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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/24/2012 9:20:30 AM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

The Eden Prairie Eagles have a formula that has worked for most of head coach Mike Grant’s time leading the Eagles. They are physical on both sides of the ball and pound on you with a running game that few have been able to stop. Like the movie Groundhog Day, it seemed like I had seen this story before. The Eagles grabbed an early lead on Lakeville North in Friday night’s Class 6A Prep Bowl and never let the Panthers up for air.

The Eagles took the opening kickoff right down the field behind a physical offensive line that included Eric Dunn, Tyler Young, Robert Olson, Tony Yost and Ethan Stordahl. After an incomplete pass on the first play from scrimmage, the Eagles ran right at a solid Panther defense – and didn’t stop running at them. Ten straight running plays gave EP a 7-0 lead.

“We really had to run our basic offense,” said Yost. “Drive and make a new line of scrimmage. When we push them two yards back everything will work. “

“It was a combination of intensity and keeping a mental edge,” said Dunn. “If you get too amped you make mistakes so you’ve got to keep your mind in the game, but you still have to keep it intense.”

Two possessions later the Eagles were back at it, running behind one of the best offensive lines in the state. Although North pinned the Eagles inside their five, there was no panic by the EP offense. They simply ran the ball 14 straight times for 96 yards and a touchdown. Although they failed to convert on the extra point it became clear that the combination of the running game and an equally dominant defense was going to control the game.

“We just needed to stay low, remember our rules and drive our feet,” said Yost.

If you want to play on the offensive line for EP, you better be able to play both sides of the line.

“It is to keep the defense on its toes,” said Dunn. “If we need to run a sweep, we put our big guys on one side, but if we need something quick we move guys around to fit various needs.”

“It just depends on the play,” said Yost, “where we are running it, whether we are pulling or trapping.”

The main beneficiary of the offensive line was Dan Fisher. The junior running back handled the ball 31 times for 148 yards and the teams’ first touchdown.

Along with the running game, the Eagle defense had a plan and stuck to it.

“We needed to contain the quarterback and free up the linebackers to make tackles,” said defensive end Ryan Connelly.

“We just came out and played as hard as we could,” said senior linebacker Jack Cottrell. “We knew all season long if we gave 100 percent effort we could beat anyone in the state.”

They gave up a late touchdown after the outcome had been decided, but held a normally explosive Panther offense to 219 yards of offense. The defensive production was highlighted by two second half-interceptions by Cottrell. On his first interception he demonstrated his athletic ability by being able to get from his linebacker spot outside into the flat to undercut a short pass to the outside. Just a couple of possessions later, he again showed his coverage ability by dropping into a short zone and picking off his second pass of the second half.

“I just tried to read the quarterback’s eyes, get the right drop and thankfully I hung on to them,” he said.

Coming into the biggest game of the year, the only thing people outside of the program wanted to talk about was will Grant be back next year or will he take over for legendary Saint Johns coach John Gagliardi? To a man, the Eagles players were able to focus on the game.

“It didn’t distract us at all,” said Cottrell. “Coach did a good job keeping it on the back burner.”

“We just put it in the back of our mind,” said Yost. “If this is his last game we just wanted to make it special.”

No one knows if Grant has coached his last game for Eden Prairie. If he has, his final victory - a 28-7 state championship victory – was done the same way as so many of his other victories. It was done with a physical approach and done with style.


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