Eden Prairie senior Zander Hemmesch learned he would be the starting quarterback 24 hours before the Eagles’ opening-round playoff game against Osseo on Friday.
Senior David Ivey, the Eagles’ regular starting quarterback, had been nursing injuries after Eden Prairie’s win over Woodbury in the regular season finale, paving the way for Hemmesch to make the first start of his high school career on a cold and blustery night at Aerie Stadium.
“David (Ivey) is a little banged up,” Hemmesch said. “So I’ve been practicing more with the starters, but I didn’t know officially until yesterday.”
Despite the short notice, Hemmesch masterfully guided the Eagles’ offense, going 5-for-5 passing for 91 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He also had four rushes for 28 yards and a touchdown in the third quarter.
Eagles head coach Mike Grant said Ivey could have started, but they opted to play it safe with Hemmesch getting the nod.
“Yeah, (Ivey) could have played tonight,” Grant said. “But Hemmesch has been playing great in JV, and he deserved a shot as a senior, and it sure was a great night for him.”
Fast start for the Eagles
The start of the game could not have worked out better for Eden Prairie.
Osseo, entering the game winless in the regular season, faced the state’s top-ranked team, the Eagles. With nothing to lose, the Orioles opted to begin the game with an onside kick on the opening kickoff.
It didn’t work out as they’d hoped.
“Coach Griff (Mark Griffin) was telling us to be prepared for anything,” Eagles senior defensive back James Robbins said. “Obviously they’re trying to get some momentum early. So I just kept my head turned.”
The kick hopped off the turf and quickly landed into the arms of Robbins, who advanced on the ball and raced right by the Osseo coverage team, cruising untouched for a 50-yard return for a touchdown.
Time elapsed: six seconds.
“It pretty much took a perfect bounce right up there,” Robbins said, admitting he might have got his hands on the ball before it had traveled the requisite 10 yards.
“I just caught it and I saw the endzone,” he recalled. “I kind of blacked out from there and just took it in.”
With senior Luca Ratkovich’s extra point, the Eagles were off to their quickest lead in memory, with a 7-0 advantage before many spectators had taken their seats.
“That set a tone right away. They thought they were gonna recover it,” Grant said. “But give them credit; I’d do the same thing if you’re playing the No. 1 team in the state.
“Robbins made a great play. I think it was over at that point.”
The Eagles’ defense held the Orioles to three-and-out on the following series.
The offense drove 45 yards in nine plays on their next offensive series. Hemmesch found senior Dennis Rahouski on a 15-yard pass for a touchdown.
The two-point conversion failed and the Eagles held a 13-0 lead.
Eden Prairie scored again on its next offensive series, with Hemmesch finding senior wide receiver Joshua Kelly on a 46-yard strike. Hemmesch followed by connecting with Rahouski on the two-point conversion for a 21-0 Eagles lead early in the second quarter.
“We take it just one game at a time,” Hemmesch said. “We talked about one quarter at a time and we got to four quarters today.”
The Eagles finished off the first-half scoring when junior running back Elijah Rumph cruised 57 yards on the first play from scrimmage on the Eagles’ next offensive series.
Rumph, the Eagles’ leading rusher during the regular season, led the Eagles with 101 yards on six carries.
At the half, Eden Prairie held a commanding 28-0 lead.
“I feel like we played great, but it’s just a start,” Rumph said. “We’ve got to keep minimizing our mistakes. We can’t get a big head again. It doesn’t matter that we beat this team, we’ve just got to keep moving forward and treat every team like they’re a state championship team.”
The Eagles were led by senior Will Diana’s five solo tackles on defense. Senior Devin Delmonte followed Diana with three solo tackles and two assists, while junior Isaiah Hazecamp had one solo tackle and four assists.
The Eagles scored twice in the third quarter, with the first touchdown coming on a 1-yard run by senior Logan Bosch, who rushed nine times for 69 yards in the game. Eden Prairie’s next score arrived compliments of Hemmesch, whose run from four yards out gave the Eagles a 41-0 lead.
The evening’s only suspense came early in the fourth quarter.
With dropping temps and howling winds coupled with a one-sided game, it could have been argued that everyone on both sides of the field at Aerie Stadium was hoping the contest would hurry toward a quick conclusion.
Under league rules, any game with a 35-point margin in the fourth quarter must be played under running time, which calls for clock stoppages only for penalties, injuries and change of possession.
The Eagles held their 41-0 lead as the fourth quarter began. Reserve players entered the game as the Eden Prairie held the sizable advantage.
Osseo began driving early in the fourth quarter and scored a touchdown with 11:01 remaining.
With the score at 41-6, the Orioles lined up for a 2-point conversion.
A mishap on the snap caused the 2-point try to fail, leaving the score (41-6) and, more importantly, the margin (35 points) intact so that running time could continue.
“That was a big play also to get it to running time so we could get out of here,” Grant chuckled after the game. “And we got out of here with no more injuries. So that was really good.”
Osseo did score again on a fluke fourth-down pass, which bounced off two Eagles defenders and right into the arms of Osseo’s Ethan Whitcher, who was lying on his back in the endzone.
The touchdown did return the game back to stoppage time, but only 1:38 remained on the clock.
“If you watch a film of the game, they did a lot of good things tonight, too,” Grant said of Osseo. “They ran the ball well and I thought they were well-coached.”
With their 41-12 win, the Eagles (9-0) advance to the second round of the playoffs. They will host Eagan (4-5) on Friday night at Aerie Stadium, with kickoff set for 7 p.m.
The Wildcats defeated White Bear Lake 45-27 on Friday to advance to the next round.
“We’re not gonna treat anybody differently,” Rumph said. “We’re just going to practice the same way. Coach Grant is going to do the same game plan. We’re just not going to change. We’re going to treat every team like they’re an 8-0 team.”
The game will be Eden Prairie’s last of the season on their home field. Should they advance to the next round in the state quarterfinals, they will play that game at a neutral site.
“We’ve gotta be ready,” Grant said. “We try to break it down into quarters, so we tried to play four great quarters tonight and rest; and get ready for next week and try to play four great quarters next week.”
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