At the conclusion of every football game, Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant gathers his team on or around the 30-yard line to share his thoughts on their performance and impart a few words of wisdom before they disperse.
But the coach’s postgame speech was interrupted on Friday night by the strains of The Spaniels’ 1953 hit single, “Goodnight Sweetheart, Goodnight,” coming over the public address system at Aerie Stadium.
The serenade could have been directed toward the Eagles’ opponent, No. 3 Shakopee, who left Eden Prairie in defeat after a 42-28 dismantling compliments of the top-ranked home team.
The song drowned out Grant, who immediately paused, as players and coaches motioned up to the press box to turn down the volume. After a few minutes, the melody finally subsided as all applauded from down on the field.
Spirits were high after an impressive win, and with good reason.
The two teams met twice last season, with Shakopee taking the first bout and Eden Prairie exacting revenge in the rematch at the state quarterfinals, earning the Eagles a trip to U.S. Bank Stadium for the state semifinals.
In the 2023 edition of the rivalry, a packed house on homecoming night saw the Eagles get tested early, maintain their poise, and take control of the game before dominating the Sabres for much of the night.
“Two really good offenses,” Grant said afterward. “We got more stops than they did.”
In a game that saw a combined 832 yards of total offense, there were plenty of fireworks. Eagles senior Terae Dunn set the tone for the evening with a 33-yard return on the opening kickoff, bringing the crowd to its feet.
The Eagles’ offense sputtered on their opening series and were forced to execute what would be their only punt in the game.
Shakopee countered on their first offensive series, driving 76 yards on seven plays and finding the board first with a 3-yard touchdown from Bradley Hanson.
“We just kind of realized they’re the real deal,” junior defensive back Vaugn Feely said. “We’ve got to try harder to play better. And I think we did that in the second half and second quarter as well.”
The Eagles began their next offensive series from their own 35-yard line. Senior quarterback David Ivey completed a third-down pass to senior Hawken Hedlund for 24 yards and a first down at the Shakopee 32-yard line.
Three plays later, Eden Prairie faced a 4th-and-10, when the offense reached into its bag of tricks.
“We worked on it for a while during practice, specifically leading up to this week,” senior wide receiver Luca Ratkovich said.
Ivey took the snap and threw a pass behind the line of scrimmage to senior wide receiver Joshua Kelly, who threw to a wide-open Ratkovich on a 32-yard scoring strike to tie the game at seven.
“I kind of knew the way the corner was playing me the whole game; that he was gonna bite hard on the run,” Kelly said. “So I just had to wait for Luca to get around and do his job and block. And I just threw it up to him and he was wide open.”
The Eagles caught Shakopee completely by surprise on the play call and immediately took back momentum after the touchdown.
“You’ve got to pull it out at the right time,” Grant said. “A touchdown like that is worth more than seven. Because all of a sudden, we’re back in it and we got an easy one on fourth down. Their heads go down and we’re back in.”
Ratkovich completed the scoring play by booting the first of his six extra points with 1:31 remaining in the first quarter.
“It was pretty cool, getting to go out there and score a touchdown and then kick the extra point right after,” Ratkovich said. “It was just pretty cool.”
The Eden Prairie defense, which struggled to contain Shakopee on the edge in the first quarter, held the Sabres on the ensuing series.
With Shakopee threatening, junior Max Kukla’s interception, deep in Eagles territory, silenced a Sabres drive that had begun at Shakopee’s 7-yard line.
Eden Prairie took over on their own 11 with 11:31 remaining in the second quarter.
Junior running back Elijah Rumph broke loose on runs of 23 and 16 yards to get the Eagles past midfield. Ivey ran for 14 yards, setting up senior running back Liam Berndt’s 3-yard touchdown, giving the Eagles a 14-7 lead.
“We just pounded the ball,” Berndt said. “We watched a lot of film and knew they were going to crash every time and we took advantage of that. So we just found ways to go around them crashing.”
The drive covered 89 yards in 11 plays. After the touchdown, senior captain Will Sather – not one to be demonstrative with his emotions – pumped his fist and let out a roar as he approached the sidelines.
“I don’t know, I think it was just all the emotions of senior homecoming and this game and the rivalry we have with Shakopee,” he said after the game. “I think it just all came together and I just wanted to get the guys fired up and keep the pedal to the metal I guess.”
