Friday night lights will take on a much different look tonight in Apple Valley, Lakeville and Prior Lake, where football will be replaced by fútbol.
Eight games in the South Suburban Conference will be held at high school stadiums that normally would host football games on the premier prep sports night of the week.
“It’s cool soccer gets to play Friday night. That is really neat,” said Shakopee athletic director Matt Hanson, who oversees soccer scheduling for the conference. “It would not have happened if we had football.”
How soccer came to fill the void owed partly to COVID but even more to an officials crunch.
The pandemic prompted the Minnesota State High School League to push back the football season to the spring. Thursday and Friday would have marked the season openers for most teams around the state.
The league also shortened the soccer season from 16 games to 11. The South Suburban Conference basically moved what would normally have been its final week of the season — full of conference games — into the first two weeks to replace nonconference games.
South Suburban teams usually play on Tuesday and Thursday, but its normal days weren’t available this week due to a lack of officials. They countered by switching to Wednesday and Friday.
“We work with two associations for officials,” Hanson said. “When we proposed going Tuesday and Thursday, that would have slammed them. We couldn’t do that to them. We were being proactive.”
On a night when the girls’ games will be followed by the boys, the marquee matchup features Lakeville crosstown rivals South at North.
“Some of that was by foolish luck,” Hanson said. “There wasn’t a plan to have it like that.