Of all of the accolades and praise heaped on the Eden Prairie football team, perhaps its best trait is its killer instinct. The Eagles wait for their opponent to make a mistake and are always ready to pounce when it happens.
The No. 1-ranked team in Class 6A weathered Hopkins' best, found the miscue it was waiting for, then turned up the pressure to pull away for a 42-21 victory Friday at Royals Stadium.
The result mirrored past games between the teams. It was the seventh consecutive time Eden Prairie had scored 40 or more points against Hopkins.
This game was supposed to be different. Hopkins went into it enjoying lofty heights it has rarely experienced, courtesy of a 4-0 record and a No. 8 ranking in the Class 6A state poll.
And for a little more than a quarter, Hopkins counterpunched with Eden Prairie. Behind the strong arm and cool head of quarterback J.T. DenHartog, the Royals tied the score at 7-7 and had the ball at the Eden Prairie 41-yard-line after a big defensive stand.
Then came the mistake that turned the game in Eden Prairie's favor. Hopkins fumbled and Eden Prairie recovered. Two plays later, the Eagles were celebrating a 48-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Bjorn Halvorson to Connor Johnson.
The Eagles boosted their lead to 21-7 on their next possession, going 67 yards in eight plays. Running back Dan Fisher, the standout of eight Eden Prairie ball carriers, bulled over from a yard out.
"You have to play mistake-free against them because they're not going to beat themselves," said Hopkins coach John DenHartog.
Hopkins cut the lead to 21-14 on a 17-yard pass from J.T. DenHartog to Adam Caskey. With less than three minutes before halftime, it appeared that the Royals had worked their way back in.
But the Eagles barged through the Hopkins defense, retaking a two-touchdown lead on a 7-yard burst from Fisher through a tiring Hopkins defensive line.
"We've been real successful over the years at that two-minute drill," said Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant. "We know what we can do and our guys execute."
Fisher and Eden Prairie (4-0) effectively put the game away on the first two drives of the second half. He converted a fourth-and-1 at the Hopkins 30 with a 26-yard run and scored his third touchdown a play later for a 35-14 lead. He added a fourth score, this time on an 8-yard run, the next time Eden Prairie had the ball.
"That was a lot of fun," Fisher said. "We have a motto -- 'It's a dog-eat-dog world.' That's the way we play."