Walking across the field after his team's 12-7 victory over previously undefeated St. Michael-Albertville, Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson sidled up to his stellar nose guard, Luke Kubesh, who was talking to reporters.
Ferguson threw an arm around Kubesh. "Don't say anything stupid," he said with a laugh.
The way he played Friday at St. Michael-Albertville Middle School West, anything the 5-11, 280-pound Kubesh said would have been OK. He led a Totino-Grace defensive line that spent much of the game making a mess of things in the St. Michael-Albertville backfield, keying a defense that shut down the potent Knights down all game, save for one drive.
"We just keep hammering, keep hammering," said Kubesh, who had at least three tackles for loss and forced an errant throw that resulted in an interception return for a touchdown. "I think that was one of our better games. We just came to play."
St. Michael-Albertville (4-1) had been the darlings of the first half of the season. The Knights moved up from Class 5A and dominated its first four opponents behind the metro area's best two-way player in Mitch Kartes.
On the other side, Totino-Grace (4-1) was surviving with a slew of youngsters and a battered set of skill players. The Eagles had won three of their first four games but had actually been outscored in the first three combined.
"You know what?" Ferguson said, nodding toward the St. Michael-Albertville players. "That is a really good team. I would have picked them to win."
The game was scoreless until late in the first half, when Isaac Richards intercepted an errant pass and returned it 65 yards for a touchdown and a 6-0 halftime lead.
Things looked bleak for St. Michael-Albertville when Kartes was knocked from the game in the third quarter after injuring a knee making a tackle. The Knights rallied, however, and put together their lone scoring drive, capped by a 15-yard touchdown pass from Marcus Krupke to Xavier Thurman early in the fourth quarter.
Totino-Grace's offense, which had sputtered all game, answered with an impressive drive of its own. The Eagles went 80 yards in eight plays, getting the game-winning touchdown on a 4-yard run by Charles Kamara with 2:39 left.
"Our defense was really good tonight," Ferguson said. "But what about the offense? To have that drive when we needed it, that was big. I'm so proud of these guys."