Even though Totino-Grace held a one-point lead over Mahtomedi at halftime Saturday, no one was satisfied in the Eagles locker room.
"We didn't compete the way we normally do," offensive lineman Andrew Jarosz said. "Our coaches were pretty firm about us playing better in the second half."
The message was heard, and the Eagles responded. They put the clamps on upstart Mahtomedi and pulled away for a 21-6 victory in the Class 5A, Section 4 football semifinals.
The Eagles began the game looking every bit like the No. 1-ranked team in Class 5A. After forcing a three-and-out on Mahtomedi's first possession, they drove 51 yards on eight plays, taking a 7-0 lead on a 4-yard run by sophomore running back Kez Flomo.
After forcing another Mahtomedi punt, it appeared the rout could be on. The only problem was the Zephyrs (6-4) refused to cooperate.
After a fumble by Totino quarterback A.J. LaPanta, Mahtomedi drove 40 yards for a touchdown.
Junior running back Jackson Hull carried the ball seven consecutive times before crossing the goal line from a yard out.
The Zephyrs missed the extra point but had made a much more important point: They weren't about to roll over to a team that also has defeated Edina, the top-ranked team in Class 6A.
Mahtomedi had a chance to take the lead on its next possession, but Hull came up a yard short on fourth-and-4 from the Totino-Grace 5-yard line.
The halftime score was 7-6 Totino-Grace, but it was obvious Mahtomedi had controlled the action.
"They were hungrier than us," Totino-Grace linebacker Kurt Mattox said. "We have some history with those guys over the years. You could tell they wanted it. We had to come out hungrier."
The Eagles (9-0) did.
They held Mahtomedi without a first down in the third quarter and made a huge stop after a LaPanta interception.
The offense, eschewing frills, began to exert itself. The Eagles took a 14-6 lead after a 10-play, 85-yard march that was all on the ground, capped by Flomo's 11-yard weave to the end zone.
The Eagles scored again on their next possession, crafting a nine-play, 71-yard drive in which only one pass was thrown. Mason Kaliszewski rushed for 54 of those yards and was rewarded with a 2-yard touchdown for the final margin of victory.
"I think our guys were reading their press clippings," Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson said. "We wanted to come out in the second half and establish tempo. We're blessed to have coachable kids. It's gratifying when they listen."