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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 11/25/2012 1:12:19 PM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal correspondent

Sometimes who wins a football game comes down to the smallest unnoticeable detail. A perfectly placed block by a usually unnoticed offensive guard can turn a short run into a touchdown. Sometimes a tiny adjustment by a defensive lineman means the difference between stuffing that running play and getting sealed off and giving up a big run. Other times a football game can come down to something even more subtle.

For Totino-Grace in Saturday afternoon’s Class 5A championship game at the Metrodome, a close game against Owatonna was broken open by something even more subtle – a look.

Both teams went back and forth through a quarter and a half. The score was 14-14 late in the second quarter. The Eagles were using their signature running game, mixing counters, sweeps and trap plays to set up the play-action game while the Huskies were using a spread formation, no-huddle offense to move the ball with efficient quarterback play and timely runs between the tackles.

Both defenses were hanging in there; in fact, Owatonna’s defense basically tied the game. Senior linebacker Mason Bloomquist came clean on a blitz from his outside linebacker spot. He hit Eagles quarterback A.J. LaPanta and forced a fumble. Sophomore defensive tackle Spencer Sorenson jumped on the loose ball and set up his offense at the one-yard line. Two plays later the score was tied, but LaPanta would shake off the sack and make two throws that turned the game for good.

With a minute to play in the first half, the Eagles had the ball near midfield but they weren’t content going into the locker room tied. LaPanta and wide receiver Charlie Miller noticed the same thing – single coverage with no deep safety – and from halfway across the field made eye contact. They both knew what had to be done.

“A.J. and I, we’ve been best friends. We have great confidence in each other,” said Miller. “I look at him and he looks at me and we know what’s up.”

LaPanta said, “We knew watching film how they like to play receivers and pre-snap we could usually tell if there was going to be tight man. They played it a lot tonight.”

The two seniors read the coverage correctly and their mental audible led to a 49-yard touchdown pass and a lead the Eagles would not relinquish.

The pair hooked up again early in the second half to give the No. 1-ranked team in 5A a cushion. This time it was from 65 yards out.

“I get a little smile on my face (when they recognize single coverage),” said Miller, who also was part of a defense that was nearly perfect in the second half, “and we know it’s going to happen.”

From there the defense and the running game took over.

“The second half is when we shine,” said offensive tackle John Bednarczyk. “We picked it up in the third quarter and played the way we should have. Our finish is what we take pride in on offense and that is what we did today.”

In the second half the Eagles defense was able to deal with the no-huddle offense and the passing game much more effectively.

“We prepared for (the Owatonna offense) by putting pressure on the quarterback to make him get the ball out,” said junior linebacker Joshua Sitarz. “(In the second half) we finished our blitzes. We had some breakdowns in coverage in the first half. We got those cleaned up at halftime and played our game more in the second half.”

After taking a two-touchdown lead, the running attack put the game away for the Eagles.

“I think we wore them down,” said LaPanta. “Our line played really well in the second half and we were able to establish the run.”

Three touchdown runs – two by Kai Barber – in the second half put the game out of reach and sealed another championship for Totino-Grace.

Owatonna capped the scoring with a late touchdown to make the final score 49-21, but since early in the third quarter the outcome was never in doubt. All you had to do to tell was look.


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