For two programs so similar, Totino-Grace and Eden Prairie played contrasting and unusual roles in the Class 6A Prep Bowl.
Top-ranked Totino-Grace prevailed 28-20 Friday and won its first state championship playing among Minnesota's largest schools by enrollment. Eden Prairie, meanwhile, lost for just the second time in an astounding 12 title game appearances.
Totino-Grace, a Class 4A private school located in Fridley with an enrollment of fewer than 800 students, began opting up in 2011 and lost three consecutive playoff showdowns against Eden Prairie — home to more than 2,700 students — including a 28-27 loss in the Prep Bowl two years ago.
Familiarity bred a formula for success, however.
"So many teams that play Eden Prairie look at their past and how good they are and then they put themselves in a mind-set that doesn't allow them to win," senior linebacker Charlie Waters said. "You've got to come out and know you can outphysical Eden Prairie."
Trailing 14-7 on a punt return and great diving catch by Kyle Connelly, Totino-Grace responded with three unanswered touchdowns in the fourth quarter. Eden Prairie's defense shut out seven opponents this season but couldn't stop Totino-Grace.
A muffed punt extended a Totino-Grace possession and Kyle Halverson hit Rocky Kreuser on fourth down to tie the score 14-14.
"Coach came up to us and said, 'It's the Prep Bowl, we're going for it,' " said Halverson, who called the touchdown "a big momentum swing."
Totino-Grace (13-0) stayed aggressive on its next trip deep inside Eden Prairie territory. Halverson's hard count on fourth down drew the defense offside, and Gayflor Flomo later scored for a 21-14 lead.
"They're aggressive and they will pound you down," Eden Prairie linebacker Antonio Montero said. "Little plays like that really tear you down as a defense."
Eden Prairie (11-2) fumbled on its next possession, and Totino-Grace answered with its third touchdown of the fourth quarter, this one from Ivan Burlak.
"We're both trying to play the same game, they just got the edge on us this time because you can't turn the ball over against them," said Eden Prairie coach Mike Grant, who added that his team's two fumbles Friday ran its season total to eight.
Meanwhile, Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson won his eighth state title with Totino-Grace.
"I don't know of another team in the state that has opted up two classes in any sport," Ferguson said. "I know I say that a lot, but I'm very proud of that."
Winning a title that left no further questions about his program's appropriate competition level provided Ferguson extra satisfaction.
"They're all awesome, but this is different, yeah," Ferguson said. "It's a pretty big deal to us, anyway."
Totino-Grace has now won three consecutive games against Eden Prairie.
"There are some fierce competitors on both teams," Ferguson said. "They're fighters, we've got some fighters. They're playmakers, we've got some playmakers. That was really fun."