It happened quickly.
With Eden Prairie leading 14-7 and five minutes gone in the third quarter on Thursday, Luca Ratkovich’s punt landed in the arms of Prior Lake’s Jaxson Barrett at the Lakers 33-yard line.
Barrett returned the ball to the Prior Lake 40-yard line. Three plays followed, and in a flash, the Lakers went 60 yards in 1:22 to tie the game at 14.
Eagles head coach Mike Grant wasn’t surprised his team would be in for a battle, given both teams’ size and strength, with Prior Lake featuring several players weighing in at 300 pounds or more.
“Physical, physical game,” Grant said. “They’ve got a big line, we’ve got a big line. There weren’t that many possessions. And Prior Lake played better than they have. They did a really good job.”
Following the Lakers tying touchdown, Eden Prairie got the ball back with 4:26 remaining in the third quarter.
They kept it for what felt like an entire quarter.
Capping off the 15-play, 80-yard drive, junior running back Jeremy Fredericks broke through from the 1-yard line, giving Eden Prairie the lead once more with 8:59 remaining in the game.
“The key was that drive,” Grant said. “I don’t know how many minutes it was, seven, eight minutes, to go up 21. Because that changes everything. So a great drive there.”
The coach was a few minutes shy of the official time of possession.
The drive actually burned 10:27 off the clock, shifting momentum back to Eden Prairie. The Eagles defense held Prior Lake on the next series, giving the ball back to Eden Prairie on downs.
The Eagles offense took advantage of a short field, covering 28 yards in six plays before Fredericks scored his second touchdown, this time from six yards out, sealing the win for Eden Prairie.
With the hard-fought 28-14 victory, the Eagles – ranked No. 1 in the Star Tribune Metro Top Ten – improved to 3-0, setting up a crosstown showdown with Shakopee next Friday night.
“It was definitely a dogfight,” Fredericks said. “The offensive line is basically the reason why I’m able to get yards. Without them, I’d basically be nothing.”
With his two second-half touchdowns, Fredericks also credited a third-quarter miscue as an incentive to make good for his team.
“I made a little mistake with not securing the ball that well,” he explained. “But that fueled me to run even harder, which I got those two touchdowns.”
The fumble turned out to be inconsequential. The defense, led by the return of standout defensive tackle Mo Saine, got the ball back for the Eagles.
Saine’s tackle for a 6-yard loss on third down forced a Prior Lake punt.
“It was great to have Mo back,” Grant said. “And he was a difference in that game. It was great to have him.”
Thursday night’s game marked the first this season for Saine, who missed the first two games because of a hamstring injury. But he didn’t miss a beat against Prior Lake, registering seven total tackles, two for losses totaling 22 yards, and a sack that set the Lakers back 16 yards.
Saine’s stop on a 4th-and-2 play late in the game gave Eden Prairie the ball back, setting up the final touchdown by Fredericks.
“Moments like that with the team, it just fires everybody up,” Saine said. “So we’re all locked in on the same page, ready to make that play.”
Co-captain Shaun Peterson led all Eagles defenders with eight tackles, two for losses. Junior defensive back Vaugn Feely posted seven stops.
Offensively, the Eagles kept their running game on the front burner, with junior Elijah Rumph leading all rushers with 96 yards on 14 carries. His 14-yard touchdown in the second quarter gave the Eagles a 14-0 lead.
“Rumph was really good,” Grant said. “Fredericks was good. Liam had some big runs. Our quarterback had some big runs. So yeah, we ran the ball well.”
Fredericks had 80 yards on 18 carries to go with his two scores, while senior Liam Berndt had eight carries for 60 yards and a touchdown on a 25-yard run in the first quarter to open the scoring.
“The offense played really well,” senior Hawken Hedlund said. “They had a really good defense, and they were big and physical. So, we had to just consistently have some long drives where we’d have to go 90 yards in 10 minutes and just slowly get down the field, which is hard to do against a good defense.
“But I’d say overall, we pounded them. We played really physical and got the ball moving.”
Last season, the Eagles defeated Prior Lake by the same score, a 28-14 homecoming win. And while they found themselves having to work a bit harder for the win this year, they relied on a similar approach to get the victory.
“We had a great scheme that we ran last year against this team,” senior quarterback David Ivey said. “And we just ran the same couple plays and just pounded on them. And then we’d run fakes off those plays and that opened it up for us to get some nice runs.”
Ball control on offense and a strong second-half defensive performance, holding Prior Lake to just 98 yards, combined for an impressive outing.
They’ll need a similar performance next week.
“Great adjustments on defense in the second half,” Grant said. “And now we can move on to Shakopee.”
The Eagles and the Sabres squared off twice last season, with Shakopee rolling in the regular season matchup with a 31-14 win. The Eagles avenged that defeat with a 28-12 win in the state quarterfinals and a trip to U.S. Bank Stadium.
Both teams enter Friday’s contest at 3-0. It will be Eden Prairie’s homecoming at Aerie Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
Editor’s note: EPLN photographer Rick Olson contributed to this story.
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