One of the oddest regular seasons in Minnesota high school football history – especially for the five teams in the Lake Conference -- came to a close Wednesday night. The marquee game in the state was No. 1 Eden Prairie at No. 2 Wayzata in a matchup of unbeaten Class 5A powerhouses, but the back story was how they got here … through Canada and a season overflowing with bye weeks.
Eden Prairie opened the season by taking a long bus ride, splitting into two squads and beating two teams from Winnipeg on the same day. The Eagles didn’t play a conference opponent until their fifth game. But at least they played eight games.
Wayzata was supposed to play seven games in the regular season but that total fell to six when a school from Florida – yes, Wayzata was supposed to play a home game against a team from Florida -- disbanded its football team during the season. Before Wednesday the Trojans had played just once since Sept. 24. That’s one game – a 15-14 victory at Minnetonka on Oct. 8 -- in 26 days.
Wednesday's game decided the Lake Conference title. The stakes were a little higher the last time Wayzata and Eden Prairie had met on the football field. The Eagles recorded a 7-3 victory over the Trojans at the Metrodome in the state quarterfinals last season. Eden Prairie’s season ended with a 16-5 loss to Cretin-Derham Hall in the Prep Bowl.
Which takes us to the actual playing of Wednesday’s game. The scene at Wayzata was exactly what you would expect: a full house, pregame excitement and four quarters -- plus a little overtime -- of hard-hitting, hard-running football. Wayzata came away with a 28-27 victory when Eden Prairie misfired on an extra-point play in overtime. The Eagles lined up in kicking formation, but the play was supposed to be a pass for two points and the win. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the Wayzata rush was strong, the timing was imperfect and the play never got off the ground.
That’s when bedlam took over for the Wayzata players and their fans. There was a wild celebration, as befitting a game between the two powers. The only bigger celebration one could imagine could come after the state championship game at the Metrodome …which could conceivably be a rematch between Wayzata and Eden Prairie.
Wayzata’s Sasha Doran threw three TD passes, two to Tanner Helgren and one to Aaron Roth. Stephen Hari had three rushing touchdowns for the Eagles.
Wednesday’s game was filled with memorable moments. Some of them took place on the field, such as the game’s final play. But the sights and sounds come from all over on such evenings, and here are a few things I scribbled in my notebook during the game …
--The words of a Wayzata assistant coach, talking to the offensive linemen during pregame warm-ups: “If they push us back, we’re in for a long night.”
--The Wayzata students dressed in red, which seemed a little odd. Wayzata’s colors are blue and gold; Eden Prairie’s are red and black. But the red was a show of solidarity with Wayzata senior captain John Petrie. He is the youngest of three Petrie brothers to play football at Wayzata and his father, Bob, is dealing with health issues. So the students wore red and many of the Trojans players wore red wristbands and had red tape on their shoes and ankles.
--“Hey John, you want some Hot Tamales?” This offer came from Kevin Lynch, former NBA player and current Timberwolves radio analyst. Kevin, who played football as well as basketball at Bloomington Jefferson, watched the game from the sidelines. Thank goodness for his Hot Tamales, too. They hit the spot on a cold night.
--As the halftime marching band show wound down, Wayzata coach Brad Anderson walked up to me on the sideline with a big grin on his face. Most coaches are so intense at these times that smiling and joking would make you think they had gone off the deep end. But not Brad. He joked about how he thought halftime was supposed to be 15 minutes long but the band decided to perform for 20 minutes. I figured he should interrupt the next band concert by diagramming some football plays.
--Neil Diamond would have enjoyed the Wayzata fans’ response to the Trojans’ third touchdown. After Doran threw a 15-yard pass to Helgren to put the Trojans ahead 21-14 with 4:12 left in regulation, the band struck up “Sweet Caroline” and everybody on the home side of the field sang along … even while the Trojans were kicking off and the Eagles were returning the kick.
--After the game ended and things were calming down, two young ladies found Brad Anderson on the field and hugged him. They were his daughters Barrett, a senior at Wayzata, and Isabelle, a sophomore. I chatted with them briefly and learned that Barrett is interested in a journalism career. Good deal.
--My final act of the night was a little, uh, awkward. Before I walked to my car I knew I should make a pit stop. So I opened the door of a porta-potty … only to see a lady using the facility. Hey lady … lock the door. Please? Geez …
To see a photo gallery and video from the game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 70
*Miles John has driven: 4,026
--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at twitter.com/mshsljohn