NEW ULM - It is called "The Holy War," and Friday night in Sleepy Eye, it resumes for a second time this season.
At 7 p.m. at the Sleepy Eye St. Mary's football field, the top-seeded and unbeaten Sleepy Eye St. Mary's Knights will host third-seeded New Ulm Cathedral for the Section 2A football crown and a berth in the Minnesota State High School Football Tournament.
The Knights enter the game with a 9-0 record and have out-scored opponents 368-115 for an average win of 40-12.
That puts the Knights sixth in the state in Class A in scoring average, behind Pillager (46 points per game), Mahnomen, (44 ppg), Cook County (44 ppg), Dawson Boyd (43 ppg) and Barnum (43 ppg).
Meanwhile, the Greyhounds make the 15-mile trip to Sleepy Eye with a 7-3 mark and have scored 311 points this season while giving up 214 for an average of 31 points a game, while allowing 21 points per game.
Last week both teams earned convincing wins in the Section 2A semifinals. The Knights defeated Minnesota Valley Lutheran 32-7, while New Ulm Cathedral ended Springfield's season with a 33-17 win.
Coaches Denny Lux of New Ulm Cathedral and Brent Kucera of Sleepy Eye St. Mary's know that this is a game that will be a battle from the opening kickoff until the final whistle.
Lux feels that his team has improved since its Sept. 15 meeting with the Knights in a Southern Minnesota Conference game in New Ulm that ended with a 30-14 Knights' victory.
"Our blocking is the biggest improvement since then," said Lux, who has guided his team to the Section 2A final eight of the last 10 seasons, including each of the past five years. "We are now more confident of what player we are blocking, understanding what the defense is doing and how they are moving. That is the biggest improvement."
What also may be a surprise to many people is how well this young team has progressed to win seven games thus far in what many thought was going to be a rebuilding year.
"We are where we expected to be," Lux said. "We could see from the summer workouts that it was just a matter of getting that experience. We have seniors that have just really stepped up and are playing really well offensively and defensively. Our seniors have taken their ability to the best level that they can. We are all proud of how the seniors have come together with that."
The efforts made by the Greyhounds' seniors has had a domino effect on the younger players.
"It is real easy for a younger player to be motivated when you see seniors on the field performing like they are and who really did not play at all last year," Lux said. "That only drives the younger guys more to understand that it is really all about heart and desire. That is what these seniors have shown throughout this season."
Lux felt that his team's 33-17 win over a very good Springfield team last Friday in Springfield was indicative of the progress his team made over the second half of the season.
"I felt that the Blooming Prairie game (a 49-26 loss on Oct. 17) was a big indicator of the abilities of our running game," Lux said. "Blooming Prairie has some good athletes, good speed and a good defensive scheme. But we still moved the ball against them. I felt that that game was the test for our offensive line. Going into the Sleepy Eye Public and the Springfield game, we felt that our offensive line would do a good job. We like to wear people down in the fourth quarter. That is what we want to do."
Lux said that his team needs to control the ball on offense with sustained drives and keep the ball out of the hands of the high-powered Knights offense.
"We know that they can score quick," Lux said. "We need to be patient on offense - do what we do on offense and then play smart defense. Do not let a guy get out in the open."
Meanwhile, the unbeaten Knights - who downed Cathedral 32-8 in last year's Section 2A title game - will be facing the Greyhounds on their home field.
"We know that it will be a tough, competitive game," Kucera said. "We are rivals. This is what you want in the playoffs. It is going to be a fun game."
Like Cathedral, the Knights were a young team in their first meeting 41 days ago.
"We have gotten a lot more experience," Kucera said. "We have gotten better at the finer things."
The Knights fell behind 7-6 to MVL last week before shutting them down defensively and scoring 26 unanswered points on offense.
Kucera said that his team was a little rusty from its bye week in the first round of the playoffs, but shook that rust off.
"The guys responded well," he said. "We just had to wake up a little bit."
Kucera feels that his defense, which has allowed just 12 points a game, needs to shut down the Greyhound ground assault.
"We need to get our reads when we are on defense," Kucera said. "And we cannot turn the ball over on offense... They are going to give the ball to Adam Schnobrich a lot, so we need to contain him. We have to make sure that he does not beat us."
The Knights' success this season has come in large part due to the team being equally comfortable passing the ball and running the ball on offense.
"We can either pass or run the ball," Kucera said. "We are geared to where we can score a lot of points if need be. But our defense is also a strength. Our starting defense has allowed one score a game and then the JV goes in, so our defense is a huge strength for us as well."
Kucera feels that despite his team's domination of opponents, the Knights have yet to play their best game.
"We have a lot of things that we need to fix," Kucera said. "I think that our best game is still ahead of us. Playing at home is a plus, and we play good at home. You do not have to travel, and you are playing in front of your own fans."
If you plan on attending the game, you are urged to arrive early because of the huge crowd that is expected.