Put them behind on the scoreboard. Limit their time. Stack the odds in the opposition’s favor.
Players representing St. Thomas Academy or St. Michael-Albertville won’t flinch, duck or fold.
The Cadets (11-1) have trailed at halftime in three of four playoff games. The Knights (11-1) needed fourth-quarter comebacks in both state tournament victories.
Why not just start the Class 5A Prep Bowl game at 4 p.m. Saturday in overtime and see what magic happens? A victory gives either program its first Prep Bowl title.
“If you go back to our overtime game against Monticello to win the subdistrict, our kids have really strapped it on for more than a month now,” St. Michael-Albertville coach Jared Essler said. “These kids recognize the importance of every snap.”
Same goes for St. Thomas Academy, whose players were vocal all season about reaching their first state title game since 2006. Getting there gave them pause.
“On the bus ride back from Minnetonka after the state semifinal game, two of our seniors were sitting behind me,” Cadets coach Dave Ziebarth said. “One was rubbing his head, and I asked if he was hurt. He said, ‘No. I just can’t believe we did it.’ The other one said, ‘It’s not just words anymore. We’re here.’ ”
Running back Sean McFadden took the starring role in the Cadets’ run-by-committee approach and surpassed 1,000 rushing yards. Andrew Tri and Tommy Dolan have shared quarterback duties. And TJ Wright and Jack Cordero have been active on defense.
Trailing Moorhead 14-10 as the fourth quarter began, the Cadets rallied to win. They gutted out a scoreless state quarterfinal game against North St. Paul, scoring a touchdown with 1:25 left. In the section playoffs, Hastings and Apple Valley saw halftime leads erased by the resilient Cadets.
“We make mistakes, but the kids don’t get down,’’ Ziebarth said. “They’ve really grown this year.”
St. Michael-Albertville started the season with one returning starter on offense. Essler focused on more than results.
“Our message was, ‘Win the day, on and off the field,’ ” Essler said. “I think it was freeing for kids to know they just have to worry about doing their job more than wins and losses.”
Building character proved vital. The Knights needed overtime to win their subdistrict title, a field goal with no time left to edge Spring Lake Park in the state quarterfinals, and a late comeback in the semifinals against Mankato West.
Receiver Isaiah Weston, the only veteran returning on offense, quarterback Jacob Veire and running backs Mitchell Kartes and Eric Sjelin provide a plethora of solid options.
They pushed the Knights, state semifinal losers the past two seasons, to their first Prep Bowl since 1999.
“There is an electricity,” said Essler, who reminded amped-up players earlier this week after practice, “Guys, the game isn’t until Saturday.”