The fourth-ranked Eden Prairie Eagles traveled to Shakopee on Saturday, arriving 17 hours after they were originally scheduled to take the field against the sixth-ranked Sabers. A school lockdown at Eden Prairie High School on Friday forced the game’s postponement. So instead of Friday Night Lights, two of the state’s top football teams squared off in the bright sunshine of an October Saturday.
But no one expected the end result of this contest to be quite so one-sided, as Shakopee came away with a decisive 31-14 win over the Eagles.
Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant was asked if he thought the schoolwide ordeal on Friday and the delay of the contest to Saturday had any effect on the outcome.
“I think they scored on an 80-yard run to start the game,” Grant said with a chuckle, referring to Shakopee running back Garrison Monroe’s 74-yard touchdown on the Saber’s first offensive series. “That’s what has the effect. I think our kids were ready to play.”
As to what impact the Saturday kickoff had on the team’s performance, the reaction among Eden Prairie players was mixed.
“It’s something that we can’t let affect us,” senior center Will Sather said. “We’ve got to still come out and play well. So it didn’t really have a big impact on us today.”
Despite all the distractions on Friday afternoon, senior defensive back Devin Jordan was ready to play the night game, but thought he and his teammates didn’t adjust well to the circumstances on Saturday.
“We didn’t take last night off and mess around and not prepare for this game,” Jordan said. “It’s just a different atmosphere when it’s on a Saturday with no fans in an away game, but I know we’ll be back.”
Perhaps Muhammad Saine summed it up best when asked about playing under a cloudless afternoon sky as opposed to the glare of the spotlight.
“It’s a lot different,” the junior defensive tackle said. “Different from the lights. But it’s still good to play football, you know?”
But as the game progressed, this Saturday matinee could have been dubbed Gone with the Wind, as howling gusts prevented both teams from relying on an effective passing game.
“The wind was a big factor. Saturday afternoon games are very different from Friday night games,” Grant said, recalling his days coaching in the MIAC. “Saturday afternoon winds were always a factor in the game.”
The Eagles had the breeze at their backs to start the game and took advantage while they could. Senior quarterback Nick Fazi connected with senior wide receiver Michael Gross for a 50-yard play down the sideline. Later in the series, senior running back Tobin Frost ran 25 yards for the score to tie the game at 7.
The Eagles took the lead after an 88-yard drive was capped off by senior running back Tyler Walden’s 2-yard plunge. Walden fumbled the ball just as he was about to cross the goal line, but recovered the ball in the end zone for the touchdown and a 14-7 Eden Prairie lead.
But if the elements provided any advantage to one team, consider Shakopee the benefactor. The Sabers running game churned up yards all afternoon behind an efficient offensive line and hard-running fullback Jadon Hellerud.
“He’s a tank, man. He’s a good back who keeps his feet moving,” Sather said. “It’s hard to bring him down.”
Hellerud picked up first down after first down. His first of two rushing touchdowns, a 6-yard run with just 49 seconds remaining in the first half, tied the game at 14.
“He’s a three-year starter. We know him well,” Grant said. “He’s a really good wrestler, he’s a tough kid. We’ve just got to be better.”
Shakopee maintained control throughout the second half by continuing to feed the ball to Hellerud. His 2-yard touchdown on the first offensive series after halftime gave the Sabers a 21-14 lead.
After a Shakopee field goal to go up by 10, the Eagles needed crucial points on the ensuing offensive series to stay in the game.
A 28-yard gain by junior running back Liam Berndt gave the Eagles a first down at the Shakopee 39-yard line. But the offense sputtered with penalties and poor snap exchanges, Fazi took a sack, and the Eagles were forced to punt. At that point early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles could have never imagined they wouldn’t touch the ball again until the game’s closing minutes.
Shakopee burned 9:18 off the clock with an 88-yard drive, culminating with a game-sealing touchdown with just 1:02 remaining in the fourth quarter.
“There’s no excuses for a loss like this,” said junior linebacker Dominic Heim. “We’ve got to play harder. Maybe not harder, just better.”
Heim called the Eagles’ front seven “the most talented we’ve had in a very, very long time.” Adding, “we can’t be getting beat like that. It’s unacceptable.”
With neither team able to establish a passing game in the windy conditions, Shakopee’s ability to win the battles up front and generate yardage in the running game proved to be the difference. The Eagles got the ball back far too late in the game to mount a comeback.
“I don’t know what the time of possession was,” Sather said. “But they held onto the ball and they beat us up front. We’ve got to be better.”
Despite dropping to 4-2 with the loss, the Eagles will have their chance to get better when they host Edina next Friday on senior night at Aerie Stadium.
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