If revenge is a dish best served cold, Thursday night’s state quarterfinal game had all the right ingredients.
With temperatures dipping below freezing and wind gusts over 20 mph, the Eden Prairie Eagles traveled to a neutral site at Park Center High School to face Shakopee, a team that beat the Eagles on Oct. 8 and handed them their second loss of the season.
Eden Prairie has run off five straight wins since that defeat, including the 28-12 victory over the Sabers to advance to the state semifinals at U.S. Bank Stadium next Friday.
Eagles head coach Mike Grant stopped short of using the “R” word to describe the matchup.
“It gets chippy, but no, it wasn’t revenge in any way,” Grant said. “We respect them. And we tell our kids we can get beat anytime if we don’t play well. They got us that time, they just flat out beat us. But that doesn’t mean they’ve got to do it twice.”
Grant’s players certainly embraced the idea of not losing twice to the same team. But they may not have received the “revenge” part of the message.
“It was very intense. It was like a rivalry game,” said junior running back Terae Dunn, who joined the Eagles midseason after his family moved back to Eden Prairie from Las Vegas.
“I used to play in Shakopee in seventh grade,” he said. “So I know some of them.”
Dunn, along with fellow running back Liam Berndt, generated big yardage for the Eagles offense. Both admitted the team was eager to find retribution for the earlier loss.
“We all wanted to get back at them,” Berndt said. “There’s a lot of talk between the two teams. They were all excited they beat us and we didn’t want that again.”
In round two of the grudge match, the Eagles overcame some first-half miscues and an early 6-0 deficit to turn the momentum just before halftime.
Senior quarterback Nick Fazi connected with senior Adam Mertens from nine yards out for a touchdown with 1:04 remaining in the second quarter. A missed extra point kept the game tied at six.
The Eagles defense stopped Shakopee in the final minute of the first half, giving the ball back to the offense for one more chance for points before the intermission.
With one second remaining on the clock, junior kicker Luca Ratkovich booted a 37-yard field goal giving the Eagles a 9-6 lead at halftime.
“We got down early on a quick six and we knew that we had to play a lot better in the second half,” said senior defensive end Chiddi Obiazor. “We had to pick up our intensity and just play harder.”
Obiazor caused major disruption for the Eagles defense, including a block on Shakopee’s extra point in the first quarter and a punishing sack on Sabers quarterback Dominic Jackson in the second half.
In the first meeting, Shakopee controlled the ball with their running attack for much of the game. The tables were turned in the rematch, with the Eagles offense finding their rhythm in the second half.
“When they beat us, they really chewed up the clock on us,” Fazi said. “So we just knew we had to chew the clock on them. That’s how you beat teams like that.”
Berndt and junior Hawken Hedlund took turns on the Eagles first series of the second half, breaking off big gains seemingly with each carry.
Hedlund powered into the endzone from 11 yards out, capping off a 75-yard scoring drive and giving the Eagles a 15-6 lead.
“I think we all wanted it a lot more,” Berndt said. “We’ve gone this far. We just want to keep going. It’s win or home.”
The defense came up with a takeaway on the following series when senior defensive end Will Schreiber recovered a fumble on the Shakopee 18-yard line.
Devin Jordan scored the first of his two second-half touchdowns with a plunge from the 3-yard line as Eden Prairie took a 21-6 lead.
Shakopee scored for the first time since their first offensive series of the game with a touchdown to start the fourth quarter. The Eagles made a stop on the 2-point conversion to keep it a two-score game at 21-12.
On the next series, the Eagles relied on their running game to burn six and a half minutes off the clock, but fumbled on the Shakopee 16-yard line. The Sabers took possession with 5:25 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Shakopee tried to mount a late comeback with their passing game, but were shut down by the Eagles defense. Schreiber broke through for a sack on fourth and long, giving the Eagles the ball at the Shakopee 20-yard line.
Jordan scored his second touchdown of the half to put the game out of reach with 51 seconds remaining.
“The guys were really intense from kickoff to finish,” Fazi said. “It was a really physical game and we just out-physicaled them.”
After the game, the team gathered at midfield as the winds howled across Park Center Stadium. An emotional head coach told his players how happy he was they could be together for at least another week.
“I’m a very emotional person and people don’t know that,” Grant said in the locker room later. “You try to hold it together, but we love being with these kids. We hope they love being part of this team.”
Grant has divided the postseason into quarters, with the Eagles starting the playoffs 12 quarters away from U.S. Bank Stadium. Their victory over Shakopee (7-4) earns them a trip to downtown Minneapolis for the state semifinals, with eight quarters to go for the title.
“We’ve got to win four to get to the state championship and we gotta win four to be champions,” Grant said, “So you try not to make it too big of a thing and just say, ‘let’s play four great quarters’ and I thought our kids did tonight.”
The Eagles (9-2) will face Rosemount (11-0), who routed Centennial 27-0 in their quarterfinal game. The Irish were responsible for the other blemish on the Eagles’ regular season, slipping by Eden Prairie 14-7 on Sept. 22.
“It kind of works out perfectly,” Fazi said. “We have Shakopee and Rosemount, the two teams that beat us. So, another rematch. We’re looking forward to it.”
How sweet it is.
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