Happy New Year, high school football enthusiasts. All season long, check out high school reporters David La Vaque and Jim Paulsen as they go inside some of the metro area's top football matchups across the various classes. The best part is, they keep score — and they are not above sticking it to one another. Every once in a while, they even agree. Enjoy the season.
Osseo at Maple Grove, 7 p.m.
Jim says: Numbers are looking good at Osseo, which made big strides last year before losing the last three games and falling below .500. Expect the Orioles to be even more competitive this year. Maple Grove has a question mark at RB but is sound throughout the lineup, with a strong QB in Jacob Kilzer and 12 starters returning. The pick: Maple Grove 31, Osseo 20
David says: This still ranks among the metro area's best rivalries. And you can bet Maple Grove's 49-7 blowout victory at Osseo, and eventual Prep Bowl appearance last fall, only increases the stakes. Crimson seniors Jacob Anderson, Jackson Powers and Michael Ross stand out on a veteran defensive secondary. The pick: Maple Grove 28, Osseo 14
Stillwater at Centennial, 7 p.m.
Jim says: Under coach Mike Diggins, Centennial has developed a well-earned reputation as a rugged bunch, its defense brawny, its offense sturdy and straightforward. Stillwater has plenty of skill coming back, led by Max Shikenjanski, a top-flight QB who is also one of the state's top basketball players. The pick: Stillwater 26, Centennial 14
David says: Stillwater won last season's Week 1 meeting 7-0. Starting the new season in similar fashion looks favorable, considering Centennial must replace 17 starters. Diggins sees this team getting better as the calendar turns deeper into fall. The Ponies must take advantage on the road Thursday. The pick: Stillwater 21, Centennial 10
South St. Paul at St. Thomas Academy, 7 p.m.
Jim says: It's an underrated rivalry, largely based on proximity, that resumed last year after a five-year hiatus. South St. Paul is hoping to start the season strong after back-to-back two-victory seasons, but St. Thomas' rushing attack spearheaded by Love Adebayo and Savion Hart is lethal. The pick: St. Thomas Academy 30, South St. Paul 13
David says: South St. Paul's triple-option offense ran into trouble last season against an equally physical St. Thomas Academy defense. And the Cadets weren't at full strength that night. Whether the Packers have closed the talent gap remains to be seen, earning St. Thomas Academy favored status until proven otherwise. The pick: St. Thomas Academy 21, South St. Paul 7