One play. Totino-Grace senior linebacker Charlie Waters reminded himself how quickly a season, a game, a dream can change.
A year ago he missed the Class 6A semifinals after getting injured in practice. On Thursday, his offense fumbled on fourth and inches. Then his defense failed to stop upset-minded Blaine's late touchdown drive. The Bengals' bid for a winning two-point conversion gave Waters a chance to refocus.
"You're going to have ups and downs, but we knew we just had one play," Waters said. "Football can come down to one play and we just had to stiffen up and make a stop there and that's what we did."
Teammate Joey Linders sacked Blaine quarterback Connor Melton to snuff out the Bengals' hopes. Top-ranked Totino-Grace survived with a 21-20 victory and advanced to the Prep Bowl. The Eagles await the winner of Friday's semifinal between Eden Prairie and Champlin Park.
Observers might have considered Totino-Grace (12-0) a Prep Bowl team without giving Blaine much thought. The Bengals (9-3) felt otherwise. They played well in a 21-14 loss to Totino-Grace on Sept. 30 and battled in the rematch.
Kyle Halverson's fumble on fourth down and inches gave Blaine one last chance. Three previous Blaine possessions in the fourth quarter went nowhere. This one, starting with 2:47 on the clock, had to click.
"All of our players just knew we had to get the ball down the field," said Melton, who hit Kurtis Weigand for a 33-yard completion to spark the drive.
"His poise and his quiet leadership have been unbelievable," Blaine coach Tom Develice said of Melton, who came off the bench earlier this season and helped the Bengals make a deep playoff run.
Chase Harper got loose for a 21-yard run on the Bengals' final drive and ended it with a 5-yard scoring run with 59 seconds to play.
Down 21-20, Blaine lined up for a two-point conversion. Totino-Grace called timeout and readied for the game's defining play, which Linders made.
"Joey's a good player, good guy," Waters said. "I like him."
Said Develice, "I'm proud of our kids and what they did to defend our program."