The players and coaches are saying all the expected things about Friday’s Lake Conference game between Wayzata and Eden Prairie, about respecting their opponent and preparing for the postseason and improving themselves one game at a time, etc.
“Just another big game,” they say. Or “We just want to play our best.”
Despite all the clichés and cautiously vague, noncommittal remarks, it doesn’t take much prodding to get the participants to admit that a game between the state’s two biggest schools and perennial football powerhouses comes with more gusto.
“You do get a little more excited for this game,” Eden Prairie offensive lineman Rob Olson said. “You look over the last few years and it’s always Eden Prairie and Wayzata. When you think of Minnesota football, you think of those two.”
The 7 p.m. game at Eden Prairie is the latest edition of what has become the highest-profile prep football rivalry in Minnesota. The teams have combined to win seven of the past eight large-school state championships dating to 2005. Eden Prairie has won four, Wayzata three. Cretin-Derham Hall has the other, in 2009.
This is Packers vs. Vikings on a high school level. Love ’em or hate ’em, when Wayzata plays Eden Prairie, everyone notices.
“The whole school is fired up,” Wayzata defensive end Drew Greely said. “I know they’re fired up, we’re fired up. It gives you the motivation to make the extra effort to prepare during the week.”
Getting ready for their opponent can be less of a concern than dealing with the hype.
“We have to stay focused on what the game is,” Eden Prairie fullback Dan Fisher said. “Instead of two powerhouse teams, it’s just another step towards reaching our goals of winning the Lake Conference and winning a state championship. You guys [in the media] are the ones who hype it up.”
The attention starts with Eden Prairie, with a 5-0 record and ranked No. 1 in Class 6A. The team, seeking a third consecutive state title, features its usual complement of muscular linemen and athletic playmakers. The Eagles lean heavily on a running game led a pair of powerful backs in seniors Fisher and Anthony Anderson, both of whom weigh well over 200 pounds.
“And we have a big, experienced offensive line,” Fisher said. “They make us look a lot better than we are.”
Wayzata (4-1) started the season with a tight double-overtime victory over Rosemount and then stumbled in a loss at Lakeville South. The Trojans took stock of their play after that and got down to basics, recommitting themselves to a more fundamental approach. Since then, they have looked like the Trojans of years past, ripping off three consecutive comfortable victories heading into tonight’s game.
“That loss was probably the best thing that has happened to us,” Wayzata running back Tanner Bedard said. “It made us all realize how much work we need to do to get back to where we belong.”
The game’s magnitude is not lost on the players.
“We’re 2-2 against them over the last two years,” Eden Prairie tight end Zach Hovey said. “They won in the regular season, we beat them in state. All of those games could have gone either way. We know it’s going to be a dogfight.”
“This is one of those weeks we mark on the calendar,” Wayzata center Matt Beck said. “We work hard every single week to prepare for a game like this.”
If there is one common thread that binds the two teams, it’s respect — for each other and for the game itself.
“Wayzata, we know, has a great program and they always play us tough,” Eden Prairie linebacker Johnny Heller said. “They want to do the same thing to us that we want to do to them: run it down each other’s throats. It’s going to be a smashmouth game. I can’t wait.”