Dried blood in East Ridge safety Griffen Davis's right nostril reflected the hard-fought nature of the Class 6A state tournament semifinal game against Maple Grove.
The broad smile he flashed showed who won.
East Ridge raced to an early lead only to watch Maple Grove go ahead in the second half. Then the Raptors took advantage of a turnover and scored a fourth-quarter touchdown to seal the 24-20 victory on Friday at Eden Prairie High School.
East Ridge, a Woodbury-based school that opened in 2009, qualified for its first Prep Bowl. The Raptors (11-1) will play Osseo at 7 p.m. Friday at TCF Bank Stadium.
Quite an accomplishment for a relatively young program that lost two Division I players a season earlier than expected, and its head coach a week before the season.
"We had a lot of adversity, but we really never focused on it," Davis said. "We just focused on getting better and being the best we could possibly be."
Entering the game riding a 10-game winning streak, East Ridge stayed hot in the first half. Fullback Connor Mohs and quarterback Otumos Payemanu completed touchdown drives that owed big to the offensive line. More than 1,300 pounds of ornery adolescents, the linemen tore open the Maple Grove defense on three scoring drives that built a 17-0 lead.
"They controlled the line of scrimmage and came at us," Crimson coach Matt Lombardi said.
A Maple Grove touchdown just before halftime sparked a rally. Running back Isaac Collins and quarterback Brad Davison scored in third quarter and the Crimson took its first lead of the game at 20-17.
Still, Lombardi never sensed his team took control.
"We really didn't play well the whole game, and they forced some of that," he said. "It was one of those games you hope you can survive and advance."
Instead, the Crimson (9-3) fell short in the semifinals for a second consecutive season. A Maple Grove fumble at its 31-yard line gave East Ridge a short field.
Two plays later, Dominik London bounced off two would-be tacklers for a 16-yard touchdown.
"Our kids know they just have to keep fighting through — and it's hard," East Ridge coach Dan Fritze said.