On a wet and wind-swept Friday at Aerie Stadium, the Eden Prairie Eagles celebrated their senior night amid temperatures in the 40s and gusts in numerous directions, upwards toward 20 mph.
But for Eagles head coach Mike Grant, the weather was never a factor in their 49-23 win over Rochester Mayo.
“Well, this was nothing,” he said with a shrug after the game. “It wasn’t cold enough. The wind is the most important thing and that was kind of a weird wind tonight. Out of the east now, it’s turned and comes out of the north.”
Grant was correct in terms of his team’s performance, as the No. 1 ranked Eagles appeared undaunted by the conditions, churning up 496 yards of total offense in the victory.
So a little rain can’t hurt.
“Not really,” senior defensive back Terae Dunn said afterward. “We’re used to it. It’s Minnesota.”
From the first series, the Eagles wasted no time racing toward their 319 yards rushing for the game. On the first play from scrimmage, senior running back Liam Berndt raced 60 yards down the near sideline to the Mayo 13-yard line.
“We came out on that first play and almost score, which we’re trying to do,” Grant said.
Two plays later, junior running Elijah Rumph cruised in from the 10, in the first of his three touchdowns, and the Eagles took the early lead.
Senior placekicker Morgan Koch, who was a perfect 6-for-6 in replacement of the injured Luca Ratkovich, booted the first of his six PATs for the 7-0 advantage.
“Offensively, we played pretty well,” senior center and co-captain Will Sather said.
“I’m proud of the offensive line especially.”
Rumph scored again from 18 yards out on the Eagles next offensive series. And following a Mayo touchdown, senior fullback Dominic Heim scored on a 2-yard run.
The Eagles defense added to the point total as well.
In the closing moments of the first quarter, with Mayo in possession near midfield, Eagles senior defensive tackle Mo Saine and senior defensive back Devon Delmonte converged on Mayo quarterback Rees Grimsrud.
The Eagles defenders knocked the ball loose before it was picked up by sophomore linebacker James Anderson, who raced half the length field for an Eden Prairie touchdown.
“I saw the ball on the ground. I thought they were gonna blow the whistle but I went after it,” Anderson said. “And I stayed on my feet and got to the endzone.”
The scoop and score gave the Eagles a commanding 28-7 lead at the end of the first quarter, but the touchdown off the fumble translated to an even greater advantage in the Eagles’ approach to turnovers.
“Coach Grant has an equation he likes to say where defensive touchdowns are worth ‘three X,’” Anderson explained, meaning three times the value of an offensive score. “And I think that sends a message that we’re coming.”
Offensively, the Eagles were led by Berndt, who rushed nine times for 134 yards. Rumph had 15 carries for 96 yards. Rumph also had 2 catches for 95 yards.
Senior quarterback David Ivey had one of his best nights passing this season, despite the adverse conditions. Ivey went 6-for-8 for 164 yards and a touchdown, a 66-yard connection with Rumph to give the Eagles a 42-14 advantage late in the second quarter.
Mayo made the trip up from Rochester, bringing a considerable passing game as well. Rees was 17-for-31 for 234 yards and a touchdown. His favorite target was one of the state’s premier receivers, senior Carter Holcomb, who had five catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
“They’re a great passing team,” senior linebacker and co-captain Shaun Peterson said. “They’ve got a great quarterback and that number 11 (Holcomb) is a great receiver.”
Peterson is looking forward to the Eagles’ next game – their final contest of the regular season – to iron out some of the kinks on the defensive side of the ball.
“We made plays when he needed to,” he said. “I think we need to sharpen up though for next week and heading into the playoffs.”
The Spartans managed 284 total yards against the Eagles defense, 234 yards through the air.
“It felt good,” Saine said of the win. “But we have stuff we have to fix, stuff we have to work on during practice, but overall it’s a good win.”
The rain persisted while the wind swirled throughout the second half, with both teams trading touchdowns.
Heim scored his second touchdown of the night, diving over the line of scrimmage and into the endzone from three yards out, giving Eden Prairie a 48-23 lead with 1:40 to play in the third quarter.
As the teams lined up for the extra point attempt, a placekicker, unfamiliar to most who’ve watched the Eagles special teams, lined up for the point-after.
“Oh, yeah, I kick all the time in practice. I’m the third-string kicker,” senior Dennis Rahouski said with a smirk after the game. “So it was nice of Coach Grant to let me show off my skills in the field.”
Rahouski, at 6-foot-6 and 265 pounds, is a standout along the Eden Prairie defensive line, but he’s been persistent in making his coach aware of his passion for placekicking.
“Rahouski drives us crazy every week that he thinks he’s a kicker,” Grant said with a grin. “I was hoping he was gonna miss because that could have ended his bugging us every day.
As the remaining faithful in the rain at Aerie Stadium held their breath, Rahouski’s kick traveled end-over-end, clearing the crossbar by a few feet, giving the Eagles a 49-23 lead.
“Now we’ve created a monster, because he’s gonna say he can kick as good as everybody,” Grant joked. “It wasn’t great, but he’s gonna say it was one of the great ones of all time.”
The wide margin of victory gave reserve players a chance to see action, particularly significant on senior night for the Eagles.
“It felt good seeing those guys that don’t normally get on the field,” said Dunn, who had a 36-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.
“I love cheering for those guys, he said. “And it’s fun seeing them get on the field tonight.”
After the game, the precipitation continued as Grant told his team that while the game wasn’t pretty, the important thing was they got the win.
“Now, we go for that special season,” he told them, looking ahead to their next opponent, Woodbury, on Thursday night.
A win in the final regular-season game will give the Eagles an undefeated season and ensure the top ranking entering the playoffs.
But for the rest of this rainy Fright night, they’ll celebrate a successful senior night.
“This is my 16th game here, starting at Aerie,” Sather said. “It’s just kind of crazy to think about all the football games I have gotten to play here. And it’s a blessing for sure. And it’s a special place. So yeah, it’s cool, a good senior night.”
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