Reusse: Prep Bowl a Thanksgiving tradition in Eden Prairie

  • Article by: PATRICK REUSSE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 17, 2012 - 8:11 AM

Eden Prairie will be spending the fourth Thursday of November getting ready for another Prep Bowl under coach Mike Grant.

You have to do something with regularity for it to become a tradition. And Eden Prairie's football program has traditions for the second half of November that can only be based on winning at a dynastic level.

Friday night, Eden Prairie overwhelmed Wayzata 21-7 in a Class 6A semifinal in the Metrodome. This reversed a 16-0 loss to the Trojans in the regular-season finale and put Eden Prairie in next Friday's title game against Lakeville North.

Coach Mike Grant's team surrounded him after the postgame handshakes. He reminded this group of traditions such as the last practice on Thanksgiving and then said, "This will be our 10th Prep Bowl.''

He paused and said: "Wait. We're 7-1, so this will be our ninth Prep Bowl.''

The traditions got underway after Friday's victory, when the seniors carried the pads after the game, rather than the underclassmen.

"That happens after the semifinal game,'' junior fullback Dan Fisher said. "And after the championship game, the coaches carry the pads.''

There are other events based on reaching the last game of the season. The Eagles can only be certain they are engaged in the last practice if they have reached the title game. And that is also what's required to hold it on Thanksgiving.

"It's an emotional time,'' Fisher said. "It's when we sort of say our goodbyes for the year -- to the seniors, to the coaches. We talk about the season and what it has meant to be an Eagle.''

That's not the end of it. Friday morning, there is a game-day breakfast, when Eagles of the past show up and talk to the current team about what it was like to play in the Prep Bowl ... and, in 87.5 percent of the previous appearances, to win a championship.

The seven state titles have come since 1996. There is such confidence that permeates the program that even a two-game home losing streak to end the regular season -- to Edina and then Wayzata -- did not shake the Eagles.

Jack Cottrell, the all-everything, All-Metro senior linebacker, said: "We had no doubts we were going to get to the state championship game."

One reason to feel that way was the return of Fisher. He went down in the Edina game because of a hip pointer. He didn't face Wayzata in the season finale, or Shakopee, Osseo and Minnetonka in the playoffs.

Two weeks ago, Eden Prairie had used long, grinding drives to beat talented Osseo 28-18 and Grant said, "Yeah, and we didn't have Fisher, our No. 1 runner.''

Grant has a reputation for imagining disadvantages for his mighty Eagles, but he wasn't exaggerating the thunderous element that Fisher adds to the Eagles' attack.

The teams exchanged possessions that went nowhere to open the game, and then Eden Prairie took over at its 26-yard line midway in the first quarter. And here came the Eagles on the grind:

Seventy-four yards, 16 plays, 15 runs including eight by Fisher, two that covered the last 7 yards.

Eden Prairie was in close a couple of minutes later after a long punt return, decided to throw and Nelson Moen tore away an interception to save Wayzata. Momentarily.

The Eagles were back again before halftime, getting runs of 21 and 10 yards from Anthony Anderson, another junior, to finish a drive that made it 14-0.

There is considerable speculation that Grant will be the St. John's coach if John Gagliardi steps aside after 60 years on the job. That would be a new challenge for Grant, or he could stay at Eden Prairie and continue to kick the stuffing out of foes with a combination of Fisher and Anderson in 2013.

"It was nice to come back for Wayzata after missing that last game of the season,'' Fisher said. "We knew that Wayzata was a really fast team. We wanted to try to overpower them.''

The Eagles did exactly that: running on 51 of their 59 plays, and rushing for 207 of their 241 yards.

Meantime, Cottrell and Co. were overpowering Wayzata's hapless attempts at offense. The Trojans managed a consolation touchdown with 40 seconds left, but the standard for this night's competition was established in the first half: one first down and 45 yards for Wayzata.

Kickstart the Thanksgiving traditions. Eden Prairie is back in the Prep Bowl.

Patrick Reusse can be heard noon to 4 weekdays on 1500-AM. • preusse@startribune.com

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