While the football teams from Edina and Totino-Grace were warming up Friday night at Totino-Grace in Fridley, T-G coach Jeff Ferguson walked up to me on the sideline, nodded toward the Edina Hornets and said, “Do you notice any tendencies, John?”
This was clearly my chance. After decades of writing about high school football, here was a coach – one who has won multiple state championships and produces top-notch teams year after year – asking me … no, begging me … for advice.
“Oh yes, I definitely see a tendency,” I replied with confidence. “Look at their socks. They don’t match.” The Hornets wore white socks and black socks, high socks and low socks. I discovered this fact by using my highly trained football eye. Glad to help, coach.
Enough joking around. This was an intriguing matchup and the first time Edina and Totino-Grace had met on the football field. The Eagles, ranked No. 1 in Class 5A, defeated 6A Edina 15-12 in a game that started out in a slow burn and finished on a high wire. “It was kind of two immovable objects there for a while,” Ferguson said afterwards.
Turnovers made the difference, as is often the case. Midway through the first quarter Edina lost a fumble, and on the next play Totino-Grace quarterback A.J. LaPanta threw 38 yards to Charlie Miller for a touchdown. As the immovable objects went back and forth, Edina’s Patrick Le Corre kicked two 30-yard field goals, making it T-G 7, Edina 6 in the third quarter.
Edina missed another scoring chance late in the third when a long pass on fourth-and-short flicked off the fingers of a receiver. Hornets coach Reed Boltmann rightfully pointed something out to his receiver: “God gave you two hands! Use ‘em!” To which the young man who had not caught the football yelled back as he stretched one hand outward, “It was way the (expletive) out here!”
Edina kept pounding the rock and finally took the lead with 7:29 left in the fourth quarter. Quarterback Mark Handberg, who was chased by the Totino-Grace defense all evening, broke free from a tackle and threw 19 yards to the end zone, where Marly Allison made a nice catch and got his feet in before falling out. It was Edina 12, Totino-Grace 7.
After Totino-Grace lost a fumble, Edina returned the turnover favor when the Eagles’ Michael Waters intercepted a Handberg pass at the Edina 33. A few plays later, Kai Barber rushed up the middle for a 1-yard touchdown, LaPanta threw to Mason Kaliszewski for the two-point conversion and Totino-Grace was back on top, 15-12, with 3:44 to go.
The sealant was applied was with 67 seconds remaining when Eagles sophomore Ben Mezzenga picked off a Handberg pass. Game, set, match.
Boltmann told his players that they had let the Eagles off the hook.
“I thought we did,” he said. “I thought we had the second half in hand there after we pick up the fumble. But we don’t get a play in in time and then we fumbled the ball, an interception and it kind of took the wind out of our sails.
“I thought we did enough to give ourselves a chance. There were some woulda, coulda, shouldas in that game. But they made the plays when they needed to and we didn’t. We’ve got to find a way to finish and that’s why we practice every day.”
The interceptions by Waters and Mezzenga seemed a little unlikely before the game began. Waters is a backup who was filling in for a missing teammate and Mezzenga had been sick all week with a virus and muscle aches.
“I’m really proud of our kids,” Ferguson said. “We had some guys that were out and not playing and some guys that stepped up big. Michael Waters made a big interception and Ben Mezzenga didn’t practice this week. He comes back today and got a big interception. It was a total team effort.”
Totino-Grace improved to 2-0 after beating Coon Rapids 48-6 last week. The Eagles are a new team in the Northwest Suburban Conference this season, moving from the North Suburban.
Edina, which is in the new Class 6A, is 2-1. The Hornets opened with a Zero Week contest, defeating Holy Angels 28-14 and a week ago the Hornets beat Andover 24-23 after trailing 14-0 in the first quarter. Edina was on the cusp of the 6A top 10 this week, falling a few votes short of the No. 10 spot.
No matter the rankings or the outcome, Totino-Grace is a wonderful place to watch a football game. The facilities are great, the Eagles students are loud and proud, the home stands were filled to overflowing and hundreds of folks stood around the fence that circles the field. The weather was perfect, too.
Both teams face tough tests next week, with Totino-Grace going to Anoka (2-0) and Edina hosting Lakeville South (1-1).
If the coaches need any advice about the opponents’ socks, I’m here to help.
--Photos from the game can be seen on the MSHSL Faceboo page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 58
*Miles John has driven: 1,307
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
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