There was 1:08 remaining in the third quarter Thursday night when Eden Prairie took possession of the ball on their own 8-yard line.
Third-ranked and undefeated Minnetonka had just scored the second of its two third-quarter touchdowns to draw within seven points of the top-ranked and undefeated Eagles.
Eden Prairie cruised to a 21-0 halftime lead at Einer Anderson Stadium in Minnetonka. But the Skippers stormed back in the second half to steal momentum and make the contest a one-score game.
“Well, it’s always a tipping point,” Eagles head coach Mike Grant said. “They get a good kickoff return to open the second half. They get a little momentum.”
Minnetonka was also the benefactor of 30 yards in penalties against Eden Prairie en route to a touchdown on their first possession after halftime.
After the Eagles went three-and-out on their next offensive series, senior Luca Ratkovich’s punt was blocked, leading to a second Tonka touchdown to make it 21-14 with 1:13 remaining in the third quarter.
“We had to answer with a touchdown,” Grant said.
Starting at their own 8-yard line, the Eagles ran 22 plays on their next offensive series, burning 12:12 off the clock before senior fullback Dominic Heim scored on a 2-yard touchdown run, giving the Eagles a commanding 28-14 lead.
“That might be my favorite drive I have ever played as an Eagle,” senior co-captain and center Will Sather said. “That was a fun drive. That was Eden Prairie football and I loved it.”
The Eagles had begun the drive with 1:08 left in the third quarter. By the time it reached its conclusion with Heim’s touchdown, 3:56 remained in the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, we ate up a lot of time and put the game away,” Grant said, attributing the marathon series to a rigorous off-season training program.
“I think our kids expect it,” he said. “Honestly. I mean, we talk about when you’re in the weight room all winter and summer. That’s the fourth downs; that’s how you win those games.”
The drive crushed Minnetonka’s hopes for a comeback, as the Eagles had all but put the game out of reach.
“After every play in the huddle, Will Sather was getting the guys hyped up and ready to go down and score.” senior quarterback David Ivey said. “We lost our momentum a little bit, but we were telling the guys to stay poised and we ended up coming back and winning the game.”
Offensively, junior running back Elijah Rumph led the Eagles with 114 yards on 21 carries. Senior Hawken Hedlund had 62 yards on 10 carries to go with a first-half touchdown. Senior Liam Berndt had 49 yards on eight carries, and junior Jeremy Fredericks churned out 44 yards on 10 carries and a touchdown before leaving the game with an injury.
Six players contributed to the running game, each moving the ball effectively behind the Eagles’ veteran offensive line.
“Jeremy goes down, that’s a tough one,” Grant said. “And then Hawken Hedlund had to come in and play both ways and did a great job. Liam had to play different positions. Dom had to play more. And then I thought Elijah ran really well.”
A pregame rainstorm, coupled with the first frigid temperatures of the season, created a long-awaited fall-like atmosphere for the two metro powers. A two-plane flyover before the game primed the capacity crowd for a classic Eden Prairie-Minnetonka showdown.
Eden Prairie took its game-opening drive 51 yards in 10 plays, culminating in a 6-yard touchdown run by Berndt.
Special teams helped provide the Eagles offense with good field position on several occasions. Senior Terae Dunn returned two kickoffs for 62 yards, while junior Aaron Kroese had a 32-yard punt return near the end of the first half to help set up the Eagles’ second touchdown to go up 14-0.
The touchdown, a 28-yard strike from Ivey to senior Dennis Rahouski, capped off a five-play, 45-yard drive for the Eagles.
“I just felt like today, it was a special day,” Kroese said. “The whole team played great. Everyone had energy. From the first day, we were looking forward to this game since we had Minnetonka listed on the schedule.”
The Eagles scored again before halftime with Hedlund’s touchdown from two yards out and took a commanding 21-0 lead into the intermission.
Minnetonka picked up two quick touchdowns on their first two offensive series in the second half.
“We had an injury on the D-line, Dennis Rahouski. He’s a big impact player,” senior defensive tackle Mo Saine said. “The coaches helped us stay motivated and get locked in to make plays.”
Saine led Eden Prairie with six tackles; all of them solo. He appeared frustrated by the two penalties called on the defense in the first series of the second half. Both were personal fouls, with one going against the Eagles’ standout defensive tackle, who admitted to playing a bit angry after the penalty.
“A little bit,” Saine said with a smile. “I want to motivate my teammates. Get them all fired up.”
It paid off. After the Eagles’ nearly quarter-long drive to take a 28-14 advantage, the Eden Prairie defense forced a third and 13 for Minnetonka. Looking for a first down, the Skippers went to the air only to be intercepted by Dunn with three minutes to play in the game.
“It’s a rivalry for sure,” Sather said. “We knew it was gonna be a physical game. It’s Eagles-Skippers and that’s how it’s gonna be.”
The Eagles (6-0) ran out the clock, securing a 28-14 victory over Minnetonka (5-1). It’s their second win over a No. 3 ranked team this season, having previously defeated the then-third-ranked Shakopee on Sept. 22.
After the win, Grant had a message for the underclassmen on the squad.
“That was a tough, physical win against a very good football team,” he told his team. “For you younger players, now you know what it looks like.”
Grant told his team the win had guaranteed their district championship, but they may likely see Minnetonka again.
“We’ve got eight quarters (left to play) for an undefeated season,” he said, referring to his philosophy of measuring the latter part of the season in quarters rather than games.
“We’ll take a breath for a day, recognize how well they’ve done and then you make your five-game run to try and win it.”
The Eagles have just two regular-season games remaining, with Rochester Mayo up next and Woodbury the following week ahead of the MEA weekend.
“A week and a half left in the regular season,” Grant said. “It’s going to come to an end before you know it.”
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