Minnetonka coach Dave Nelson has talked all season about his team's character and ability to persevere — a fact his Skippers showed by holding off Cretin-Derham Hall 17-14 in the Class 6A semifinals, sending them the Prep Bowl for the first time since 2005.
Quarterback Aaron Syverson passed for 215 yards and two touchdowns for the Skippers, who led 17-0 after three quarters but ended up surviving a late Cretin-Derham Hall rally.
"We just have an extremely close-knit group of players and coaches," Nelson said. "It's a special bond that sometimes you have and sometimes you don't. I just hope it's enough for next week."
The Raiders fought back on the strength of quarterback Danny Callahan's arm. Callahan passed for 226 yards — 198 of them in the second half — and an 11-yard touchdown to Andrew Mooney that cut the lead to 17-14 with 8:04 left in the game.
Minntonka responded with a clutch drive, going 77 yards in 14 plays, converting on fourth-and-4 from the Cretin-Derham Hall 14-yard line on an 8-yard pass from Syverson to Mitch Klass. The Skippers' drive faltered on the Raiders 2, but they used up much of the remaining time on the clock.
"That was huge," Nelson said. "They had all the momentum at the time. We needed to do something to reverse that. I was really disappointed that we didn't get it in, but they had to go 98 yards in 1:19 with no timeouts. I liked our odds."
Cretin-Derham Hall drove to the Minnetonka 40 in the final seconds but ran out of time.
Raiders coach Brooks Bollinger admired how his team battled back and wondered whether he should have set Callahan loose a little earlier.
"What changed was Danny Callahan," Bollinger said. "We opened it up, but probably should have opened it up earlier. Danny was just an operator out there."
Minnetonka took advantage of the first break of the game to score first.
Cretin-Derham Hall's Jaylen Newton fumbled the pitch on a reverse and the Skippers recovered it at the Raiders 19. Three plays later, Syverson found Jackson Owens on a post pattern and hit him in stride for a 15-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
Minnetonka bumped the lead to 10-0 on its next possession, which the Skippers took into halftime.