Jamie Morford sure isn’t ready to ready to put a crown on a particular Prairie Conference South football team yet. Not in August.
“(Browerville) is the reigning champion, so I guess they’re the favorites until they’re knocked off,” said Morford, Royalton’s head coach. “It’s hard to say right now.”
Nothing is clear-cut in the Prairie this season, and there are a couple other coaches in the conferences who agree.
“It’s going to be a toss-up,” said New York Mills coach Matt Radniecki. “The competition is very close and I’d be surprised if anyone goes undefeated.”
Added Browerville coach Wayne Petermeier: “It’s going to shake out and we’ll see. All of the teams in the south are kind of in the same boat, trying kids out in different spots.”
Browerville won the conference title with a 6-0 record and finished the regular season ranked No. 6 in Class A, but fell to eventual state runner-up Mahnomen in the Section 6A final.
The Tigers were the only Prairie South team to win a playoff game last season. Royalton (6-3) and Ottertail Central (5-4) were the only other teams in the South Division with winning overall records.
“In our level of football, the important thing is to keep from getting injured because you end up have to fill spots with guys who are already playing, because of small numbers,” Petermeier said.
“We lost a lot of good football players, but we have 13 kids who are the core of our team and if they stay healthy, we’ll be alright.”
A few factors could lead to more parity in the Prairie this season.
Defending champ Browerville has very little experience in the backfield and graduated a lot of players from the 2011 team.
Last-place New York Mills has a lot coming back, including all of its starting backfield.
“New York Mills is returning everyone,” Morford said. “They have a very good running back that they moved to wide receiver and two big backs — one is 225 pounds — and they’re twin brothers.”
Morford and Petermeier said Ottertail Central will compete for a title and Morford figures Royalton will be in the mix, too, despite the Royals’ lack of size.
“Year in and year out, we’re smaller so we don’t look at size as much we do as athleticism,” Morford said.
Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg is well-coached and could be a good test, according to Morford.
“KMS is always a good game,” Morford said.” It’s always a battle with them dating all the way back to 2004. I don’t really want to call them rivalries because Upsala/Swanville is still our rival that every guy gets up for.”
Royalton hasn’t been able to play Upsala/Swanville since 2010 after the programs went their separate ways when the Prairie Conference was realigned.
The Royals stayed in the PSC South Division (The Prairie’s 1A programs) and the Patriots moved to the North (2A programs).
Since Royalton is one of the larger 1A schools in the South, it plays the North’s big schools for nonconference games. Since Upsala/Swanville is a small program in the North, the teams don’t meet up, but that might change in the near future.
Morford said the Prairie may, as it had in the past, base its divisions on geography instead of enrollment as soon as next season.
“We’re just lucky having 12 teams in our conference because we don’t have to go outside our boundaries to find games,” Morford said.
2012 Prairie Conference South schedule
Thursday, Aug. 30 — Osakis at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg; Royalton at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle; New York Mills at Upsala/Swanville.
Friday, Aug. 31 — Browerville at Barnesville; Wadena-Deer Creek at West Central Area.
Friday, Sept. 7 — New York Mills at Osakis; Upsala/Swanville at Browerville; Long Prairie-Grey at West Central Area; United North Central at Royalton.
Friday, Sept. 14 — Browerville at Ottertail Central; Royalton at New York Mills; West Cental Area at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg.
Friday, Sept. 21 — West Central Area and Browerville; Ottertail Central at Royalton; Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg at New York Mills.
Friday, Sept. 28 — New York Mills at West Central Area; Browerville at Royalton; Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg at Ottertail Central.
Friday, Oct. 5 — Browerville at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg; Royalton at West Central Area; Ottertail Central at New York Mills.
Friday, Oct. 12 — New York Mills at Browerville; Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg at Royalton; West Central Area at Ottertail Central.
Wednesday, Oct. 17 — Osakis at Browerville; Royalton at Wadena-Deer Creek; Ottertail Central at Long Prairie-Grey Eagle; Upsala/Swanville at Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunberg; West Central Area at United North Central.