They made plays you dream about, on the biggest stage, when it mattered most last year.
The Star Tribune caught up with metro-area high school sports stars from two big moments to relive, relish and look ahead just a bit to next season.
Years from now, people may struggle to remember the outcome of last November’s Class 6A Prep Bowl (Eden Prairie won), but they won’t forget Minnetonka’s first-half Hail Mary.
“Yeah, that’s what I remember most,” Minnetonka quarterback Aaron Syverson said. “It was a huge, crazy moment.”
Minnetonka was at the Eden Prairie 40-yard line, trailing 24-10 with time running out in the first half. The strong-armed Syverson took the shotgun snap and rolled to his left to escape the pass rush, away from his throwing hand, and launched the ball nearly 50 yards into the end zone. As three defenders moved into position, junior wide receiver Jackson Owens created a little space, then leapt and caught the ball while falling backward.
Touchdown, Minnetonka. The Skippers ran into the locker room on an emotional high.
“I just remember running down, turning around and seeing the ball coming,” said Owens, who will be a senior this fall. “My first thought was ‘I’m coming down with that ball.’ That put a lot of energy behind us.”
“People in the stands were going crazy,” Syverson said. “It was incredible.”
Ultimately, it proved less consequential than it first seemed. Eden Prairie shut down the Minnetonka offense in the second half and pulled away for a 38-17 victory.
Interestingly, Syverson and Owens had hooked up on another improbable play two weeks before on a cold, blustery night in the Class 6A quarterfinals. Minnetonka trailed Prior Lake 6-3 late in the fourth quarter and Syverson, by his own admission, “couldn’t throw a ball within 10 yards of a receiver.’’ But on a final drive Syverson scrambled to buy time before throwing a 30-yard pass to a diving Owens in the back of the end zone for a touchdown and a 10-6 victory.
“That was the biggest play to me,’’ Owens said. “If I didn’t make the Prior Lake catch, the Eden Prairie catch wouldn’t have been a thing.”
Syverson, a senior this fall, threw for 2,063 yards and 16 touchdowns last season. He’s spent the past two months traveling from camp to camp, putting his game on display for college coaches to see. He’s had offers from such schools as Northern Illinois, Northern Iowa and Western Illinois and hopes to make a decision soon.
He, Owens and the rest of the Skippers recently concluded summer team workouts. Both are excited for possibilities of their upcoming senior seasons.
“We should be just as good, if not better, than last year,” Syverson said. “We have all the tools we need.”
Ellen Pagois’ only goal last season was the biggest the Eagan senior-to-be ever scored.
It came in the Class 2A state championship at U.S. Bank Stadium, with 6 seconds left. She scored on a header off a corner kick by Grace Sjoberg that looped over the Maple Grove goalkeeper, giving the Wildcats a 2-1 victory.
“That goal was extra special,” Pagois said. “It was an incredible moment.”
It still is. Pagois’ lifetime memory can be viewed over and over if you’re in range of either of her grandmothers.
“Both of my grandmas like it even more than me,” Pagois said. “They both have it on their phones. They’ll pull it out for any occasion.”
Pagois, a midfielder who is a defensive specialist, relives the moment periodically when the team she currently plays with — the Eagan Wave under-17 team — has a corner kick. She has doubled her scoring output on her summer squad, netting two goals.
“I don’t think we could ever duplicate it,” Pagois said. “I don’t even know how Grace got the cross off, and how perfect it was. That was special.”
Not normally a starter, Pagois replaced Brooke Peplinski, who had suffered a concussion in the state quarterfinals.
“I was lucky to be playing,” Pagois said. “I’m happy with any role. Everybody has a role, and is important to the team. I was inspired by the whole team and the way it played all season.”
The Wildcats, who won their third state title in four years, were tied in the final minute of three of their final four postseason games. They won two of those in that final minute and won the third in overtime. Sjoberg scored the game-winner in two of them.
“Last-minute game-winning goals was what our team was all about,” Pagois said.
The Wildcats grew accustomed to pulling out games in the waning seconds from the outset. Eagan defeated East Ridge 1-0 in the season opener on Kayla Vrieze’s goal with 21 seconds left.
“It was a summary of the whole season, whole team,” Pagois said. “It was exciting.”
Even with her last-second heroics last fall Pagois doesn’t take anything for granted. Does she expect a larger role with the Wildcats in her final high school season?
“That is all up to me,” Pagois said. “It all depends on how hard I work this summer.”