After Friday’s dominant 21-3 victory over Lakeville North on a neutral site field in Spring Lake Park, Eden Prairie head coach Mike Grant wasn’t thinking about his team’s performance in the state quarterfinal game.
Nor was he looking ahead to their state semifinal matchup with Edina this Friday at U.S. Bank Stadium.
He was simply happy to extend the season.
“The most important thing is that we get to be together for at least another week,” Grant told his team after the game, clearly feeling the emotion of the moment.
“I love you guys, you’re really special,“ he added. “I can handle a loss; I’ve got plenty. It wouldn’t have been the loss that I couldn’t handle, it would have been that we’d be done.”
The top-ranked Eagles guaranteed an additional week in their season by shutting down the No. 2 ranked Panthers with trademark ball-control on offense and unrelenting defense.
Eden Prairie allowed North just 82 yards of total offense in the first half – and only 115 yards in the entire game.
“We just had to play fast all week,” senior linebacker Hawken Hedlund said. “We’ve been focusing on where to fit. And they’re a good, hard-running team, so we just had to fit fast and hopefully hold them from breaking plays. We did a good job.”
It appeared that Hedlund, a two-way player, had given his team the early lead on the Eagles’ first offensive series.
On the final play of a 12-play drive, the Eagles faced a 4th-and-goal from the Panthers’ 4-yard line.
Hedlund, the sixth Eden Prairie ball carrier on the drive, took a hand-off from running back Dominic Heim on a reverse and raced to the pylon on the goal line.
“That’s how we run the 93 wing reverse,” Hedlund said. “We run it to the short side. So I’m always on the edge.”
Hedlund went airborne, diving into the end zone and scoring what appeared to be a touchdown, but officials ruled he stepped out at the 2-yard line.
A photo by EPLN photographer Rick Olson unofficially confirmed the ruling. And after seeing the photo after the game, Hedlund admitted relief in knowing the right call was made.
“It is better to know, yeah,” he said with a laugh. “I was thinking about it all game, so it’s good to see.”
The Eden Prairie defense stopped the Panthers on their first offensive series, allowing just 19 yards on five plays and forcing a punt.
“The guys were really invested this week,” senior defensive tackle Dennis Rahouski said. “We knew they’re a tough team and we knew they were talking, so that motivated us and we shut them down.”
Lakeville managed a field goal after a 14-play, 56-yard drive. The Panthers’ Max Melin was good from 30 yards out to give North their only points of the game.
“Our kids really played well. I think our defensive coaches did a great job preparing,” Grant said. “Lakeville North, if you watch their film, you say ‘wow, they’re really good, powerful and strong kids’ and our kids just played well.”
The Eagles began their next offensive series at their own 35-yard line.
Quarterback David Ivey found receiver Terae Dunn for six yards and followed that by handing the ball off to Hedlund, Elijah Rumph and Liam Berndt.
When the Eagles faced a 4th-and-2 at the North 19-yard line, they changed personnel, bringing in their short-yardage offense.
“We have a unit we call ‘Eagle unit’ and that’s our short-yardage group,” Ivey said. “And they’re all big, strong guys and it’s a little different mindset, because you’ve got to get one yard or two yards.”
A big part of the Eagle unit has been running back Dominic Heim, who also starts at linebacker for Eden Prairie.
Heim has been consistent and dependable when carrying the ball in short-yardage situations, particularly near the goal line or on two-point conversions.
When the senior’s number was called on the 4th down play at the North 19-yard line, he broke loose for a touchdown and a 7-3 Eden Prairie lead.
Heim went on to lead the Eagles in rushing with 80 yards on 10 carries, a season-high.
“Honestly, it was just how they were playing it and how our guys were blocking it,” Heim said. “They were blocking it great and I just read my blocks and bounced it outside and ran hard.”
Heim was able to generate most of his yards off-tackle, frequently breaking free and finding the edge, a departure from his inside running game.
“That kid is just a bowling ball so he was breaking arm tackles,” senior guard Hayden Broich said. “Being able to get yards on the outside really defined the game and that really helped us win because that’s how other teams have been stopped against them.”
The defense held the Panthers to a three-and-out on the next series. North fumbled the snap on the punt, giving Eden Prairie the ball at the Panther 17-yard line.
With the short field, the Eagles took full advantage. Hedlund gained 12 yards on a 3rd-and-9 play, setting up the offense with a first-and-goal from the 4-yard line.
On the next play, Heim walked in behind blocking from the right side of the offensive line, compliments of Broich and tackle Ethan Sims.
It was Heim’s team-tying 10th touchdown of the season, a distinction he shares with running back Jeremy Fredericks.
Heim made good on the two-point conversion as well, giving the Eagles a 15-3 lead.
“That was our game plan, smash it right up the middle,” Broich said. “We think we have the best offensive line in the state, so we went in there full speed, as hard as we could up the middle. And it worked out a lot of the time.”
The defense built on their first-half performance, shutting down the Panthers and allowing just 33 yards of total offense in the second half and holding North to just eight first-downs the entire game.
“A lot of the time we were just in the right spot,” said Hedlund, who led Eden Prairie with eight tackles in the game. “We’ve been watching (on film) where they’ve been passing. So we kind of knew what passes they like to throw and we just kind of keyed those routes.”
The clincher for Eden Prairie began with 7:28 remaining in the third quarter when the Eagles commenced an offensive series that didn’t end until 9:08 remained in the fourth quarter.
The 16-play, 61-yard drive ended with Frederick’s 3-yard touchdown, giving Eden Prairie a 21-3 lead and, more importantly, burning 13:20 off the clock.
The Eagles finished off the game with a 12-play, 52-yard drive that ended when time expired to end the game.
It was a will-imposing win for Eden Prairie – against their most formidable foe this season – earning the Eagles a return trip to U.S. Bank Stadium for the state semifinals and a rematch with Edina this Friday at 7:30 p.m.
“We expected to beat (Lakeville North) and we expected to be in the Bank all year,” Heim said. “So it feels good, but we’ve got to play great against Edina.”
Eden Prairie defeated Edina 35-14 on Sept. 8. The Hornets did not go quietly in the first meeting, with sophomore quarterback Mason West completing 19 of 30 passes for 180 yards and two touchdowns.
The Eagles defense came away with three interceptions in the game and allowed 229 yards of total offense.
But they expect a much-improved Edina squad in the semifinal matchup.
“I know they’re playing good ball since we played them,” Rahouski said. “So we’ve got to watch the film and make the game plan because they’re a good team.”
And for the head coach, a week to prepare for Edina means another week spent with his players.
“I’ve been coaching for 45 years, so I have experience in handling losses,” he said. “It’s when you have a group of kids that you really love, that have worked so hard and been with you in early morning lifts and all those things.
“To have another week with them is special.”
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