: Redwood Valley
• 4: Minneapolis North
• 5: Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta
• 7: Crosby-Ironton
• 1: Blooming Prairie*
• 2: Gibbon-Fairfax-Winthrop
• 3: Wabasso
• 5: Minneota
• 6: Breckenridge
• 1: Lanesboro
• 2: Renville County West
• 3: Hills-Beaver Creek
*denotes 2019 state champion