If the double-pass from Kelly to Ratkovich shifted momentum, the drive to go up 14-7 left no doubt the Eagles held the upper hand. After the game, Ivey credited Sather with helping his teammates maintain their composure.
“We kind of lost the momentum there, right at the beginning with punting and them scoring right away,” Ivey said. “We’ve got a great group of guys. Will is a three-year player, a veteran, and just kind of kept us calm and it helped us to get that momentum back.”
Shakopee sustained another drive on their next offensive series and tied the score with a 7-play, 85-yard drive, capped off by a 35-yard run by Zach Docteur.
“They showed that they are a pretty good football team, especially as we were tied 14-14,” Feely said, adding that some adjustments were made to contain Shakopee on the edge.
“We weren’t playing it right in practice,” Feely said. “The coaches made adjustments and we played right. That’s kind of what happened.”
Feely had four tackles on the night, two for losses, along with a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. His open-field tackle on kickoff coverage in the first half gave Eden Prairie a needed spark.
Senior captain Shaun Peterson led the defense with nine tackles. Seniors Dominic Heim and Mo Saine each had six.
Dunn, who saw extensive action on offense in the game, had four tackles from his cornerback position, as the Eagles held Shakopee in check for the remainder of the game.
Offensively, the Eagles churned up 446 yards of total offense, going 5-11 on third down and 4-4 on fourth down.
Ivey was 4-6 passing for 82 yards. But the story of the night was the Eagles running game, with Ivey leading the way with 102 yards on 10 carries. Rumph had 94 yards on 14 carries, while junior running back Jeremy Fredericks had 93 yards on 12 carries.
All totaled, Eden Prairie generated 332 yards on the ground.
“We were practicing all week on some passes to spread them out because they like to stack the box,” Ivey said. “But our linemen and our backs were running hard up the middle. It was working so we just stuck with it.”
Ivey scored what appeared to be a 17-yard touchdown run as the first half was winding down, but the play was called back.
Two plays later, Berndt carried it in from the 3-yard line for his second touchdown and a 21-14 Eden Prairie lead at the half.
“That’s our goal from the start of the game is just to play as hard as we can and dominate them,” Berndt said. “When you get up by a touchdown or two, you just slowly see them start to give up and that’s when we just keep going and we get those long runs and that’s just when you take the heart out of a team.”
The second half saw the Eagles do just that.
After the Eagles defense went three and out on the first series of the third quarter, the offense wasted no time to build on the lead with a 7-play, 58-yard drive, punctuated by Ivey’s 26-yard run for a touchdown and a 28-14 Eden Prairie lead.
The Eden Prairie offensive line began to exert its dominance over the Sabres.
“That’s something we try to emphasize for sure is just wearing teams down and keeping the rock on their backs,” Sather said. “But there are a lot of things we still have to clean up as an offensive line.”
The Eagles had their mops ready on the next offensive series. Ivey connected with Dunn for 15 yards to jump-start the drive. Rumph ran for 14 yards on the next play. Later in the drive, Ivey covered 18 yards with a run to the Shakopee 9-yard line.
An 11-play, 78-yard drive was capped off by Frederick’s 2-yard dive into the end zone for a commanding 35-14 lead with 7:23 remaining in the 4th quarter.
“Our O-line is very good. They’re very physical and they do wear them down,” Grant said. “Our backs run hard, and eventually they’re gonna pop one. I don’t know what the yardage is, but I’m sure we rushed for a ton.”
As the game drew to a close, Shakopee scored again and recovered the onside kick. But Feely’s fumble recovery on the ensuing series was followed by a 7-yard touchdown by Heim with 3:49 remaining in the game.
A 42-28 win put the finishing touches on a perfect night for football.
“It’s fun,” Ivey said afterward. “It’s my first time starting in a homecoming game and it’s just fun to see all my friends up there and play with a lot of energy.”
As for the coach who’s worked the sideline for 31 homecoming games at Eden Prairie, the win was satisfying, but there’s still work to be done.
“We’ve been doing this so long; there were years when we were in the old Lake (Conference), with Apple Valley, Burnsville,” Grant recalled. “We’d play No. 4, then 3, then 2, then 5, then 6. Six of the eight teams in our section were Top-8 teams.
“When you play football at Eden Prairie, that’s what you get. You play the tough teams.”
Cue the music over the loudspeaker.
“This is just another one,” Grant said. “We’ve gotta move on. Seriously, we’ve gotta get ready for Wayzata.”
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