Dedicating the game to program coaches battling cancer, Eagles pull away for big win
Eden Prairie welcomed Lakeville North to Aerie Stadium on Friday night in an early-season marquee matchup of the top two ranked teams in the state’s big-school class, 6A.
The No. 1 Eagles led 13-0 at the half and used big plays on both sides of the ball to pull away in the second half.
“We’re playing at a state championship level with those guys,” Eagles coach Mike Grant explained as the energy around Aerie Stadium made it feel like a November game instead of early September.
Junior quarterback Cole Kramer threw his fourth touchdown on the evening midway through the third quarter as Jack Tuttle caught the pass down the sideline for a 61-yard score to take a 28-6 lead, 32 seconds after North running back Brian Curtis Jr. completed a 62-yard halfback pass to Ryan Dalrymple for the visitor’s first points.
Not only was it the second home game for the Eagles (2-0) but Grant’s father and hall of fame coach, Bud Grant and John Gruden were in attendance.
Gruden stopped by Eden Prairie as he was in town to work the Monday Night Football broadcast from U.S. Bank Stadium on Monday.
The night was also dedicated to four members of the football community in Eden Prairie, three of which are battling illnesses and another father who recently passed away.
Lyle Schutte was on the coaching staff for 23 years and before the game shook the hands of each Eden Prairie player during a pregame ceremony.
Bruce Grant, Mike’s brother who is battling cancer and Steve Born. Tim Anderson, father of last year’s captain Danny Anderson, who is a walk-on with the University of Minnesota this season, passed away on Aug. 24 after a four year battle with pancreatic cancer.
“It’s tough because we’ve got guys we love struggling with cancer,” Grant explained. “But I thought our players did a great job of showing their love but then playing great. Sometimes you can get caught up in that emotion but I was proud of our kids that they could stay focused on an emotional night.”
In addition to Kramer’s four touchdown passes, senior captain Antonio Montero scored twice in the second half running the ball on short yardage situations in addition to his role as a starting linebacker and kicker.
Kramer completed touchdown passes to Daejon Wolfe and Will Sather in the first half to build a 13-0 lead into halftime.
Wolfe caught a swing pass from Kramer, sidestepped his way through the secondary for a 57 yard touchdown after Solo Falaniko broke off a 22 yard run to get to midfield to set up the first score of the game.
The possession came after Lakeville North recovered a punt that was touched by Benny Sapp III near the Eagles 40 yard line.
The second quarter didn’t lack action with Eden Prairie linebacker Quintin Matsui intercepting a Brennan Kuebler pass on the Panthers 25 yard line to set up what appeared to be a first down before the ball was knocked free and bounced off the pylon to count as a touch back, Panthers ball on the 20 yard line.
“We fumbled on the goal line so there are things that we can improve on,” Grant said. “But, we’ve been through these things before where we’re ranked number one and somebody comes in and they think they can beat us so they still have got to do it.”
Looking to get the ball back, Montero knocked the ball loose from the Lakeville North ball carrier and junior Caden Fey recovered it.
Eden Prairie went with a goal line formation six yards out before Sather slipped wide left from his spot on the offensive line before Kramer hit him for a 6-yard touchdown pass with 4:51 left in the second quarter.
After trading big passing touchdowns in the third quarter, North’s drive stalled later in the quarter when Eagles senior defensive end Mason Groth brought down Kuebler on third down to force a punt.
Montero went in for his first touchdown run with 59 second remaining in the quarter to lead 34-6. Eden Prairie junior linebacker Collin Penn intercepted a pass with nine seconds left in the quarter.
Montero, Johnson and Falaniko marched the ball behind a standout effort by the offensive line anchored by seniors Joe Schriber and Ryan Smith all game, including the final scoring drive. On third and goal from the seven yard line Johnson reached the one yard line to set up another short-yardage opportunity for Montero. He converted with his second touchdown of the game.
Tuttle’s long touchdown catch was a route, or play, Grant believed might be available after the Panthers defense lined up to contain the Eagles run or short passing game.
“They’re playing eight in the box so we felt we could throw but once you get the lead you want to work the clock, so there’s a strategy to it, you want to control it but it was a heck of a play,” Grant said of response to Lakeville North’s long touchdown.
One week after the Panthers offense ran for 330 yards and six rushing touchdowns, Eden Prairie’s defense was up to the challenge to hold the second-ranked team in the state’s big-school class, 6A, to less than two touchdowns and 248 yards of offense.
“I think we played really fast,” Grant said. “They were trying to run to the outside and we chased them down, we had a great pass rush. I think our (defensive) coaches did a great job preparing our kids for that and now we’ve got to get healthy and stay healthy.”
Eden Prairie hits the road for the first time this season with a trip to Prior Lake (1-1) on Friday, Sept. 15. The Lakers lost a low scoring affair at Maple Grove 9-6 on Sept. 8 after downing Shakopee 42-12 in the season opener at home.
The Eagles defense was in the midst of a spectacular shutout stretch last season when they traveled to Dan Patch Stadium in Prior Lake for a Week 6 matchup. Falaniko paced the offense with three touchdowns on 129 yards while Kyler Kluge connected with since graduated Kyle Connelly for a 48-yard touchdown in the opening quarter.
The Eagles defense limited Prior Lake to 144 yards offense, led by now senior running back Jordan Johnson to just 54 yards. He went on to run for 1,025 yards and nine touchdowns. Johnson leads the Lakers in carries (23) with 34 yards and one touchdown in the young season.
Follow Jason Olson on Twitter @SunSportsJason.