After Benilde-St. Margaret's 28-14 victory over Waconia on Friday, Red Knights coach Jon Hanks professed a newfound admiration for Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant and Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson.
"Those guys have done it for years and they've won so much," said Hanks, who coached (along with then co-head coach Patrick Krieger) Benilde-St. Margaret's to the Class 4A championship last November, the program's first title. "I'm amazed. It's so much harder to stay up on top than to get up. We're just getting started in this thing."
The Red Knights found out two important things about themselves in the victory over the Wildcats. They have the talent to be a force in Class 4A once again. And no one is going to roll over and hand them a victory.
The best of Benilde-St. Margaret's showed up early in the game. The Red Knights defense looked dominating, getting a 40-yard fumble return for touchdown by defensive lineman Patrick Kalb less than three minutes into the game.
The lead grew to 21-0 midway the second quarter as the Red Knights repeatedly stymied the Waconia offense and leaned on their offensive depth.
It took one Waconia drive to get Benilde-St. Margaret's attention. The Wildcats drove 65 yards in the closing minutes of the first half and scored on a 32-pass from quarterback Nolan Vanderhoff to his brother Jaden Vanderhoff, cutting the lead to 21-7.
Suddenly, Waconia was confident. And the Red Knights struggled to find the touch they'd had at the start of the game.
"When we got into the locker room at halftime, we were up 21-7 and usually, a team would be happy," linebacker/captain Braeden Fitzgerald said. "But, man, we left a lot on the field. Even though we were leading, we were playing a pretty bad game."
Waconia cut the lead to 21-14 with a touchdown on the first drive of the second half. But then the Red Knights' championship pedigree showed through, as the offense mounted a scoring drive. They regained a two-touchdown lead and, more important, control of the game on a 29-yard pass from quarterback Nick Peterson — the Red Knights' third quarterback of the game — to Clyde Sellke.
"I think we took our foot off the gas a little bit," Hanks said. "That's something we'll talk about. Everyone that's going to come in here against us is going to want to walk out going, 'Yeah, we beat the state champs.' "