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This week’s marquee Class AA football matchup has the feel of a AAA showdown.

No. 2-ranked St. Mary’s hits the road to face No. 1-ranked Hillsboro-Central Valley on the Burros’ home turf.

HCV has played eight quarters so far, allowing one touchdown.

St. Mary’s dominated Valley City last week (41-10), and the Saints’ lone loss is to the No. 5-ranked team in Class AAA (Fargo Shanley), by a mere two points.

This one will require having your popcorn ready.

“We’re excited about playing a really good football team and having the challenge of playing a good team on the road,” St. Mary’s coach Dan Smrekar said. “We’re hoping people are looking forward to it. These types of games are a lot of fun.”

With wet conditions statewide, Smrekar offered up St. Mary’s new turf field. Understandably, the Burros declined.

“They didn’t want to do that,” Smrekar joked.

HCV has made a smooth transition back up to Class AA. The Burros allowed more than 10 points just once during the 2018 season, that came in the Class A title game. Coach Scott Olsen’s team returned nine seniors, including North Dakota State recruit Oscar Benson, who will draw plenty of attention from the Saints tonight. Benson ran for nearly 2,000 yards last fall. He’s expected to play linebacker for the Bison.

“We need to play really well defensively. We need to tackle well and get a lot of people around their tailback. (Benson) is a great player,” Smrekar said.

The Burros and Saints last played in the 2016 when St. Mary’s earned a 28-6 semifinal victory en route to winning the state championship.

This time around, St. Mary’s will be without their all-state running back Joey Heinert, who is out with a knee injury. Heinert was hurt during the Shanley game. Before going down he had 60 yards on eight carries. In his absence, Cullen Curl has four rushing touchdowns.

“Cullen’s done a really nice job filling in for Joey,” Smrekar said.

While rain is not expected tonight, soggy field conditions are likely.

“Both teams will want to control field position and run the ball,” Smrekar said. “It’s probably going to be soggy and that will make it a little tougher to throw the ball.”

St. Mary’s quarterback Drew Dosch had four touchdown tosses last Friday. Jaxon Wiseman had two TD catches. Michael Salwei and Mark Horner also reeled in scoring receptions.

Both teams have quality players up front with Chris Birnbaum anchoring the lines for St. Mary’s.

Smrekar said HVC’s skill players are dangerous. Besides Benson, fullback Issac Luithle and wide receivers Carson Henningsgard and Gavin Wright can score from anywhere.

“They have really good team speed,” Smrekar said.

On paper, it shapes up like a must-see matchup.

“It’s two quality programs, two good teams. We’re really looking forward to it,” Smrekar said. “It should be a really good high school football game.”

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Follow Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig on Twitter: @dave_selvig

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