Totino-Grace coach Jeff Ferguson was worried, and with good reason.
His Eagles are the defending Class 6A champions, but that was last year. This year's team is as raw as any he's ever coached.
"We're more inexperienced than I can ever remember in my career," he said. "We're starting five sophomores. On defense."
Totino-Grace's young Eagles — Eaglets? — spent the first half figuring things out, then played the second half like the Totino-Grace teams of the past, rallying past Cretin-Derham Hall for a 13-12 season-opening victory.
Cretin-Derham Hall owned the first half, running 42 offensive plays to Totino-Grace's 12, outgaining the Eagles 161-50 and taking a 10-0 lead. What's more, the Raiders scored a touchdown 11 seconds before halftime, the kind of thing that can drain an opponent of confidence.
"That was a killer," Ferguson said.
Instead, the Eagles came out in the second half and played much more like their usual selves. They shut down Cretin-Derham Hall's running game, which had been moving with consistency, and started to generate a little offense of their own.
Sam Hanson put Totino-Grace on the scoreboard with a 32-yard burst up the middle early in the fourth quarter, cutting the lead to 10-6.
The Eagles' defense did its part on the next possession, forcing Cretin-Derham Hall to punt from its own end zone.
Totino-Grace proceeded to go 40 yards in five plays, benefiting from a 15-yard unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty and a 13-yard pass from quarterback Peyton Schuler to Nate Schutz to the Raiders 4-yard line. Kameron White scored from a yard out three plays later to cap the comeback and give the Eagles the lead for good.
Totino-Grace took a deliberate safety on the game's last play for the final score.
"With a young team like ours, we knew we had to keep grinding," said Hanson, a senior running back. "We knew we had to keep fighting and play TG football."
"I was curious how this team would come out," Ferguson said. "These guys were super nervous. I'm thrilled for them. This was a good test against a great team."