The defending champs overcame a collection of athletes from Osseo and made it clear the losses this season were a temporary issue.
The Osseo High football stadium was named for John Hansen, the school's coaching legend, a year ago. And the name comes with a face: Hansen, now in his 80s, can be found standing behind an end zone for most home games.
On Friday night, Hansen stood watching the final minutes of senior star Bridge Tusler's prep football career. He had tried mightily on offense, defense and on kick returns to keep Osseo in contention for the state's first Class 6A title, but the superior forces of Eden Prairie were closing in on what would be a 28-18 victory.
"Tusler's quite a player,'' someone said to Hansen.
The old coach pointed for emphasis and said: "He's an athlete. And you know what makes him an athlete? When his mind tells him to do something, he can do it.''
Undoubtedly, Tusler was the most dynamic athlete on the field, but teammates and a significant number of Eden Prairie players also qualified under that Hansen standard for being an athlete.
One of those was Bjorn Halvorson, the most effective runner on Eden Prairie's drives that allowed it to keep regaining control of the situation after Tusler, or Troy Kray, or another Osseo athlete, would do something to put the Orioles back in contention.
"Halvorson was a guy who really made a difference for us tonight,'' Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant said. "We didn't have our No. 1 running back, [Dan] Fisher, because of injury, and we didn't know that until Wednesday.
"Halvorson has been mostly a backup quarterback, but we told him he was going to get a chance at fullback tonight, and he made big plays and tough yards.''
Eden Prairie kicked off, and a couple of minutes later started from its 12. There was an immediate holding penalty, so it was first-and-16 from the 6. Eighteen plays (17 runs) and almost 10 minutes later, Eden Prairie was facing fourth-and-2 at Osseo's 12.
The Eagles had been converting on third-down runs throughout the drive. The assumption by most everyone -- including the Osseo defense -- was that Eden Prairie would send Halvorson ramming forward for those 2 yards. Instead, quarterback Grant Shaeffer stepped back and flipped a 12-yard touchdown pass to 6-5 tight end Zach Hovey.
"We had been working on that play all week,'' Shaeffer said. "We like to play power football, but we'll also throw some stuff at you. That's what makes Mike Grant a great offensive coach.''
Later in the half, Halvorson took a handoff and threw a 45-yard pass to Derek Soderberg. That set up the second touchdown and a 14-3 halftime lead for the Eagles.
Eden Prairie soon discovered it's hard to kill a team with Tusler leading a collection of athletes. Osseo recovered an onside kick to open the second half, and Tusler kept the drive going with a run that led from him appearing to be trapped 20 yards behind the line to the goal line.
Kray ran in the touchdown, Tusler ran in a two-point conversion and it was 14-11.
Eden Prairie drove for a touchdown. Tusler returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown, avoiding gaggles of potential tacklers. Eden Prairie then drove for the clincher.
Jack Cottrell, an Eden Prairie captain and linebacker, was prominent in the Eagles' frequent success in corralling Tusler.
"You have to try to get as many people as you possibly can to surround him,'' Cottrell said. "Actually, our game plan on him worked pretty well. We had some special teams plays that hurt us.''
Eden Prairie, defending champ and winners of seven large-school titles since 1996, finished the regular season with home losses to Edina and Wayzata. Asked if Friday's victory meant Eden Prairie was back, Cottrell said:
"We were never gone. We had a couple of bad games. But that doesn't change our goal -- to win the state.''
Grant was 20 yards away, talking with John Hansen at midfield.
One old coach not in evidence was Bud Grant. "My 85-year-old father is at my place, setting up deer camp,'' Mike Grant said. "I'm heading up there tonight.''
Patrick Reusse can be heard noon-4 weekdays on 1500-AM. firstname.lastname@example.org