Park Center football coach Paul Strong was hesitant to play the respect card, no matter how irritated he was.
His Pirates, who destroyed Southwest 64-2, should not have been playing Wednesday night. They should have been in street clothes, relaxing on a night off, perhaps even scouting their next opponent. They should have been enjoying the spoils of their best regular-season record (6-2) in two decades. Instead, they were playing host to Minneapolis Southwest in the Class 5A, Section 5 quarterfinals, risking injury and, heaven forbid, an upset loss.
After all, Park Center and Cooper tied for the second-best record in the section, two games behind undefeated Spring Lake Park. The Pirates had defeated Cooper during the regular season on the Hawks' homecoming. Logically, that argued for Park Center as the No. 2 seed and the benefits it afforded.
But coaches in the section voted Cooper ahead of Park Center, apparently discounting the head-to-head matchup. To the Pirates, it was a cheap shot, disrespect of mad proportions.
"It is what it is," Strong said. "At Park Center, if we want respect, we have to earn respect on the field."
The Pirates earned a lot of it Wednesday. Amani Hooker threw for a touchdown, ran for another and caught a touchdown pass. Quarterback Karl Altenburg passed for three scores. Ty'Shonan Brooks had two touchdowns receiving and one more on an interception return.
"We needed to get that edge," senior defensive tackle Josh Wleh said. "I think we got that with 64 points [Wednesday]."
Brooks acknowledged the team felt slighted at first, but came to see the bigger picture, which includes a rematch at Cooper on Tuesday.
"We did feel disrespected, but that's over now," Brooks said. "We went out and played well. That's what we have to do, show people what we can do."