Soon-to-be-demolished Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome has been a comforting venue for Eden Prairie football teams since 1996.
The Eagles have compiled a 22-4 playoff record during that span in the dome under the direction of head coach Mike Grant. Eden Prairie has a 7-1 record in Prep Bowls.
Eden Prairie also won seven state titles at the Minneapolis football palace. And the Eagles are hoping to add an eighth championship under the inflated roof this week.
Third-seeded Eden Prairie earned that opportunity with a convincing 21-7 State Class 6A semifinal victory over second-seeded Wayzata Nov. 16 at the dome.
The Eagles (10-2) battle fifth-seeded Lakeville North (11-1) at 7 p.m. Friday, Nov. 23, in the Prep Bowl championship.
The Panthers earned a title-game berth with a 28-7 semifinal win over Rosemount.
“We are excited about getting back to the Prep Bowl championship game,” said coach Grant. “The coaching staff is especially excited for our players and the fact they will be experience the Prep Bowl atmosphere.
“Our players dreamed of playing on this field for a state championship ever since they started competing in our youth football program.”
Eden Prairie has been successful in Prep Bowl preparations during Thanksgiving Day week. And the Eagles will stick to their same Turkey Day week practice schedule this week.
There will be a team practice on Thanksgiving Day followed by a pre-game breakfast for players and their families on Friday morning.
“That breakfast is a good way to get all of our players’ families together,” said Grant. “And we will have former Eden Prairie players around all week to share some of their playoff experiences with our present players.”
As for the game, coach Grant doesn’t know what to expect from a Lakeville North team that has lost only once this season.
“We will watch film of Lakeville North during the week,” said Grant. “It is hard to judge Lakeville North because it has played all but one game against South Suburban Conference teams during the regular season and playoffs.
“All I know is that Lakeville North will have to be at its best to beat us.”
One reason for Grant’s optimism is the fact that personnel changes his staff made for the playoffs have paid off.
Eden Prairie has five different defensive starters and four new offensive starters than it did while losing 16-0 to Wayzata in the final game of the regular season.
Eden Prairie made the most of its new look against Wayzata in the state semifinals controlling the ball offensively and containing the Trojans’ strong rushing attack during a 21-7 win.
Eden Prairie capped a 16-play scoring drive in the second quarter on a 1-yard touchdown run by junior fullback Dan Fisher, who has been sidelined for a month with injuries.
Wayzata missed a 32-yard field goal with five minutes left before halftime.
Eden Prairie followed with another drive as Tony Anderson scored on a 10-yard run with 1:06 remaining before halftime intermission. Sam Mars kicked the extra point for a 14-0 Eagle lead.
An interception by defensive back Connor Johnson set up Eden Prairie’s third touchdown on a 1-yard run by Fisher with 1:58 remaining in the fourth quarter. That gave the Eagles a comfortable 21-0 lead.
Wayzata was able to score on a 1-yard touchdown run by Andrew Redding with 40 seconds remaining.
Eden Prairie rushed for 212 yards while limiting Wayzata to 68 yards.
Fisher led Eagle rushers with 67 yards on 24 carries. Jacob Woodring had 54 yards on six runs. Anderson carried 10 times for 46 yards.
Eagle quarterback Grant Shaeffer rushed seven times for 39 yards and connected on three of seven passes for 34 yards. Tight end Zach Hovey had two receptions for 27 yards.
“Our defensive coaches did a great job preparing for a tough Wayzata offense and our defensive unit was outstanding,” said Grant. “And running backs Fisher, Anderson and Woodring ran hard when we had the ball.
“Assistant coach Dick Gaughran has worked hard with our running backs and they continue to improve.
“Our offensive line blocked well. End Ryan Connelly and linebacker John Heller are two juniors that have stepped up and played well for our defense,” added the Eagle coach.